By Matt Pfiffner
Publisher, The Predicament

The Independence Invitational on Saturday is being referred to as "The Nightmare Before Christmas." T-shirts with the logo at right will be sold during the day. The buzz for the tournament has gotten so big, it is being discussed on national message boards.

And why not? With all three top-ranked teams in Iowa in attendance and several other solid squads, the team race should be exciting to watch unfold all day.

But the team race - which will no doubt earn the winner the title as best tournament team in the state - will probably take a back seat to the number of outstanding individual matches that should unfold throughout the tournament.

Fifty-two ranked wrestlers are expected to compete in the tournament. They will be joined by many others who are just on the outside of the rankings looking in. Twenty-six of those ranked wrestlers have earned at least one medal at the State Tournament in their careers, including five who have won titles.

Class 1A top-ranked Don Bosco (Gilbertville) may be the smallest school in the tournament, but the Dons lead all teams with 13 ranked individuals out of 14 weight classes and never back down from a challenge. Class 2A No.1 Ballard (Huxley) has nine individuals in the latest rankings, including five in the top three at their respective weights. Class 3A powerhouse Waverly-Shell Rock has 12 individuals ranked, including a pair of former State champs and two more who finished second at State last season.

Other teams competing in the 10-team field are Class 3A seventh-ranked Bettendorf, Cedar Falls, Charles City, Independence, Iowa City High, Mason City and North Fayette.

Here is a brief weight-by-weight preview of the tournament.

Class 2A top-ranked Tanner Schmidt of Charles City may be the favorite at this weight, but it definitely won't be an easy title to win. Schmidt placed fifth in 3A last season and now holds the top spot in 2A with Charles City dropping down this season. 2A sixth-ranked Tyler Endres of Independence is also in the field, as is 3A's eighth-ranked Stephen Blayer of Iowa City High.

A pair of outstanding freshmen will get to show off their skills in a big setting. 3A fourth-ranked Jordan Rinken of Waverly-Shell Rock and 1A fifth-ranked Brandon Welter of Don Bosco look to show why they are deserving of such lofty rankings this early in their careers.

Sophomore Cole Welter of Don Bosco, ranked No. 1 in 1A, has to be considered the favorite here, with a State title already under his belt. Someone who may have something to say about that is another outstanding freshman from Waverly-Shell Rock, 3A fifth-ranked Cody Caldwell. Kevin Hancock of Cedar Falls, ranked ninth in 3A, could be a tough semifinal bout for one of these two.

This will be one of the best weights at the tournament, with four ranked wrestlers, including a pair of State finalists from 2007.

3A top-ranked senior Nick Trizzino of Bettendorf, who suffered a loss last weekend, is considered the favorite here. He won State at 112 last season over second-ranked sophomore Jake Ballweg of W-SR, who will also be in the field. Junior Tyler Grask of Ballard, who transferred from Dowling Catholic and was a two-time 3A State qualifier and one-time State place winner, is ranked second in 2A. Sophomore Ben McMahon of Don Bosco brings in the No. 4 ranking in 1A.

Don Bosco should be favored at this weight class, with two-time State champion and top-ranked Bart Reiter. Reiter is halfway to joining brother Mack as a four-time State champ. Matt Kittleson of W-SR is ranked third in 3A, while talented freshman Tanner Weatherman of Ballard entered the latest rankings in 2A at No. 10.

A pair of returning State place finishers highlight the field at 130. Mike Kremer of Independence, ranked third in 2A, finished sixth in the State last season at 119. Cody Delagardelle of Don Bosco, ranked fourth in 1A, finished third at 125 a year ago. Toss in 3A sixth-ranked Anthony Campbell of W-SR and you have a very tough trio.

A former State champ heads the field here. Senior Mark Ballweg of W-SR, ranked No. 1 in 3A, won the 103-pound title over Nate Moore of Iowa City West as a freshman, but hasn't won since. He is the favorite at a very tough weight.

