Robbins caps legendary career with second title, perfect season
By BRANDON HURLEY
With a slight pause and a deep sigh, Greene County’s McKinley Robbins reflected on a historic wrestling career.
Greatness was always the goal and attain it he did.
His storied success culminated with a second state title Feb. 18 and a perfect season, easily defeating Keokuk’s Tate O’Shea, 15-5 in the Class 2A 138 pound state championship in Des Moines, punctuating a legendary career.
“It’s special,” Robbins said moments after his final wrestling match. “I’m still processing what the heck just happened… It’s special.”
He strove to be one of Iowa’s best ever, and while Robbins may not have exactly reached that lofty goal, he developed resiliency and humility en route to his own historic distinction. An average athlete likely would’ve caved under the pressure.
Not Robbins. He thrived.
“I think yes, (I accomplished everything I wanted to),” Robbins said. “Yes, I didn’t win four state titles, yes I didn’t have a perfect career, but the memories I’ve made and what it’s turned me into as a person, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
Robbins had already cemented his spot as the greatest wrestler in school history prior to stepping foot onto the championship mat - having broken the all-time wins record in addition to becoming the school’s first four-time finalist, but his career wouldn’t be quite complete without another title.
Robbins began his high school career falling short in a state final, but as a senior, he was a champion a second time.
“It feels great,” Robbins said inside Wells Fargo Arena. “I didn’t realize until (local radio broadcaster) Doug Rieder put it into words, he told me ‘you are the best wrestler to ever walk into this room.’ It’s very humbling.”
HOW’D HE DO IT
Losing has been Robbins’ greatest motivator, pushing him to peak at the best possible moment. Each of Robbins’s six career losses (all from the hands of fellow state champions) inspired improvement. A single state title wasn’t enough. After coming up a hair short as a freshman and again as a junior, he still had one more chance to secure multiple titles, an opportunity to solidify his spot in history.
Another gold medal meant Robbins had to get stronger, both physically and mentally.
He strove to become more of an aggressor as well. He also learned how to reel in his focus.
Robbins steamrolled his way through the competition, compiling a perfect 48-0 record without allowing a single takedown.
“I would definitely say my mentality has gotten a lot better,” Robbins said. “I just wrestle more stress free and I wouldn’t say careless, but mindset wise, it’s changed a lot for me.”
The strides he took were apparent as he methodically worked his way through the 138 pound bracket, capturing a pair of pins - including an emphatic takedown of Algona’s Tate Slagle 64 seconds into the semifinals - punctuated with a dominant 15-5 major decision in the title match.
The desire to win was apparent. The outcome was never in doubt.
“My relentless pace,” Robbins said. “I never slowed down, didn’t take any breaks. I think that was the main factor.”
Robbins’s dominant senior season can be largely attributed to his dedication off the mat.
The senior always found a way to improve. He never settled, twice following a loss in the state final with an undefeated championship season. He compiled a perfect 34-0 record as a sophomore after losing in the title match as a freshman then again went undefeated as a senior after falling a hair short the year prior. The senior regrouped and secured perhaps his most impressive title yet.
That success may have fallen short again if not for Robbins’s offseason workout plan. He was back in the weightroom a week after losing to Blaine Frazier in last year’s 132 pound final, committed to building his strength. He began with 6 a.m. training sessions alongside Greene County head coach Zach Beekman. The strength gain was obvious, as Robbins fought off numerous shot attempts and pinned a large number of opponents. The senior was rarely threatened, which is a credit to his work over the summer.
“I asked him if he wanted to start lifting and he said sure,” Robbins said about his training regime with coach Beekman. “We went every morning at six and lifted hard. I got a lot stronger this summer and I thank (coach Beekman) for every part of that. Because nobody else was there every morning like he was. There were a lot of mornings where I know both of us didn’t feel like going, but we got in there and went to work together.”
The senior graduates with a lengthy list of school records, including the all-time wins mark of 164, to go with four state finals appearances, 14 state tournament wins, two state titles, four district titles, four conference championships and two undefeated seasons.
Robbins joined fellow teammate Kale Petersen on the top step of the podium Saturday night, the first duo in school history to win titles in the same year. Petersen cruised to a state championship at 132 pounds, his second straight title as a Ram. He tallied a perfect, 41-0 run through his senior year, never once losing as a member of the GCHS wrestling team. In two years, Petersen compiled 61 consecutive victories.
Together, Robbins and teammate Kale Petersen combined to win 225 total matches, four state titles, six finals appearances while suffering just six losses (none for Petersen). They end their careers on a combined 109 match winning streak.
That nasty combination will be hard to top.
“It was pretty cool,” Robbins said. “I knew I was going to get the job done and I knew Kale knew he was going to get the job done. Sharing that moment with him, especially in our last year, is special.”
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Robbins won 14 matches in his four trips to the state tournament and lost just twice. He excelled when the lights were the brightest, from his days as a small, 106-pound freshman to his chiseled weight of 138 pounds as a senior. He reached the final in four different weight classes. Wells Fargo Arena is where Robbins strove to be, and he didn’t disappoint.
The spectacle always lived up to the hype.
“I would say the atmosphere (is the best part about wrestling at the state tournament),” Robbins said. “It’s nothing like you will ever experience. Just looking up and seeing all the lights, all the people. It’s just amazing.”
From coming up short as a freshman and again as a junior to triumphant state titles as a sophomore and again this year, Robbins left his mark on the legendary mats, joining a select few of multi-time winners and four-time finalists.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs, for sure. Highs and lows,” Robbins said. “Overall, it’s been very memorable and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
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