Alex Thomsen has won all 90 high school matches in which he's wrestled. He's a defending state champion and a favorite to contend for more hardware.
Yet the Underwood sophomore was given no special treatment for his opening match Thursday in the Class 1-A individual state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Thomsen (46-0), ranked No. 1 at 126 pounds, will take on No. 3Wally Zernich (172) of Lisbon in one of the most anticipated first-round bouts in any class.
Zernich comes in as a district runner-up after falling 3-2 to Highland Riverside's Drew West (49-0) last weekend.
Underwood coach Joe Stephens said Thomsen wouldn't want to begin his state journey any other way.
"(Zernich) is pretty good, there's no doubt about it," Stephens said. "But we are too — we like our guy, so we're not super concerned. The hard part is waiting to get up there and get going."
The match features one of 33 western Iowa representatives from 14 schools when action begins at 9 a.m. across eight mats. Logan-Magnolia leads the area with five qualifiers while East Mills, Missouri Valley and Underwood each boast four.
East Mills senior Josh Hopkins (46-0 at 152 pounds) joins Thomsen and Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto's Cole Jensen (45-0 at 285) as three of 18 unbeaten 1-A wrestlers. After three straight opening-round state losses to top foes, No. 4 Hopkins starts this time with unrated Brody Goodman (45-10) of South Central Calhoun before a potential quarterfinal showdown with No. 2 Conner Shulista (49-1) of Alburnett.
"Josh's main goal is to finish with an odd-numbered placing at state," East Mills coach Claude Lang said. "I keep telling him it's not just an odd number, but should be an odd number that's a one. If he can get two takedowns on somebody, he's going to be the best one in the bracket."
Lo-Ma brings district winners in No. 7 Remington Meeker (113) and No. 5 Drake Johnsen (195) along with second-place finishers Garret Thompson (126), Bo Geise (132) and No. 9 Brady Wilson (152). Fellow Western Iowa Conference member Missouri Valley has Connor Lange (120), Jack Kyle (132), No. 8 NathanHaynes (160) and No. 5 Tom Rief (220).
East Mills' Luke Stortenbecker (145), No. 7 Nick Perkins (220) and No. 9 Anthony Ossman (285) are all making their state debuts. Underwood adds No. 6Marshall Rasmussen (106) and No. 7 Tom Jennings (138) in addition to freshman Michael Baker (120).
Among the more intriguing area storylines to watch Thursday:
At 113 pounds, No. 7Meeker (37-7) of Lo-Mameets No. 6 Kody Kleve (39-6) of Starmont. In the same bracket, No. 5 TatemBluml (52-6) of Riverside takes on No. 1 Brock Henderson (43-0) of North Linn.
AHSTW's No. 7 Dustin Engel (34-4) will get a shot at No. 1 and defending champ Bryce Paul (47-3) of Alburnett at 160. At 170, fellow Viking and No. 6 TimBarr (51-1) draws No. 9 Zach Ryg (416) of Central Springs.
MVAO's Jensen, rated No. 6, puts his perfect mark on the line against No. 7 Brian Sadler (38-2) of Jesup.
Brothers Sam and Steven Gregory of Treynor will likely be wrestling simultaneously at 170 and 182, respectively. Unrated Sam (40-5) gets No. 3 Noah Huber (45-0) of Hudson and No. 5 Steven opens against unrated Mason Lyons (43-7) of Bellevue.