If this is how the Kansas wrestling campaign is going to play out, we're all in for a treat.
Derby, ranked No. 2 in 6A, had swung the season-opening momentum its way on its home mat, knowing full well there was only one scenario that could keep the Panthers from reveling in an enormous win over 5A No. 1 Ark City.
Matt McGrew was aware, too. Down 27-22 to Derby, McGrew had to pin Markus Steinocher in the heavyweight match for Ark City to come out victorious on a roller coaster night.
“I tried my underhooks. I tried everything I could think of. Nothing worked,” McGrew said. “I got into the second period – I could break him down. I knew I could break him down. When all else fails, you have to go to the half.”
When McGrew did, he coaxed Steinocher's shoulders to the floor, sealing a 28-27 dual win for Ark City.
“He's kind of showing his senior leadership there, stepping up and doing what he had to do,” said Ark City head coach Greg Buckbee.
McGrew admits the Bulldogs were fairly lucky to leave town with a victory. Two matches in, Derby had a commanding – and surprising – advantage.
At 106 pounds, Braden Dipman picked off Logan Terrill, a 5A state runner-up ranked No. 1 this season.
“I think Braden kind of shook those rankings up a little bit,” said Derby head coach Bill Ross. “He wrestled above a sophomore level. He looked like a senior out there.”
In the next match, Cody McDonald gave Derby a 9-0 lead with a stunning pin of Joey DeFore, an undefeated state champion a year ago in 3A at Dexter.
“The kid was undefeated on the year last year – state champ – and we went out and stuck him. That's just what Cody does,” Ross said. “He introduced him to the way we do things around here.”
Ark City fired back with wins from Marco Perez, Dalton Dietrich and Kendall Biddle to take a 10-9 lead. The squads took turns taking the edge until Jose Santillon put the Panthers ahead 21-19 with a 3-0 victory over Bryson Teufel. Derby extended its lead to 27-19 before losing the final two matches.
Each squad won seven matches.
“There were so many momentum changes. They had it, then we had it, then they got it back later in the upper weights, then we got it back in the upper weights. It was just a great dual back and forth,” Buckbee said. “Obviously, every point was critical.”
The Bulldogs are cognizant of the flaws that were exposed by Derby. McGrew said cardio and conditioning need to be polished up soon to fend off the next round of opponents.
But for now, McGrew can bask in the glory of clinching a come-from-behind win.
“I think it boosted my confidence, I'll say that,” McGrew said.