I’ve been a sports writer long enough to know how incredibly difficult it is to become a Division-I athlete.
I’ve covered numerous superstars over the years who I thought were sure-fire Division-I caliber athletes, but for one reason or another, were often recruited by, but did not sign with the major programs.
That’s what makes what Midland senior wrestler Damon Huston announced recently that much more amazing.
Huston, one of the greatest ever to don a singlet in Eagle history, stated a few weeks ago that he will continue his wrestling education at Iowa State University.
The news gave me goose bumps almost immediately, because the talent one must possess just to be able to be recruited by (not to mention become a member of) a wrestling program the caliber of an Iowa State is absolutely mind-boggling.
Huston, as he has shown on numerous occasions over the past three years, has that special ability. And it’s the Cyclones who are going to benefit.
Off the top of my head (and please forgive me if I left anyone out), I can think of 11 Journal-Eureka area athletes who have made it to the D-I level in the last 25 years out of the thousands of amazingly gifted stars I’ve covered.
Andrea Eilertson (University of Kentucky, softball), Marshal Yanda (University of Iowa, football), Moza Fay (University of Northern Iowa, wrestling), Kelsey Worcester (South Dakota State, soccer), Audra Ketelsen (Marquette University, track and field), Colten Kelly (University of Northern Iowa, basketball), Kalli Hansen (University of Iowa, basketball), Jordan Cress (Iowa State track and field), Jake Hulett (University of Iowa, football), Elias Nissen (University of Northern Iowa, football) and Corinne Gadient (University of Northern Iowa, track and field) have all reached that lofty level.
Eilertson, Yanda, Fay, Worcester, Ketelsen, Kelly and Gadient are all Anamosa High School alumni while Hansen and Cress hailed from Olin. Hulett and Nissen are graduates from Springville. Now Huston joins the group from Midland, completing the coverage area sweep with D-I stars from the last quarter-century.
Now don’t get me wrong. To compete collegiately at any level takes major talent, and thankfully we’ve had and continue to have a plethora in this area.
Just listing those 11 names from the past brings back some incredible memories for me of what those area athletes were not only able to achieve at the collegiate (and in Yanda’s case, professional) level, but when they were back in high school around here as well.
There have been some incredibly gifted shortstops at Anamosa during my time here (recent graduate and D-II Minnesota State freshman Ellie Tallman is certainly one), but Eilertson was on a level that few in the state of Iowa could match from the late 1990s.
As a sophomore, Eilertson helped the Raiders to the state championship game in 1996 not only producing amazing range and a powerful arm defensively, but booming bat at the plate as well. She was a five-tool player who could do it all, and started all four years at Kentucky.
Yanda’s career has been well documented and is known by most of America, but Fay’s run at Anamosa was also one that gave me goose bumps and worthy of inclusion into the area history books.
Watching Huston wrestle during the past three years is the closest thing I’ve seen to a Fay-like talent.
Fay claimed back-to-back state championships (2003, 2004) and while Huston has had some heartbreaking state losses each of the past two years, I’m betting he breaks through and claims a title this winter (knock on wood).
Worcester was a woman among girls on the soccer field for Anamosa back in the early 2000s, and if I’m not mistaken, continues to be the state of Iowa’s all-time leading goal-scorer to this very day.
Ketelsen has the discus record at Anamosa that could realistically stand for the next 100 years while Kelly goes down as one of the greatest all-around athletes I have ever seen.
Colten was a first-team All-State football and basketball star who also knew how to swing a golf club amazingly well, too, reaching the state tournament numerous times with some phenomenal Anamosa teams. But Kelly made his name known state-wide with what he did on the track, winning a pair of state high jump championships (jumping what is still a class 3A record 6-feet, 11-inches as a senior back in 2008) as well as claiming a Drake Relays high jump title that spring, too. The kid oozed talent, and could have been a D-I athlete in numerous sports (yes, he was THAT good).
Hansen, a gifted athlete who could do it all on the basketball court, helped the Lions to the brink of the state tournament back in 2008, falling to Springville. I remember former Anamosa principal and athletic director Kirk Ketelsen (father of Audra) telling me years before Hansen was even playing at the high school level with the Lions’ high school program, that Hansen was the best girls basketball player he had ever seen in this area and would someday be an Iowa Hawkeye.
Ketelsen proved to be amazingly prophetic, as Hansen spent the first two years of her collegiate career with the Kirkwood woman’s program before transferring to Iowa for her junior and senior seasons where she was a key reserve off the bench for coach Lisa Bluder’s program.
Cress was a state champion high jumper for the Lions back in 2010 during an era head coach Rich Ginn seemed to be producing amazing leapers is if he was taking them off an assembly line. Cress was also an extremely gifted basketball player for the Lions versatile enough to play the point guard position even from his 6-foot, 6-inch frame.
Hulett, Nissen and Gadient are much more recent names in AJ-E lore, with Gadient a current member of the Panther track and field squad.
After Huston’s announcement, it just makes me wonder. Who will be the next area star to play with a D-I program? Whoever it is, I’m guessing they’re in the process of trying to make that dream come true right now. And the good news is, we’ll all get to enjoy the journey to that prestigious level. Just like we have so many times in the past 25 years.