DES MOINES - When you enter the state wrestling tournament with an unbeaten record, many are quick to peg you as the favorite in your respective weight class.
While Fort Dodge senior Duke Egli prefers the role of the underdog, his No. 1 ranking and perfect mark have him sitting atop many shortlist as potential state champions by the end of the week.
Egli and four other Dodgers will take to the mats here on Thursday beginning at 2 p.m. inside Wells Fargo Arena.
The state finals in all three classes go down Saturday night beginning at 6 p.m.
Erik Birnbaum, Cole Determing, Kole Evans and Riley Prescott are the four other qualifiers for FDSH head coach Bobby Thompson. Birnbaum, Determing and Evans are making their state debuts.
"We want all five kids to perform, not just be satisfied to be state qualifiers," Thompson said. "We want them all to get on the podium, and I feel like they all have that drive, as well."
Egli (37-0) will begin his journey against Mount Pleasant's Jayton Phillips (23-14) in the 170-pound quarterfinals. The senior, making his third state appearance, placed eighth a year ago, while Phillips was a qualifier.
After defeating then-No. 1 Dylan Blackford (43-3) of Southeast Polk at the CIML Invitational, Egli served notice that he is in search of one thing, and one thing only: a state title.
"That's the ultimate goal," Egli said. "To win a state title Saturday night."
The quarterfinals could present a highlight for the fans in attendance, with second-ranked Dustin Fuller (48-0) of Sioux City North possibly waiting in the wings. Fuller has Linn-Mar's Luke Wempen (15-9) in the first round.
Three ranked wrestlers comprise the top-half of the bottom bracket, led by fourth-ranked Mitch Bowman (44-2) from North Scott. No. 8 Sam Pickard (34-9) of Ankeny and Waverly Shell-Rock's 10th-ranked Thomas Foy (33-10) are also there.
Blackford sits in the upper-half, along with fifth-rated Cameron Rathje (34-2) from Cedar Rapids Prairie, No. 6 Brady Letney (43-5) of Pleasant Valley and seventh-ranked Joe Teague (28-7) from Algona.
"With Duke, we have just been telling him to keep everything the same; his warm-up, his practice sessions, everything," Thompson said. "Our mission, for Duke and the other four qualifiers, is to take it one match at a time. You are 24 minutes from a state title, and you need to wrestle six minutes at a time to climb the podium."
Birnbaum (35-6) has been on a strong run since the winter break ended, capturing a district title and pushing his way into the rankings at No. 10.
The sophomore draws fourth-ranked Henry Pohlmeyer (33-5) from Johnston in the opening round. Pohlmeyer, also a 10th-grader, lost to top-ranked Nolan Hellickson from Southeast Polk at districts.
Birnbaum has never defeated Pohlmeyer, much like Egli was winless over Blackford prior to the CIML invite.
"Erik and Henry go way back, as they have competed against each other probably a half-dozen times growing up," Thompson said. "With Duke's win over Blackford, that really did something for our team. It gave our kids a lot of excitement, and I think this would be a perfect time for Erik to get his first win (over Pohlmeyer)."
Awaiting the winner would be a quarterfinal bout with either Kyler Lowe (15-7) from Waterloo East or Chase Evans (30-12) of Glenwood.
"We know (Pohlmeyer) is a tough kid, a national All-American, but Erik is wrestling with a high level of confidence right now," Thompson said. "The 106-pound bracket is loaded. Heck, there are a lot of quality kids who didn't advance to state."
Determing (31-13) earned his berth the hard way, scoring a win in a wrestleback to advance as the district runner-up. He gets eighth-ranked Paul Glynn (30-12) of Bettendorf in round one.
After cracking the starting lineup out of the gates as a ninth-grader, Determing has helped provide Dodger wrestling with a bright star for the future.
"Cole has a tremendous work ethic," Thompson said. "He wrestles with a lot of determination. I am surprised that, as a freshman, he won as many matches as he did, but that just shows how hard he works."
The winner of Determing-Glynn gets either No. 2 Clayton Eicher from West Des Moines Valley (41-2) or Jordan Peterson (22-6) of Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln in the quarters.
Like Birnbaum and Determing, Evans (24-18) is another underclassmen. The junior will face classmate Nate Caves (34-8) of Oskaloosa.
And, like Determing, Evans claimed a wrestleback last Saturday to secure his first state berth.
"Kole is pretty fired up to be going to state," Thompson said. "He knows how great it feels to qualify, but he wants even more - as do all five of our qualifiers."
A quarterfinal round appearance for Evans will mean a date with either No. 1 Alijah Jeffery (44-2) from Linn-Mar or Matt Malcom (35-15) of Glenwood.
Prescott (28-14) is the fourth underclassmen set to represent FDSH, as the ninth-ranked junior gets Chris Hiserote (17-14) from LeMars in round one.
Like Egli, Prescott claimed a district title, and is also making his second appearance at state.
"Riley's experience from last year will help him wrestle with a lot more confidence (this week)," Thompson said. "He's hungry, and he really wants a medal this time."
In the quarters for the winner of Prescott-Hiserote will await either fourth-rated Dane Jones (27-3).