By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
DES MOINES —
Perhaps now Clinton’s Hunter Genco will think a bit more highly of himself.
Genco earned his best finish in three trips to the Iowa high school wrestling state tournament, placing third in Class 3A at 120 pounds. He was one of three River Kings to finish in the top five — junior Dustin Caldwell claimed fourth at 152 and sophomore Dillion Chase was fifth at 160 — as the team placed 13th with 43 points in the three-day event at Wells Fargo Arena.
Criticized by his coach for lacking confidence in a first-round loss, Genco responded with five consecutive wins in the wrestlebacks to cap a 37-6 season and earn a spot on the awards stand for the third year in a row. He placed seventh at 103 pounds as a freshman and sixth at 113 last year.
“That’s what really pushed me over the edge,” Genco, a junior said, of wrestling with confidence as the tournament went on. “Confidence is definitely what brought me over the edge today. After my first match (a 9-8 loss to Indianola’s John Gioffredi on Thursday), I had absolutely no confidence, for what reason I don’t know why. After that match, I told myself, ‘I want it more; I’m going to win.’
“I ended up pulling it off every time. I don’t stop till the end.”
Genco had little trouble against Ankeny’s Austin Anderson in the third-place match. A first-period takedown gave him a lead he never lost, and he iced the 5-1 win on another takedown with 15 seconds left in the match.
“I really knew I was going to beat him, whether he knew it or not,” Genco said. “Looking at him before the match, he wasn’t even warming up. He was just happy with fourth place. He knew he was going to get fourth, and he was happy with that. I wanted to overachieve and get third.”
Reaching the third-place match was more difficult.
Genco had to dig deep in his first match Saturday morning. He trailed top-ranked Alijah Jeffery of Marion Linn-Mar 8-2 after two periods but came back to beat the two-time third-place finisher at his weight 11-8. It was Genco’s second straight win against Jeffery, who had won all of their previous matches.
“Jeffery thought he could beat me because he said he was apparently sick last time I wrestled him,” Genco said. “If he’s sick today, then I don’t know what’s his problem.
“It’s the normal thing for him. Even last year. He beat me at the Bob Lueders like 9-3 and I wrestled him at state and lost to him by two points in the last five seconds. He get worse as the season year goes on because his body is so out of shape, it’s so weak because he drains himself every time he cuts weight. Me, I get better because ... honestly it’s because of this man right here (coach J.D. Lueders). He pushes me to be the best I can possibly be.”
The comeback began when Genco chose the down position to start the third period, but Jeffery elected to start on his feet, surrendering a point for an escape. Twenty seconds later, Jeffery found himself headed to his back.
“It was a lateral drop,” Genco said of the five-point move that evened the score at 8-8. “When I was down 8-2 it was kind of scary, but I always knew I’ve got the second and third period. Jeffery always gives up in the second and third period. He goes out like a bat out of hell for the first period, then you know for a fact the second and third period are yours.
“I took advantage of that and him being lazy on his feet, and I just tossed him.”
Genco won with another three-point near fall, locking up a cradle to close the match.
“I knew I was going to get the cradle,” he said. “I hopped sides, and he always stands up outside leg. I had the crossface to the elbow out to the other side, and he basically gave up right there. He didn’t even try to fight off his back. He knew he lost. I was smiling the whole time.”
Dillion Chase also finished with a smile as he beat River Whitters of Cedar Rapids Prairie 4-2 for fifth place at 160.
“It was a nice turnout in the end,” Chase said. “It’s always good to win your last match at the state tournament to leave on a good note.”
Chase used a first-period takedown and second-period reversal to take control of the match. Whitters scored his lone points on a late takedown.
“The takedown in the first period, that’s always the biggest,” said Chase, who lost 4-1 to Burlington’s Dalton Witte in the consolation semifinals earlier Saturday. “Usually the person with the first takedown wins. Riding him, getting him tired was good. He barely even came at me in the third period because he was so tired.”
Caldwell was satisfied with his fourth-place finish at 152 after a 13-4 loss to Ethan Ruby of Council Bluffs Lewis Central.
“It was a long, grueling season, especially this tournament, four matches, three days, top 16 in your weight class out of the whole state,” he said. “It’s just tough, but it’s definitely worth the reward.”
Caldwell advanced to the third-place match by beating Dylan Matter of West Des Moines Valley 3-1 in overtime in the consolation semifinals.
“It was close to a takedown at the end of the third out of bounds,” Caldwell said. “I thought I had it, but the ref didn’t think so. After that, I knew I could get in on his legs. In overtime, I just had the confidence to win it. I just wanted it more than he did.”
Now, the trio and fellow state qualifiers Justin Guilliams and Alex Cald-well are looking ahead.
“I’m glad to be a part of this team,” Caldwell said. “We’re all hoping for Saturday night matches (next year). Alex is going to come back and redeem himself next year, me, Hunter, Dillion, we’re going to place higher next year. Justin Guilliams is going to be a sophomore with a year under his belt and is going to do great things. We’ll just see what happens with our incoming freshmen and our JV kids and see if they step up.”