West Liberty winter sports recap

A capsule look at Comets winter sports in 2023-24 with an eye to spring sports start dates


By Ross Shinberg

Regional Sports Editor

The conclusion of the 2024 Iowa High School Athletic Association’s state wrestling tournament, the winter sports season is at an end.

Featuring outstanding achievements on the mat and on the court, there was plenty to cheer about this season.

Read about each team’s highlights, as well as full statistical recaps for Comets winter sports, in the sections below.

Girls’ wrestling

In just the second year of girls’ wrestling as a sanctioned sport in Iowa, this year’s team already set a high bar for success.

Just a few weeks after becoming River Valley Conference champions, the Comets sent five girls to Coralville with all three Garcia-Vasquez sisters, Silvia, Dionni and Bricsia, coming away as place winners.

Silvia compiled a 31-5 record and upset her way to the championship match at 115, defeating the No. 1, No. 5 and No. 8 seeds along the way.

She finished as the runner-up as the No. 9 seed, improving one position on the podium from the previous season.

Entering the state tournament, it was Dionni who had the highest seed placement at No. 4 as well as the best overall record of any Comet (45-3).

Like Silvia, she also made the championship semifinals by defeating the No. 29, No. 13 and No. 5 seeds in order. While she got tripped up in her next two matches, she closed strong by taking a 2-1 decision victory in the fifth-place match.

Bricsia had perhaps the most surprising run as this was her first year competing in wrestling.

She outperformed her seed, coming in No. 11 and finishing on the podium in eighth place with a 22-7 overall record from the heavyweight division.

While Amerie Alvarado and Alissa Sanchez didn’t record any wins in Coralville, they showed their might at the Super Regional in Cedar Rapids the week prior in their penultimate high school wrestling meet.

Sanchez battled back on the consolation side, winning four straight matches to place third at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse and recording her 28th win of the season.

Alvarado received two free passes into the quarterfinals in her bracket and she took full advantage of the draw. With just two wins, she earned a spot in the first-place match, falling to the eventual state bronze medal winner.

For senior Nellie Stagg, she finished one match short of a shot to go to state. However, her wrestling career is not over, as she signed a letter of intent to compete at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

Other Comets who will get an opportunity to return next season include Alivia Garcia (24-14 record), Charli Gingerich (11-16), Kiley Collins (27-8), Mercedes Brockert (22-19), Vivian Cardona (6-11), and Angelique Bonilla (1-13).

Boys’ wrestling

West Liberty was plenty represented at the Iowa state boys’ wrestling tournament as well with four state qualifiers, three of which were district champions.

Ryan Cassady, Briggs Collins and Kaden Wiele triumphed at the district meet in Solon while Ryker Dengler booked his spot at Wells Fargo Arena with a second-place finish.

While none of the Comets placed at the state tournament, Wiele, a freshman, got himself in position to get on the podium. He fell in the bloodround after compiling his 40th win of the season in the previous round — the best mark of any Comet.

Collins was on his tail with 39 wins this season and one win at the state tournament in the championship first round.

Dengler and Cassady each recorded 31 wins this season with two of Dengler’s coming in Des Moines. Cassady, like Collins, record one win at state.

The season was more than just these four boys. As a team, West Liberty racked up 13 wins in dual action, 12 of which came against River Valley Conference opponents.

Plenty of other wrestlers helped earn these triumphs, including Lincoln Daufeldt (19-18 record), Tully Griffith (27-16), Isaac Aragon (32-15), Landon Wainwright (20-22), Gable Underbakke (31-18), Andre Puentes-Bueno (2-5), Austin Pace-Wurr (1-12), Joe Akers (27-20), Perry Lehman (24-22) and Julio Flores (7-29).

Girls’ basketball

It was a tough season for the West Liberty girls’ basketball program, going 5-17 overall this season and 4-10 in conference play.

The Comets’ best performance of the season was their second game back from winter break when they trounced Camanche 49-33 in a neutral site game at Maquoketa High School.

After a close first-half, the Comets’ offense exploded for 21 points in the third frame to pull away from the Storm. The defense shut Camanche down in the fourth quarter, holding the Storm to just two points.

West Liberty also received multiple all-conference honors this season. Junior Pearson Hall earned a spot on the first team, junior Sophie Buysse placed on the second team and Sully Hall received an honorable mention.

Pearson Hall was one of two Comets to start all 22 games this season (along with Paige Werling) and she scored nearly twice as many total points as the next best Comet. She was also a menace on defense, recording the third-most steals (65) in the conference.

Buysse only played in 16 games this season but made her mark in them. She averaged 7.0 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 1.7 steals per game.

Sully Hall was third on the Comets in scoring per game (6.0), tied with Buysse for the second most rebounds per game and finished just ahead in steals per game with 1.7.

Seasonal stats overview

Points: Pearson Hall (240); Sully Hall (133); Sophie Buysse (112); Paige Werling (110); Maelyn Wainwright (105); Mallory Wulf (70); Madi Buysse (15); Porter Maurer (12); Alyssa Lenz (5).

