DES MOINES — The fairy-tale finish fell one match short.
The Creston/Orient-Macksburg community will wonder in the coming days if Tayler Pettit could have scored the four points needed to push his school to an outright Class 2-A state team wrestling championship.
But the Panthers won’t spend too much time dwelling on those four points. They’ll spend more of their energy savoring a job well done under the most trying of circumstances, and acknowledging the character it revealed.
Sophomore Chase Shiltz won the 160-pound state title, and the unrated Panthers finished in a second-place tie with top-rated Union with 86 points, just behind second-rated Mediapolis, which won its first team title with 89 on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Pettit, an individual qualifier at 170 pounds, collapsed with a life-threatening heart issue on Wednesday at the state dual tournament. Thanks to quick-responding medical personnel, he was eventually stabilized and could be released from Mercy Medical Center on Sunday.
Inspired by the positive news of Pettit’s recovery, the Panthers went out and made a mockery of the team ratings, earning a runner-up trophy.
“High-character kids do good things,” Creston/O-M coach Darrell Frain said. “That’s what these guys did. They kept Pettit in the back of their mind, went and saw him a couple times and then came back and wrestled. Every time they stepped on the mat they gave more than they’ve probably given the whole year, and it turned out well for every one of them.”
The top-rated Shiltz (31-0) added to an already spectacular sophomore year. In football, he rushed for 158 yards and stretched for the pylon on a two-point conversion on the game’s final play to advance the Panthers to the UNI-Dome for the first time with a 50-49 state quarterfinal win over Dallas Center-Grimes.
On Saturday, he avenged a loss in last year’s 145-pound championship match with a dominating 11-3 win by major decision over No. 3 Zach Johnston of ADM.
“It didn’t really feel very good at all,” Shiltz of last year’s 5-2 finals loss. “I just battled for those 364 days, trained my hardest so I could be on top of the podium.”
Shiltz said the thought of Pettit lying in a hospital bed gave him plenty of motivation.
“Tayler pushed me even harder when everything happened,” Shiltz said. “After we found out everything was good, we just all did it for him.”
Frain said Shiltz has a knack for commanding the big stage.
“Special kid,” he said. “You look at the things he’s already done for Creston High School. He’s pretty special. When the light’s the brightest, it seems to be when he performs the best.”
Senior Spencer Wray also got to wrestle under the bright lights for Creston/O-M on championship night. The eighth-rated senior lost 7-3 to top-rated Brady Jennings of Osage in the 138-pound final.
Before the match, Wray wore a shirt that read, “Do it for Pettit.” Frain said Pettit should be proud of his teammate’s effort.
“When he walked off the mat, the first thing he said to me was, ‘That kid just outwrestled me. He was better than me.’ He acknowledged that he wrestled a better kid, but the effort was definitely there. He had a great run.”
In western Iowa’s other 2-A finals, top-rated Brock Rathbun of Center Point-Urbana decisioned third-rated Brayden Curry of Sergeant Bluff-Luton 10-3 at 120, and second-rated Bradley Irwin of Centerville downed top-rated Dusten Reed of Bedford/Lenox, 4-1.
Also in 2-A, thirds went to Jared Hensley of Bedford/Lenox (113) and J.J. Clark of Clarinda (170), and fourths went to Devin Phaly of Sergeant Bluff-Luton (113), Wyatt Thompson of Creston/Orient-Macksburg (132), Tanner Mertz of Red Oak (145) and Seth Maitlen of Creston/Orient-Macksburg (195).
Kadon Hulett of Creston/Orient-Macksburg (220) and Nick Rounds of Missouri Valley (126) each finished sixth, while Reid Nichols of Atlantic (152) grabbed eighth.
In the end, it came down to top-rated Mediapolis senior Steven Holloway, who won his second title with a 9-2 victory over No. 2 Brad Skubal of Washington at 195. If Skubal had pulled the upset, Creston and Union would have shared the crown.
Frain and the Creston community were more than neutral observers for that match.
“It was really close (to a team title),” Frain said. “We had that outside chance there.”
When Holloway wrapped up the victory and denied a feel-good finish that would have registered from border to border, Frain walked up and shook the wrestler’s hand.
Holloway said he was aware of the team importance of his match.
“The coaches tried to leave me out of it,” he said. “They didn’t want to put extra pressure on me. But I overheard it and I knew what I had to do. As the finals matches progressed, I knew that just a win would give us the title. I just went out there, didn’t try anything special and just took care of business.”
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