WAPELLO - Packing into a tiny gymnasium in Wapello Saturday, Feb. 13, the Midland wrestling team had five in attendance at the class 1A district tournament looking to make their state dreams come true.
In the end, three, Damon Huston, Caden Ballou and Cayden Miller all advanced to compete for state championships at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, beginning Thursday, Feb. 18, while two, Coy Petersen and Carson Hunter saw their 2020-21 outstanding campaigns come to a close.
“Damon, Caden and Cayden all punched their tickets to Des Moines,” said Eagle wrestling coach Casey Huston, as Ballou and Miller claimed district championships as 160 and 182 pounds, respectively, while Huston earned his third straight state berth after a runner-up showing at 126.
“Damon was a little flat in the finals at 126 and didn’t get into his offense, but he pinned Carlos Valenzuela in his wrestle-back for second place. Caden had a very dominant day winning both of his matches by fall. He’s really learning to control the pace of the match and always seems to be in good position. Cayden also went 2-0 on the day with two falls. He is really wrestling smart matches and stays relaxed even when he keeps everyone else on the edge of their seats.”
Huston (37-2 overall record) opened his district journey with a convincing 2:27 semi-final pin win over Wilton’s Trae Hagen in a match that saw the Eagle senior score a whopping 12 first period points before ending things early in the second period.
The win advanced Huston, ranked sixth in the state, to the 126-pound district championship match against a very familiar foe in Lisbon’s fifth-ranked Cade Siebrecht.
“This just turned out to be one of those matches,” said Huston, who was handed a hard-fought 4-1 defeat.
“Cade is a tough kid, but for me it’s good to get matches this this in before state, even if it was a loss. I tried to pull something off late, some kind of takedown but just ran out of time. It’s matches like these those that are just going to get me even more fired up for a state tournament run.”
Siebrecht opened the bout scoring a first period takedown and led 2-0 through two periods. In the third Huston scored an escape with under a minute remaining and was looking for a takedown before Siebrecht pulled off the feat to clinch the title with 22-seconds remaining.
The loss meant Huston would have to wrestle-back for a spot at state, and the pressure of the win or go home scenario was no problem for the talented Midland superstar, who cruised to a 1:11 fall over Highland’s Carlos Valenzuela.
“I was mad, and I just wanted to get this match over with,” said Huston, who scored a takedown and three-point nearfall before finishing Valenzuela off in the first period.
“It was a relief to get it done, but I never should have been in that spot to begin with.”
Ballou (38-6), ranked 10th in the state, was the class of the 160-pound bracket pinning Louisa-Muscatine’s Kendal Pugh in a mere 59-seconds in the semi-final before making quick work of Wilton’s Kaden Shirk in the finals, dominating with a 3:22 fall.
“I didn’t make it to districts last year and now that I had the opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it,” Ballou said. “My goal all year has been to make it to state. I wanted to come in here and dominate and make sure I get to Des Moines. I think I was able to do that.”
Ballou looked like a seasoned veteran of numerous district tournaments in the finals against Shirk, scoring a quick takedown and three-point nearfall before finishing the championship bout in the second period.
“I really try not to feel pressure,” Ballou said. “I like to keep a calm mindset and just get to work. I’m a mind over matter type of guy, and hopefully I’ll keep that going at the state tournament as well.”
Miller (35-5) was equally as impressive in cruising to his 182-pound district championship, opening with a 27-second fall over Wilton’s Karson Willey.
“In that first match I just wanted to work out some of the jitters and get a quick win,” Miller said. “I wasn’t doubting myself in any way, but I knew it was a big match. To have a chance at state you pretty much have to win that first one and I wanted to go out and make a statement.”
Miller, ranked ninth in the state, followed one statement win with another in the finals, pinning Lisbon’s 10th-ranked Jamien Moore in 5:33.
“I got second at districts last year and winning the title this time around means a lot to me,” Miller said. “Once I was able to get on top against Moore, I was able to control the match.”
Miller scored takedowns in all three period then finished Moore off after the third at the 1:27 mark of the third period.
Petersen (14-22) scored a 46-second pin win over Lisbon’s Teague Krob at 106 and placed third in the class while Hunter (22-21) was fourth at 152.
The Eagles, who scored so well at the sectional tournament just a week earlier, did it again in Wapello tallying 66 points to place third against the 13-team field.
Lisbon dominated the district scoring 197.5 points while Wilton was runner-up with 108.
Huston opens what he hopes will be a journey back to the state championship match with a first-round bout against Colfax-Mingo’s John McGill.
Huston is one of nine state-ranked wrestlers to earn state bids and is joined by Central Springs’ second-ranked Clayton McDonough, West Sioux’s fourth-ranked Cameron Clark, Siebrecht and Denver’s eighth-ranked Brooks Meyer in the bottom half of the 126-pound bracket.
“My goal this year is no different that what it’s been the last two years,” Huston said. “To win a state title. This year might be the toughest one yet though, there are five kids who could all win the title, but that’s just going to make everything even more exciting. I can’t wait to get down there and get started.”
Ballou, a first-time state participant, opens his 160-pound bracket against East Mills’ Jackson Wray. A win in the first-round would most likely create a match-up against Lake Mills’ third-ranked Casey Hanson in the quarter-final round.
Nine state-ranked wrestlers litter the bracket as Don Bosco’s second-ranked Cael Frost and Logan Magnolia’s Gavin Maguire are also in the top half of the bracket with Ballou.
“I think I’m ready for this,” Ballou said. “I’ve had good partners in the room all season long and just want to be able to make it up onto the podium. I haven’t even looked at my state bracket. I’m just going to listen to my coaches and follow the game plan and go out there and wrestle. It’s what I’ve done all my life, not going to stop now.”
Miller also has nine-state-ranked wrestlers in his 182-pound bracket and opens against Beckman’s Nick Wulfekuhle in the first-round.
“The podium is what I’m hoping for this year,” Miller said. “I’d like to score a lot of points and make a lot of memories in Des Moines. I’m going to use my experience from last year to help me advance this time around. Last year was fun, but not how I wanted things to go, and it was that experience that has fueled my fire all season.”
Lake Mills’ second-ranked Elijah Wagner would most likely be Miller’s opponent in a quarter-final contest while Westwood Sloan’s fourth-ranked Jackson Dewald, Tri-Center’s sixth-ranked Brecken Freeburg and Pekin’s eighth-ranked Mason Juhl are all on Miller’s side of the bracket.