By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
DES MOINES —
It was tough enough to get this far; Dustin Caldwell wasn't about to make the least of the opportunity. And Dillion Chase wasn't going to be denied, either.
Both Clinton wrestlers won their first-round matches Thursday afternoon at the Iowa Class 3A wrestling state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena and advanced to today's semifinals.
Returning state placewinners Hunter Genco and Alex Caldwell both stayed alive in the wrestlebacks for the River Kings.
Follow continuing live coverage of the Iowa high school state wrestling tournament.
"I was on a mission today," Dustin Caldwell said. "We'll see what tomorrow brings."
Dustin Caldwell and Chase took much different routes to their victories. Caldwell improved to 31-6 with an 10-1 victory against Jake Steffen of Dubuque Senior at 152 pounds, while Chase scored four points in the final 9 seconds to knock off third-ranked Connor Larson of Webster City 6-4 at 160 pounds.
"That was all guts, honestly," Chase, a sophomore, said.
Larson took a 4-2 lead into the third period and was trying to ride out Chase for the entire two minutes when Chase found an opening.
He did a somersault from his feet through Larson's legs, getting behind him and getting control to tie the match with 9 seconds remaining.
"That's just one of those last-ditch moves," Chase said. "It didn't work the first time I tried it, but sometimes you've just got to keep going to it until it works.
"He would have one leg, and when he was pushing me forward to try to get me out of bounds, I just used his momentum to do a somersault through his legs and try to get both his legs, and it just ended up working."
Perhaps more amazing than that move, Chase was able to pull Larson back and get near-fall points before time expired.
"We were in a crab ride, and he was kind of pushing into me, so I just went with his motion and sunk in a tight half, sort of, a half-tilt, and just held him there as tight as I could until the clock ran out. It just so happened to be I got my two points for the near fall.
"I knew there was short time left; I just didn't know if I was going to be able to get it in in time."
Fortunately for him, the official was able to get in position with enough time left to credit Chase with the two-point near fall.
"It's one of the greatest experiences," Chase said of wrestling his first match at the state tournament.
"It was just a great win."
Dustin Caldwell, who just missed qualifying for state the previous two years, placing third in the district, enjoyed the experience, too.
"I get goosebumps just thinking about it," he said of making his state tournament debut. "It's a great experience. When you're wrestling in front of all those fans and look up, it's a great feeling."
Winning made it that much better.
"My dreams of a state championship are still alive," he said. "The first one is always the worst, so now that we're done with that, we've just got to go out and wrestle now. "
Caldwell jumped ahead early with a takedown in the first period.
"To get the first takedown is a great feeling, and my confidence just went through the roof," he said. "I just kept wrestling from there and had to go the full six (minutes) because everyone out here is tough.
He then added a takedown and two-point near fall in the second.
"We always talk about spreading the gap in the second and third period," he said. "Two-to-nothing, he's still in it, A huge takedown and back points, that's just spreading the gap. It takes his confidence way down and brings mine up."
Genco and Alex Caldwell weren't as fortunate in their first-round matches. Genco, ranked fifth at 120 pounds, lost 9-8 to No. 3 John Gioffredi of Indianola when Gioffredi scored a takedown with time running out in the third period. Genco bounced back and pinned Isaiah Mundell of Waverly-Shell Rock in 44 seconds in the consolation first round.
"My first match, I definitely should have had it," Genco said. "My coach came up to me after the match and said, 'You know, you sell yourself out; you don't believe in yourself enough. You thought getting close to that kid was enough just because he's ranked higher than you.' Really, that's what I did. I could have definitely won. I let him get four takedowns on me in the last minute (of various periods). Those are the ones you're not supposed to give up. I gave up two of those too easy."
Genco used a five-point move in the second period to get ahead 6-3, but a reversal cut the gap to 6-5. Genco escaped but Gioffredi finished a takedown with a second left in the second period to pull even 7-7.
Genco started the third period down, and Gioffredi released him with 1:27 left, putting Genco ahead and setting up the late drama.
Gioffredi took a shot late, and Genco countered by locking up a cradle, but he couldn't finish the move for takedown points. Finally, Gioffredi established control with 11 seconds left and won 9-8.
Alex Caldwell, ranked third at 145, lost for the second time in two weeks to No. 4 Austin Boyd of Burlington in the first round, then came back and pinned Deion Clayborne of Sioux City North in :59 in the wrestlebacks.
"I just wanted to get it done and over because of my elbow," Caldwell said of his second match, referring to an injury he suffered in the 9-0 loss to Boyd.
Caldwell stayed positive even though he was knocked into the consolation rounds.
"I'm not done this year," he said. "Why not try to get the best place I can get?"
Genco and Caldwell can still place as high as third.
Clinton coach J.D. Lueders said having four of his wrestlers survive the opening day was good. The only River King who was ousted was freshman Justin Guilliams at 195. He was pinned in 2:35 by top-rated Marcus Harrington of Waterloo West in the first round, then lost 7-5 to Newton's Ray Schroder in the consolations, giving up three takedowns off his own shots.
"I said to him, 'Next year when you're in on a shot, you'll finish,' " Lueders said.