There may not have been anyone more surprised than Interstate 35 wrestling coach Randy Calvert when the final team scores were read Saturday night at the Guthrie Center Tiger Invitational.
The Roadrunners, despite having three open weights, finished on top of a very tough 18-team tournament, with 141.5 points. I-35 edged Class 1A seventh-ranked Coon Rapids-Bayard for the crown by 5.5 points. Guthrie Center, who finished 10 points better than the Roadrunners at the I-35 Rich Gray Classic the previous week, finished third at its home tourney.
I-35 led by 3.5 points heading into the place matches and thanks to a solid 5-3 record in the first, third and fifth-placed matches, held onto the lead.
“I think we were about the most unexpected team to win this,” Calvert said. “But the kids have been wrestling really well lately. And the kids wrestled tough on the back side. Those points are big.”
The Roadrunners had plenty of heroes on the back side of the bracket, but also crowned a pair of individual champions.
Dallas Houchins, ranked fourth at 140 in 1A, survived one of the toughest weight classes of the tournament and was named the meet’s Outstanding Wrestler.
The junior two-time State place finisher pinned Jacob Zenor of Gilbert in the quarterfinals and then got past 2009 State qualifier Drake Fanslau of Underwood in the semifinals, 5-0.
In the title bout, Houchins faced second-ranked and undefeated Cole Hopkins of Coon Rapids-Bayard. The Roadrunner struck first with a takedown last in the first period for a 2-0 lead. An escape by Houchins in the second made it a 3-0 match. Hopkins earned a reversal in the third to cut the lead to 3-2, but Houchins escaped midway through the final period and held off Hopkins for the 4-2 victory.
“It feels good to get the win. I’m probably going to see him again at Districts,” Houchins said.
Houchins also defeated Hopkins this summer at the Iowa Games, but this match was much tougher.
“I scored more points in the summer, but he’s been working just as hard as me to get better,” he said.
The Roadrunner will take a 23-3 record into this Saturday’s Sectional tournament in Mount Ayr.
“I just need to get in a little better shape. Just have to get ready for Sectionals,” he said. “Every year is a new adventure, you have to take it one match at a time.”
Houchins was joined on the top of the podium by Roadrunner 152-pounder Clay Simmons.
The Roadrunner had pins in the first round and semifinals, but had to survive a 2-1 scare in the quarters against Rob Mensing of Nodaway Valley. A semifinal pin over Jake Lemkey of Gilbert placed Simmons in the finals against 1A sixth-ranked Jon Elmore of Prairie Valley.
Simmons showed right away he wasn’t going to back down from Elmore, as he scored an early takedown for a 2-0 lead. But an Elmore escape and takedown later in the period put Simmons in a 3-2 hole. Elmore turned Simmons to his back for a pair of near fall points in the second, but the Roadrunner got those two points back with a reversal.
The Roadrunner gave Elmore an escape with 40 seconds left in the match to trail 6-4, but scored a takedown in the final seconds to send the match to overtime. In the extra period, it took Simmons just 18 seconds to finish off his third takedown of the bout for the thrilling 8-6 win.
“That was a great match. He wrestled a smart match,” Calvert said of Simmons.
A trio of Roadrunners came through with big wins in their third-place matches for big team points.
At 125, 1A seventh-ranked Jordan Johnson of I-35 and No. 9 Kris Lehman of Guthrie Center found themselves fighting for third after both lost tough matches to ranked 2A opponents in the semifinals.
Lehman defeated Johnson on the Roadrunners’ home mat the week before for the Rich Gray Classic title, but Johnson would turn the tables in Guthrie Center. Johnson had little trouble in a dominating 7-0 victory. His only loss of the day was an 8-6 overtime defeat in the semifinals to 2A fourth-ranked and undefeated Tre Rutz of Humboldt.
“Jordan Johnson probably had his best day of wrestling,” Calvert said.
The Roadrunners also picked up bronze medals from Ethan Jones at 160 and 189-pounder Ethan Calvert. Jones lost to top-ranked Blake Faucher of Guthrie Center in the semifinals, but rebounded with a pin and 9-0 major decision for third. Calvert also fell to a highly-ranked wrestler in the semis, but scored a pair of decision wins, including a crucial 3-2 victory over Kaleb Reis of Coon Rapids-Bayard, in the medal match.
Kole Stapes finished fourth at 112, as did heavyweight Matt Eads. Joe Bitz finished sixth at 119, while eighth-place finishers were Tanner Findley at 135 and 171-pounder Nathan Brownlee.
“Our guys came through on the back side,” Houchins said. “It’s very surprising missing three weight classes and coming out on top. It says a lot about our team,”
The Roadrunners wrapped up the dual meet regular season Thursday at Martensdale-St. Marys with four victories, to finish 11-4 overall and a perfect 6-0 in the Pride of Iowa Conference.
I-35 defeated POI rivals M-SM, 48-27, and Central Decatur, 59-9, and also dispatched non-conference foe Van Meter, 54-18.
Houchins had a big night, as he took on three ranked wrestlers and went 2-1. He defeated 2A ninth-ranked 135-pounder Kendall Davis of Van Meter and 1A eighth-ranked 145-pounder Connor Christensen of Central Decatur. His lone loss was against 1A third-ranked Robert Walker of M-SM, who is now 2-1 against Houchins this season.