Rebounds: Maelyn Wainwright (164); Pearson Hall (108); Paige Werling (95); Sully Hall (83); Mallory Wulf (65); Sophie Buysse (61); Alyssa Lenz (23); Porter Maurer (18); Madi Buysse (7).

Assists: Pearson Hall (56); Paige Werling (21); Sophie Buysse (19); Maelyn Wainwright (18); Sully Hall (18); Mallory Wulf (13); Madi Buysse (3); Porter Maurer (1).

Steals: Pearson Hall (65); Sully Hall (42); Sophie Buysse (27); Paige Werling (23); Maelyn Wainwright (16); Mallory Wulf (12); Alyssa Lenz (7); Madi Buysse (2); Porter Maurer (1).

Blocks: Maelyn Wainwright (16); Pearson Hall (3); Sully Hall (3); Paige Werling (3); Mallory Wulf (2); Sophie Buysse (1); Alyssa Lenz (1); Porter Maurer (1).

Field Goal Percentage (Min. 25 attempts): Sophie Buysse (33.9); Maelyn Wainwright (27.7); Paige Werling (27.6); Pearson Hall (27.5); Sully Hall (26.6); Mallory Wulf (23.4).

Boys’ basketball

West Liberty’s boys’ basketball team suffered their struggles as well, finishing 7-15 overall and 3-9 in conference play.

The team saved one of their best performances of the season for the end of the season. Their final win of the year was a 53-38 triumph at home against Benton Community. 

It was over from the jump as the Comets scored three touchdowns and outscored the Bobcats 21-3 after the first eight minutes of play. West Liberty forced 27 turnovers that night and held the Bobcats to just 34.1 pecent shooting from the field.

Like the girls, the boys’ team had three representatives on this year’s all-RVC teams.

There was little doubt senior Jayce McHugh would make it — he placed on the first team. He was joined on the second team by junior Ryker Dengler and on the honorable mention list by junior Seth Axsom.

McHugh, the only Comet to appear in all 22 games this season, dominated his competition. He finished third in the conference in scoring, fourth in rebounds, and fourth in field goal percentage.

Dengler finished second on the Comets in scoring with 10.7 points per game and fourth overall in the conference with 53 steals this season.

Axsom was the team’s third leading scorer at 8.7 PPG while contributing across the board with 3.0 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game.

Seasonal stats overview

Points: Jayce McHugh (416); Ryker Dengler (193); Seth Axsom (183); Cael Daufeldt (65); Ryan Noble (62); Caden Laughlin (52); Jake Underbakke (47); Rafael Mendoza (46); Cole Daufeldt (38); Cameron Iske (8); Perry Lehman (3); John Daufeldt (2).

Rebounds: Jayce McHugh (170); Ryker Dengler (83); Seth Axsom (62); Caden Laughlin (52); Ryan Noble (37); Cole Daufeldt (30); Cael Daufeldt (22); Jake Underbakke (21); Rafael Mendoza (12); Cameron Iske (8); Brady Laughlin (4); Perry Lehman (2); David Mahoney (2); John Daufeldt (1).

Assists: Ryker Dengler (56); Seth Axsom (43); Jayce McHugh (41); Caden Laughlin (27); Cole Daufeldt (19); Ryan Noble (16); Cael Daufeldt (16); Rafael Mendoza (9); Jake Underbakke (8); Cameron Iske (3).

Steals: Ryker Dengler (53); Jayce McHugh (44); Seth Axsom (38); Caden Laughlin (21); Cael Daufeldt (16); Cole Daufeldt (13); Ryan Noble (6); Jake Underbakke (6); Cameron Iske (4); Rafael Mendoza (3); Brady Laughlin (2); David Mahoney (1).

Blocks: Jayce McHugh (10); Ryker Dengler (9); Ryan Noble (6); Seth Axsom (4); Cael Daufeldt (3); Caden Laughlin (2); Cole Daufeldt (1); Jake Underbakke (1); Cameron Iske (1); Brady Laughlin (1).

Field Goal Percentage (Min. 25 attempts): Jayce McHugh (52.9); Ryker Dengler (47.2); Cael Daufeldt (43.5); Rafael Mendoza (41.5); Caden Laughlin (35.4); Ryan Noble (34.8); Seth Axsom (32.1); Jake Underbakke (29.0); Cole Daufeldt (29.4).

Spring sports get to work

With the current temperatures, it might behoove the IHSAA and IGHSAU to start the spring sports seasons a few weeks early.

Nevertheless, they will be here in due time. 

Track and field will fire the starting gun on Tuesday, March 19 as the boys’ and girls’ teams compete in a River Valley Conference indoor meet at the University of Dubuque.

The boys’ and girls’ golf teams will fire their first shots off the tees on Monday, March 25 in a pair of matches against West Branch. The girls will be at home at West Liberty Country Club while the boys will travel to Cedars Edge Golf Course.

Later that evening, the soccer seasons will kick off on the road at Columbus Community High School. The girls’ game is at 5 p.m. and the boys’ game is at 7 p.m.

It’s no joke that the first home soccer games have to wait until the first of April. With Mid-Prairie coming to town, the girls will open at 5 p.m. with the boys following at 6:30 p.m.