3A sixth-ranked Jesse Froehner of Cedar Falls placed sixth at State last year at 125, Nic Coffman of Ballard, ranked third in 2A, finished fifth at 130 a year ago, and Greg Reiter of Don Bosco, ranked sixth in 1A, placed fifth at 119 last season. Also in the field is 3A 10th-ranked Shunichiro Uno of Bettendorf.

Iowa City High's Colton Smith, ranked third at 140 and a third-place finisher at 135 last year at State, will be the slight favorite here. Also at this weight are 2A fifth-ranked Taylor Eichinger of Ballard, seventh at 125 last year, 2A ninth-ranked Clint Straw of Independence and 1A third-ranked Vance Ortner of Don Bosco, who placed fifth at 130 last season.

Three ranked 3A wrestlers lead a group of five rated wrestlers at 145. Third-ranked Michael Kelly of Cedar Falls, fourth-ranked Joey Trizzino of Bettendorf, an eighth-place finisher at 135 as a freshman, and No. 7 Justin Denner of W-SR are all tough customers. Also at 145 are 2A seventh-ranked Issiah Sullivan of Ballard and 1A fifth-ranked Clay Welter of Don Bosco. Welter wrestled junior varsity much of last season, but showed what he is capable of when he soundly defeated the Class 1A State runner-up, Mitch Johnson of Interstate 35, at State Duals last season.

Two-time State runner-up Trent Weatherman of Ballard, ranked No. 1 in 2A, is the favorite here. He defeated the second-ranked wrestler in 3A earlier this season and appears to be on a mission to collect that elusive State title. 3A eighth-ranked Khyle Cox of W-SR , 2A No. 10 Isaac Poolman of Charles City and 1A eighth-ranked Eric Weber of Don Bosco could provide road blocks for Weatherman's title quest this weekend.

This is the weight class that has everyone talking. Six ranked wrestlers are here, which should make for some very tough quarterfinal and semifinal bouts.

Jared Ramsey of 2A Ballard, a State runner-up last season at 152, is ranked third at 160. Jordan Franzen of North Fayette is right behind him in the No. 4 slot. In 3A, we have three of the 10 ranked wrestlers here. No.5 Adain Brock of Cedar Falls, No. 7 Reed Kahler of W-SR and No. 8 Adam Houser of Mason City should be here. Toss in 1A No. 8 Jake Thome of Don Bosco and you have six wrestlers who probably expect to win this weight class coming in.

Lee Averhoff of W-SR, who placed sixth at 189 last season and has dropped down a weight this season, is the early favorite at 171. 2A sixth-ranked T.J. Hiatt placed eighth at 160 last season and 1A seventh-ranked Taylor Kettman of Don Bosco is a very tough sophomore who won't back down from anyone.

Dylan Wrage of W-SR, top-ranked in 3A and the State runner-up at 171 a year ago, is the clear favorite here. H is the lone ranked wrestler in the weight class.

A pair of top-three rated wrestlers could square off here in a match that could help decide the team title. 1A second-ranked Ryan Schares of Don Bosco, who placed fifth at State last season, is on his way to the top ranking after knocking off No. 1 Zach Rosol of Nashua-Plainfield last week. He may be a slight favorite here, but in his way could very well be 2A third-ranked Nate Anderson of Ballard, who finished sixth at 189 at State last season. Alex Schwerdtfeger of Bettendorf, ranked seventh in 3A, has plans to ruin that potential title bout.

There is no doubt who the favorite is here, despite three ranked wrestlers in the field. Eric Thompson of W-SR isn't just the top-ranked wrestler in 3A, he is the top-ranked heavyweight in the nation. The 2007 State champion at 215 has adapted very well to his bump up to 285. Possible finals opponents are 3A fourth-ranked James Ferentz of Iowa City High, son of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, or 1A 10th-ranked Cory Becker of Don Bosco.

The team race is too close to call. Waverly-Shell Rock may be considered a slight favorite, but Don Bosco and Ballard both have the guns to hang with the Go-Hawks all day.

The tournament will be televised live to anyone who has Independence Light & Power Cable on Channel 8. Broadcasting will start just before 10 a.m. and run all day through the final round. There will also be updates on the radio at KQMG 95.3 FM throughout the day.