By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — DES MOINES – Emotions that seemed so fabulous early Thursday afternoon after wins by seniors Hunter Genco and Alex Caldwell came crashing down just as fast, and dropped even further for the Clinton High wrestling team.
Five pins in a row – all of them with River Kings’ shoulders on the mat – and an 8-2 loss in the final match of the day took a lot of cheer out of the team and left Clinton’s other three state qualifiers heartbroken at the Iowa Class 3A state tournament in Wells Fargo Arena.
“We’re pretty well deflated,” coach J.D. Lueders said moments before leaving the arena for the team’s hotel. “You’ve got to be happy for the first two kids, but that felt like a long time ago.”
Returning state qualifiers Dustin Caldwell (152 pounds) and Dillion Chase (170) both were pinned twice, and freshman Tyler Clark was pinned in the first round and lost by decision in the team’s final wrestleback of the day.
Despite the ending disappointment, Lueders couldn’t have been more pleased by the performances from Genco and Alex Caldwell.
“Hunter came here on a mission,” Lueders said. “Alex wrestled a very smart match.”
Genco, a three-time state placewinner, made it look easy again, improving to 38-1 with his 27th pin of the season. He needed just 44 seconds to flatten Logen Rodriguez of Cedar Rapids Kennedy in the first round at 126 pounds.
“I just expect to win,” Genco said of the approach he is taking into matches.
The win put Genco, ranked third in the state, into a quarterfinals matchup today against Indianola’s John Gioffredi, the No. 4-ranked wrestler who handed Genco a loss in last year’s first round that served as a turning point in Genco’s career.
Gioffredi went on to finish second in the state last year at 120 pounds, but Genco won five straight in the wrestlebacks to finish third and has lost just once since then.
Caldwell, No. 4 at 145, advanced to a quarterfinals matchup with top-ranked Bryce Steiert of Waverly-Shell Rock by beating Zeljko Caculovic of Urbandale 3-0. Caldwell wrestled a strategic match, staying active on his feet.
“That definitely was my game plan,” he said. “I’ve been a little sluggish on my feet compared to last year. I planned to move my feet, and I did it well.”
The movement helped Caldwell record a takedown about 30 seconds into the match when he stuffed Caculovic’s head and darted behind him to get control.
“Phil Callahan called us before we left and talked to us about getting the first takedown and how that demoralizes (your opponent),” Caldwell said, referring to the 1981 Clinton High state champion who went on to earn All-America honors at the University of Illinois. “He was one of coach’s teammates, and he (Lueders) makes reference to how mean (Callahan) was.
“I tired (Caculovic) out on the bottom.”
As soon as Caldwell finished on Mat 1, his brother was called to same mat but with a much different result.
Trailing 1-0 in the second period, Dustin Caldwell tried to set up Ethan Ruby of Council Bluffs Lewis Central with a double underhook for a trip but got caught and was instead taken down to his back for a five-point move. He was caught again trying for a throw in the third period and wound up getting pinned in 5 minutes, 10 seconds.
“We had two wins that were exciting, then wham,” Lueders said. “Sometimes when things start spiraling down it’s hard to stop it.”
Chase went down next. The top-ranked wrestler at 170 was taken down to his back for a fall by No. 6 Hank Swalla of Ames just 10 seconds into the second period.
The first round ended when Clark was pinned in 2:24 by second-ranked Jake Marnin of Southeast Polk.
The Kings’ tough times didn’t end there. They continued right into the consolation round.
“We tried to get focused on the next round, but we had a hard time coming back,” Lueders said.
Dustin Caldwell ran into 2013 state champion Jake Woodard of Bettendorf – who was knocked off in the first round – and Woodard pinned Caldwell a fraction of a second before the second period ended. Next, Chase was reversed to his back and pinned in 1:10 by 10th-ranked Mason Kerr of Southeast Polk. Clinton’s day ended when seventh-ranked Tom Schiffer of Mason City beat Clark 8-2.
“It’s part of the sport,” Lueders said of the losses, “but the part I don’t like is it was all in the same day.”
Bettendorf, coached by former Clinton four-time state champion Dan Knight, closed the first day of competition with the team lead with 33 points, followed in the top five by Southeast Polk (29.5), Waverly-Shell Rock (27.5), Cedar Rapids Prairie (17.5) and Marion Linn-Mar (17). Clinton was tied with Johnston and Keokuk for 26th place with six points.