By Dan Angell
By the time Justin Guilliams stepped onto the mat for the final bout of Clinton's dual against Bettendorf in the teams' 3A regional final, the result had long ago been decided.
That didn't matter to either Guilliams or his teammates. Although the River Kings knew well before the 195-pound match that they would not be advancing to the 3A state tournament in Des Moines, the entire team got behind Guilliams, pulling for a win as if the result meant everything.
After all, given where the River Kings had been a few years ago, ending their dual season one step short of the state tournament against Iowa's top-ranked 3A squad wasn't anything to be ashamed of for anyone in red and black.
Guilliams made sure Clinton's last dual of the year would end on a positive note, taking control of the match early against Zack Moffitt with a slam to the mat and never relinquishing it, scoring a 12-6 victory that left the River Kings with a respectable 48-27 defeat as the three-time state finalist Bulldogs sealed another trip to Des Moines on Wednesday night at Bettendorf High School.
“The team score was out of hand, so I figured I'd just go out and wrestle and see if we could end the night with a good match,” Guilliams said. “I had the confidence and went into the match knowing that I was going to win.
Guilliams was one of four River Kings to earn a victory on the mat and the only one to win via decision. Other Clinton victors included Dillon Chase at 170 pounds, Tyler Clark in the heavyweight division and Hunter Genco at 126, while Alex Caldwell won by forfeit at 145.
For Genco, the feeling was a tad bittersweet as he competed in the final dual of his Clinton career. He had no issues in his match, pinning Jackson Gallagher in a mere 30 seconds. The rest of his night was spent enjoying the atmosphere that he and his teammates created.
“We really showed a lot of teamwork out there,” Genco said. “Everyone's hearts were out there, there was passion out there. We were so into it and had so much fun. It feels good to end on a high note like that, we haven't had that atmosphere in a long time.”
Clinton coach J.D. Lueders was well aware of what the moment meant to his team and came in with the goals of both enjoying the chance to compete at a level the River Kings hadn't seen in a while and preparing his wrestlers for the 3A district tournaments on Saturday.
“We had nothing to lose,” Lueders said. “This was a big milestone for our program, (going from) being 2-21 five years ago to being in the regional finals against a nationally ranked team. Our kids didn't quit, even in that last match. I thought we had a good effort.”
Realistically, Clinton's best hope at upsetting Bettendorf was to avoid pins against the Bulldogs' top wrestlers, a hope that died early in the dual when the teams reached the lightest weight classes. Clark got the Kings an early lead by pinning Ian Burklund, but Bettendorf's quartet of Jack Wagner (106), Jacob Schwarm (113), Paul Glynn (120) and Fredy Stoker (132) proved too much for Clinton.
All four scored victories by falls, racking up 24 points for the Bulldogs and preventing the River Kings from creating a pressure situation at the end of the match.
“We have young kids with losing records at those weights wrestling against state-caliber kids,” Lueders said. “Our goal was not to get pinned, but we were overmatched there, and we knew that going in.
“But I keep saying that our program is still coming. We're still trying to build that momentum, and these guys have it. Heck, how many state trophies have they won in the past four years? So I'm good with it. Our kids battled hard, and we can walk out of here proud of our efforts.”
Looking back on his time in a Clinton singlet, Genco was certainly proud of what his team had created and the new expectations that have been set for Clinton wrestling.
“It's been extremely different to take it from what little we had and year by year, we've built and built,” Genco said. “Now we're up here competing with these guys. It's amazing to see what our coaching staff has done with the program in these past four years. It's pretty cool to see how far we've come and the changes we've made to the community.”
BETTENDORF 48, CLINTON 27
220 — Max Erpelding (B) dec. Evan Gerdes, 1-0; 285 —Tyler Clark (C) fall Ian Burklund, 2:54; 106 — Jack Wagner (B) fall Sam Cruthis, 1:27; 113 — Jacob Schwarm (B) fall Craig Harlock, 0:30; 120 —Paul Glynn (B) fall Damon Dann, 3:14; 126 — Hunter Genco (C) fall Jackson Gallagher, 0:30; 132 — Fredy Stoker (B) fall Riley Chapman, 0:15; 138 — Logan Ryan (B) tech. fall Curtis Ilg, 3:08 (23-7); 145 — Alex Caldwell (C) win by forfeit; 152 — Jacob Woodard (B) maj. dec. Dustin Caldwell, 12-4; 160 — Michael Belanger (B) fall Brendan Stoller, 0:42; 170 — Dillon Chase (C) fall Brady Neyrinck, 1:09; 182 — Eli Preisser (B) fall Darean Witt, 4:00; 195 — Justin Guilliams, (C) dec. Zack Moffitt, 12-6.