THE EARLY LEAD : call for patience among wrestling fans
By BRANDON HURLEY
Times are tough for Greene County wrestling.
But a resurgence is coming, though it may take some time.
Despite an outfit nearly 30 athletes deep, the Rams lack experience, and frankly, don’t have a deep pool of students who know the sport.
It’s a notion head coach Mark Sawhill has had to face head on just a week-and-a-half into the winter schedule but certainly one his willing to put the time in for.
“We have to be patient and teach them because a lot of them haven’t been on a mat before,” the coach said.
Senior Cayden Gerdes is one of the most veteran wrestlers on the team, and has a lot of weight on his shoulders as one of the lone seniors with experience. The Rams have received a surprising boost from fellow senior Clint Dennhardt, who is making his first foray into high school wrestling.
The two-year starting quarterback is off to a 6-1 start with a fifth place finish (182 pounds) at the Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational in which the Rams competed against 13 other teams, including several 3A squads.
Dennhardt’s dedication to being the best is what Sawhill feels has ignited the blistering start.
“He’s just a good athlete, No. 1 and No. 2, he knows how to work hard, he’s always done that and he’s proven it in football,” the coach said. “He does everything right and has the right frame of mind. He’s there to win, he’s not there to participate. He’s there to compete and that makes a big difference.
Clint is an athlete and he wants to go after people.”
Greene County, more specifically, Jefferson and Jefferson-Scranton does have a illustrious wrestling past. They boast three individual state champions and dozens of state-place winners, all of whom line the walls of the wrestling room at the Jefferson Fieldhouse. It’s been 23 years since a wrestling championship was secured in Des Moines, but state-qualifiers are the norm,
The Rams won a Heart of Iowa Conference dual title in 2013 and Jordan Challen placed in the 2015 state meet and was a three-time state-qualifier. In fact, the Rams sent three wrestlers to state that year and have a string of state-qualifiers that dates back more than 20 years.
Allow me to take a brief trip down memory lane, will you?
State champions, while few, do call Greene County home.
Dave Hagedorn was Jefferson’s first state champion in 1979, and he went on to wrestle at Utah State. He finished his senior season with a 31-0 record, compiling a 62-1 stretch run over the final two years, finishing with exactly 100 career wins.
Erik Strawn came along a few years later and produced one of the best single-seasons in school history (32-0) in capturing the 1982 state title.
Strawn’s victory came on the heels of his runner-up finish as a junior in 1981, putting a cap on a tremendous two-year run, compiling a career record of 109-13-1. The Rams placed eighth as a team that 1982 winter, also anchored by Mike Oakes, who secured second place, falling in the championship match at 167 pounds. The Rams had four representatives in Des Moines that year, aided by Craig Hastings and Jeff Miner as they produced a perfect 9-0 dual meet record and reached as high as No. 7 in the state.
Will Thomsen is the third state champion, pulling off the feat in 1994 for Jefferson-Scranton/Paton-Churdan. Thomsen amassed an incredible 42-0 record during his senior year, tallying a school-record 122 wins and just 18 losses.
The Rams have come close since, but have not been able to recapture the glory of the late 70s, 80s and 90s.
The present is geared toward helping young Greene County athletes birth a love for the sport. It starts with the fundamentals, Sawhill said. The talent is there, it’s just a matter of tapping into it and harnessing it to the best of their abilities. Right now, many of his wrestlers don’t know all the intricate details of the sport.
“Teaching them the right things to do,” the coach said. “Pushing the conditioning, believing in them and getting them to believe in themselves and hopefully we will get back to where we are supposed to be.”