DES MOINES — His mom’s battle with cancer, a burnt down barn and redemption.
Prairie City-Monroe’s Lucas Roland had plenty of motivation this week at the Iowa High School State Wrestling Championships.
And Roland turned his motivation into the school’s first individual state championship Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Mustang junior put together his best performance of the weekend on the mat against top-ranked Kolton Bartow of Dubuque Wahlert, and it resulted in a dominating 5-1 victory in front of a sold-out championship night crowd.
Roland is the school’s first individual champion. He caps his season at 49-1. He did not lose to a 2A wrestler.
“It’s been a tough year for their whole family. All of those things just fueled him. There was some extra drive for sure,” PCM coach Jeff Nicholson said. “This was definitely something listed on our goals. We thought all along we had a few guys in the room that could win a state title.”
Roland wrestled with an incredible amount of emotion and adversity this season.
In the offseason, a barn on Roland’s family farm burnt down.
Then just before the season officially started, Roland’s mother, Jeri, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The battle on the mat to win his first state title was nothing compared to what his mom has had to deal with the past six months.
“She’s my everything. She’s my mom,” Roland said. “She has been fighting right there alongside with me. I know that as long as I fight and give it everything I have out here, she’ll do the same for me. I just tried to keep fighting all season.
“She has been watching me work towards this my entire life. Seeing how happy she was for me was great. It was the best feeling in the world.”
The match itself against Bartow, who defeated Roland twice at last year’s state tournament, was controlled by Roland most of the way.
Roland fought off a shot by Bartow early in the first period and then went up 2-0 with a takedown with about 30 seconds left on the clock. He rode out Bartow the rest of the period and took a two-point lead into the next two minutes.
“It was a confidence booster,” Roland said on getting an early takedown. “He got in on a shot and I stayed out of it. That helped me show that he wasn’t going to take me down. I wasn’t going to just rest easy.”
After an escape in the first few seconds of the period, Roland took Bartow down again to go up 5-0. He held that lead through the second quarter.
Bartow’s only points of the match came on an escape in the third period.
“My focus has been on redeeming myself from last year,” Roland said. “This hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”
Not even a 5-0 lead was comfortable for Nicholson or Roland, who had learned from his experience against Bartow last year. Roland held leads in the third period against the Dubuque Wahlert senior last year and lost both by close decisions.
That was on his mind this time around, but he wouldn’t be denied a state title he has been working towards since he was a young child.
“I knew I couldn’t stop moving. Last year, I stopped moving and it cost me. I was thinking about last year the whole time in the third period,” Roland said. “I wasn’t going to lose this one.”
The Mustangs suffered a few heartbreakers during the early stages of the tournament. Nicholson made sure Roland didn’t let up with a comfortable lead.
“We were on him not to coast. He needed to stay on his offense. We lost a bunch of close matches this week. We didn’t want this to be another one,” Nicholson said. “I have been part of three state finals now. And this one ended a lot better than those other two. None of us wanted to feel what we felt the first two times.
“Up until we saw double zeros, we were on him to stay active. We didn’t want to give Bartow any momentum.”
Before Roland defeated Bartow on Saturday, he had to win two matches on Friday to advance to his first finals.
In the quarterfinals, Roland took down Jack Neuhaus of West Delaware, 8-3. He led 2-1 after one, 6-2 after two and scored his final takedown with 24 seconds left in the match to seal the win.
Neuhaus (32-14) went on to place seventh.
In the semifinals, Roland met up with Mount Vernon’s Paul Ryan, who is ranked fifth at 160 but bumped up to 170 for the state tournament. Roland defeated Ryan 8-5. Ryan (39-9) eventually finished fourth.
PCM has had a wrestler in the finals in three of the past four seasons. Roland is the first to have his hand raised. But both he and Nicholson are confident more champions are coming.
“I hope this paves the way for a lot of others after me,” Roland said. “Let’s open up the flood gates. I think PCM has a lot more coming. This is just the beginning.”
Nicholson added,”This means a lot for our community and our wrestling program. There’s been a lot of work put in by our mat club coaches, junior high coaches and high school coaches. There’s a lot of years that we’ve been working together preparing the kids for this day. And we have more coming.”