By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
Hunter Genco is riding high as can be as he prepares to enter the Iowa high school wrestling championship for the fourth time Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
He takes a 37-1 record into the event, and he has won 32 matches in a row, the last eight (not counting two forfeits) by fall.
But, he isn’t worried about going out with too much confidence. To the contrary, he doesn’t have to remember too far in the past when just the opposite was the issue.
“I don’t know if there is such a thing as overconfidence,” Genco said Saturday after winning the district title at 126 pounds in Epworth. “Last year at state, I had no confidence -- first round I had no confidence. I was winning 9-6 or something like that to the kid who wound up finishing second, and I don’t know what it was, but I gave up on myself, and he wound up taking me down three or four times in the last 30 seconds. After that match I gained confidence. I said,’I’m going to win, I’m going to win.’ I think I went 5-0 after that.”
That 9-8 loss was to Indianola’s John Gioffredi, whom Genco will meet in the quarterfinals if both win their opening matches Thursday afternoon. Genco, ranked third in Class 3A at 126 pounds, takes on eighth-ranked Logen Rodriguez of Cedar Rapids Kennedy in his opener.
Genco’s lone loss this year was against Pleasant Valley’s Spencer Nevills, which he avenged in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
That loss, like the one to Gioffredi, has served as reminder to Genco about what can happen.
“I’m kind of glad I lost because it was a wakeup call,” he said. “Once I lost that match, I was, ‘Wow, I need to change.’ I defintitely turned the corner. Since then I’ve pinned just about every guy I’ve wrestled. It all reflects back to my confidence level. In the past couple of weeks, winning all these tournaments, I feel unstoppable.”
Genco, who has recorded 26 pins this season, is one of three seniors who will compete for the River Kings at the three-day meet. Twins Alex Caldwell and Dustin Caldwell are the others. Alex is making his third trip to Des Moines, Dustin his second.
“Last year, I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Dustin, who placed second in the district meet. “This year, I’m returning, so it’s going to be a little easier to focus. I’m just looking for a gold medal, obviously, but to go out and wrestle for the last time.”
Dustin (31-9), ranked ninth in Class 3A, will take on fourth-ranked Ethan Ruby of Council Bluffs Lewis Central in the first round at 152 pounds, while Alex, ranked fourth, faces Zeljko Caculovic of Urbandale in his opener at 145 on Thursday afternoon.
“I can’t wait to see what we do out there,” Alex (31-8) said. “I feel pretty good. You kind of know what the nerves are going to be like and you kind of know what to expect when you get out there. We’re in the second session, which is a little bit different, but it will still be the same feeling, we’ll warm up the same, we’ll get ready the same, we’ll eat the same. I look forward to good things again, and I can’t wait to get out there.”
Junior Dillion Chase (31-3) also is making a return trip, and like the other three, he knows what it’s like to step on the awards stand on Saturday night. Chase, ranked No. 1 in the state, meets No. 6 Hank Swalla of Ames in his first match at 170 pounds.
With four returning state placewinners representing the school, Clinton coach J.D. Lueders is headed to Des Moines confident in what they can do.
“I think they have higher expectations,” he said. “They know what it’s like out there. They’ve placed. I’d love to see somebody win a state title. That’s the bottom line for a lot of these guys. Getting out of districts is big, but then you refocus and that’s the goal next week.”
Clinton’s fifth qualifier, freshman Tyler Clark (29-11) at 285, is hoping to draw on the other four wrestlers’ state-meet experience.
“I’m going to be looking up to them, do what they do and enjoy the ride,” he said.
Clark, a district runner-up, has the toughest first-round assignment. He drew second-ranked Jake Marnin of Southeast Polk.
In Class 2A, Camanche’s Brice Everson (35-6) will face Atlantic’s third-ranked Darrian Schwenke (48-1) in the first round at 126 pounds Thursday morning.
Only one of Central DeWitt’s four qualifiers drew a ranked wrestler. Carter Cahill (18-11) will meet No. 1-ranked Chase Straw (47-0) of Independence at 145 pounds.
In the Sabers’ other first-round matches, Bryant Woodford (22-16) will get Derek Holschlag (40-6) of LaPorte City Union at 106, Mason Cousins (26-12) will try to avenge an earlier loss to Michael Neal of Vinton-Shellsburg at 152 and Chase Kraklio (33-11) meets Grinnell’s Jared Keenan (37-8) at 195.