STORM LAKE - Despite the starting lineup consisting of freshmen and sophomores, Buena Vista is rated eighth in the latest NCAA Division III national poll on the strength of returning All-Americans Jamie Taxted and Dax Doran.
Taxted, ranked second at 125 pounds, and Doran, rated fifth at heavyweight, are contenders for the Iowa Conference title at their respective weights. Taxted and Doran will have to reach the championship matches in the conference championships in February to guarantee themselves a national berth. The Iowa Conference takes the champion, runner-up, and a wild card.
Both Taxted and Doran, like the other starters, will be tested before tournament time. The Iowa Conference is the toughest league in Division III wrestling. Wartburg (second), Upper Iowa (fourth) and Luther (seventh) are rated ahead of the Beavers. No. 17 Loras is expected to make a climb up the polls.
The Beavers started a busy two-week period by winning the Terry Haws Duals at St. John's College in Minnesota. They visit Orange City for a meet against Northwestern tonight. On Saturday, the Beavers will travel to Pella for the Central Duals where they could face third-ranked University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.
A few weeks later, the Beavers will be traveling to Columbus, Ohio, for the National Duals on Jan. 19. They will also compete at the Iowa Conference Duals a week later.
Taxted is ranked second even though he has only wrestled one match this season - a major decision victory. After two state championships during his prep career at Webster City, Taxted came to Buena Vista and went 9-5 during his freshman year. In his sophomore year, he posted a subpar 5-7 record.
The reason, according to Taxted, was that he didn't take wrestling seriously. Last season, he was roommates with Mark Van Beek, a former wrestler and national qualifier. Working with Van Beek helped Taxted settle down, focus on wrestling, and put in a full season, which led to a 24-4 record and a third-place finish at the national meet. His career record stands at 39-16.
Doran originally came to Buena Vista to play football. He was a first team all-state selection and lettered in wrestling at Harlan. Last season, Doran went 31-11 and finished eighth at the national meet. He has gone 6-1 so far this season., including an 8-0 win over Dakota Wesleyan's Chad Johnson, who is the top-ranked wrestler in the NAIA heavyweight class. Doran defeated Brad Akerman of Minnesota State-Moorhead to clinch the Terry Haws Duals championship for Buena Vista last weekend. His only loss came to Mark Simmonds of Southwest State. Doran's career record stands at 44-13.
Doran said that he plans on dropping 15 to 20 more pounds in order to gain more speed. Along with the conference championship, he also added that his goal is to win the national championship. Both Taxted and Doran will have tough competition in the following weeks before the conference and national meets. Taxted is one of five of the top six wrestlers at 125 pounds who are expected to participate at the National Duals, including defending conference champion Zach Audetat of Luther and top-ranked Darin Betram of Augsburg.
"I think the competition at my weight class is going to be very intense," Taxted said. "Everyone is out to prove they are the best at that weight. I just need to step up my level of wrestling and wrestle the full seven minutes of every match out there because a lot of these matches can determine seeds for the national tournament."
Other contenders for the 125-pound title include Audetat and Jeremy Hendricks of Central, who Taxted will meet when Central comes to Storm Lake on Jan. 9.
"I would have to wrestle hard every match of the minute first hand," Taxted said about facing Hendricks. "With Audetat, I would have to stay focused the whole time and wrestle the full seven minutes, and hopefully come out on top."
"Jamie's not the kind that's going to overpower people," Buena Vista coach Al Baxter said. "But he has a lot of good technique and he has good position."
Doran faces stiff competition at the Central Duals. With the possibility of the Beavers wrestling against Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Doran could be facing Jason Ott, who is ranked second at heavyweight. He could also face Ott in the National Duals. Doran and Ott are six of the top eight in the heavyweight class that are expected to participate. Leroy Gardner of Wartburg, who Doran could face more than once before the conference championships, will also be a tough match for the Beaver heavyweight.
"I need to wrestle the match my way and just go hard and hopefully that will pay off," Doran said.
"I think the National Duals are going to be a good experience for the team," Taxted said. "It is going to prepare us for the national tournament competition-wise and give us a chance to see top-level competition."
"They will never be as fun as the warm weather that we get in Florida, but it will be a new experience and will be a tough tourney to see how we do in the nation," Doran added.
Both Taxted and Doran praise Baxter for their success.
"Coach Baxter is a great coach, great people person, and gets you going the whole year," Taxted said. "He knows just how to peak his wrestlers at the end of the season. That's what he does for a program every year. We're a top 10 team in the nation year-in and year-out."
"He is a great coach," Doran said. "I would do anything for him."