BETTENDORF – Three years ago, Cory (CJ) Arnett started wrestling as a supplement to football workouts.
In his first year, he just missed going to state, finishing third in Class 3A. He just missed again last year when he finished fourth, both in heartbreaking finishes. On Saturday evening, the junior won the Class 3A Bettendorf State qualifier and will likely start next week’s IHSAA Boys' State Wrestling Tournament as one of the top 20 heavyweights in the state.
Arnett edged Bettendorf’s Aiden Lee by a very close 5-4 in the championship match. A match that was literally seconds away from slipping past the Hounds. Arnett scored all his points with less than 30 seconds left in the first two periods, the first on a rush takedown at the end of the first period. The second on a reversal with just 12 seconds left in the second period for a 4-2 lead.
In the third period, Arnett chose a bottom start, and after a stalling warning, he slipped up and out of Lee’s grasp for a 1-point escape and a 5-3 lead with less than a minute left in the match. The Bloodhound squared up and latched onto Lee again, but was being encouraged by Head Coach Ryan Smith to keep some space and make Lee be the aggressor.
Arnett couldn’t get free of the Bulldog and with just five second left, Lee executed a hip throw and got Arnett on his back for two points, but the Hound was able to quickly get to his belly to avoid a near-fall as time expired.
Arnett wept as he came to the corner as the Bloodhound corner exhaled and the celebration began. He said afterwards that the emotion has been building for three years.
“This came from the last three years. Going back into the mat room, working hard day after day and night after night and I thank God that I was able to win tonight. This win is part of a great journey for me,” Arnett said.
The junior just started wrestling three years ago as a freshman, the first time he ever got on a mat.
“Before I even knew what wrestling was, Coach Smith and his son Teague said I looked pretty athletic, and I should be wrestling for football. I said I’m only doing this for football so don’t expect much out of me,” he said.
“I went and instantly fell in love with it my first year.”
Arnett said he heard the corner telling him to keep some space in the final moments of the championship match.
“I heard him and looked up and thought “Damn, my arm’s trapped and I can’t do anything. So I just pressed him forward and he almost got me. I reached deep and was able to avoid that.”
Arnett was one of four Bloodhounds that won a bid into the state tournament.
Seniors Nolan Riddle (157 lbs.), Ike Thacher (190 lbs.), and Joe Hartman (165 lbs.) all will be seeded in the tournament next week. Riddle and Thacher both earned 2nd place finishes, while Hartman had a shot at second but lost in a wrestleback after capturing 3rd place with a win over Burlington’s Tanner Burchett.
Burchett opened with a quick takedown in the match but Hartman would roll out for an escape and then record his own takedown right at the horn for the first period. The Bloodhound would get another takedown in the second quarter and then survive a 2-point nearfall after starting on the bottom in third period that transitioned into a 2-point reversal with just 43 seconds left on his season to break a 4-4 tie.
“This is the best feeling in the whole world. I couldn’t have done this without these guys. Coach Smith, Coach Doherty, Cowboy (Coach Danen Settles),” Hartman said.
The senior has been in the wrestling program since kindergarten, but didn’t get to wrestle at districts last year after losing in a wrestle off at Fort Madison.
Hartman lost to top seeded Lincoln Jipp (42-3) of Bettendorf in the semifinals by pin, but Hartman put a scare into him at the end of the first period when he scored a reversal and a 3-point nearfall before the horn sounded. The Hound corner was yelling Jipp was stuck but didn’t get the met slap with the wrestlers at the far side of the circle. Jipp went on to win the title at 165 lbs.
“Man I was so close to pinning that Bettendorf kid, just a couple seconds away. But no excuses, it’s just really good to be here and now going to state,” Hartman said.
He said his mentality now will be just to have fun in his final year.
“Throw it all out there, put it all on the line, and have some fun.”
Riddle said he too is going to go into state with less nerves than he did last year where he almost finished on the podium, losing a very close match on Friday ending his run.
Riddle lost in the championship match to Iowa City High’s Kael Voinovich, an Oklahoma transfer whose brother wrestles at Iowa.
Riddle had the early advantage, but a risky shot turned ugly as Voinovice turned the tables and got Riddle to the mat at the 1:22 mark.
“That last match I should’ve cut him again and worked another takedown because the first one came very easily. I’m usually pretty good on top, but…,” he said.
Voinovich is the top-ranked wrestler at 157 in 3A. Riddle said he’s ranked No. 2 in the country.
“I think I can beat him,” Riddle said.
That may end up being decided on Friday or Saturday in Des Moines.
“Last year, I was really nervous. This year I’m just going to have fun and work my offense. Waiting around causes trouble.”
Thacher, ranked 7th in the state in 3A, won his first match after getting a bye and then lost to 5th-ranked Brayden Koester of Bettendorf by fall in the second period.
After a scoreless first period, Koester opted to start the second period down. He scored an escape getting to his feet 20 seconds into the match, but then got a takedown 30 seconds later and scored the fall, ending Thacher’s night with a 2nd place finish.
Head Coach Ryan Smith said Thacher wrestled Koester much better than at a tournament in Urbandale earlier in the year.
“Ike got beat but he wrestled better than he did at Urbandale. It was a match and I’m not going to fault him, I’d rather him be aggressive than not aggressive in that situation,” Smith said.
Luke Vanderpool and Noah Swigart both had chances to advance to state but lost heartbreakers in the 3rd place consolation matches. At 120 lbs., Vanderpool had two 3-point nearfalls, but couldn’t get the shoulders down, one in the first period and one in the third with just 1:27 left against Iowa City High’s Chris Davis. Vanderpool scored a 2-point reversal and a 3-point nearfall with 1:27 left in the second period, but Davis would score a reversal after being awarded a penalty point and then got a 2-point nearfall that turned into a pin. Vanderpool lost in the semifinals to Jake Knight of Bettendorf, the No. 2 ranked 120 lb. wrestler in 3A.
Swigart had the heartbreaker of the night up 8-0 in the third period against Clear Creek-Amana’s Malachi Clement. Swigart had a nearfall and takedown in the first period to get to 5-0. He scored another takedown in the 2nd period and an escape to start the third, but with less than a minute to go in the match, Clement got Swigart off his feet for a takedown and then force the fall at 5:11.
Smith said the Hounds have been there before facing tough losses.
“I try not to have preconceived notions. Obviously, you watch guys all year - Ike and them, and they build up some good records. But sometimes you get a weight class that has other guys that have done the same thing,” he said.
“The kid Nolan ran into was a transfer from Oklahoma whose brother wrestles at Iowa so he moved to Iowa City. One of those deals and we’ve seen that story before. But he took him down early on and that gave him a little confidence there.
“We just have to be better at situational things like that. In Nolan’s match you get a comfortable lead, and I’m not saying you shut down, but take calculated risks and do it smart. It happens to all of us. Wrestling’s been the source of some of the best highs, but some of the worst lows.”
Coaching in his last district qualifier, Smith said he will probably be emotional after all is said and done.
“I’ll probably shed a tear or two tonight talking to the guys.. I’ll try not to, but I think I did last year, too.”
Other wrestlers competing on Saturday were Cole Quittem (106), Brody Bolander (113), Tate Green (132), Tateum Schelich (138), Cade Goodrich (144), Rainer Johnson (150), Gavin Callahan (175), and Teague Smith (215). Smith had to take a medical forfeit after his semifinals loss wearing braces on both knees.
Keokuk's Joshua Baum (132) and Robert Howes (126) both qualified in the 2A District at Fairfield.
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