DES MOINES — The lights are bright, and the stage can be intimidating.
With half of its lineup comprised of freshmen and sophomores, it took the Bettendorf wrestling team a dual Wednesday to get acclimated to the surroundings at Wells Fargo Arena.
After dropping a 36-26 quarterfinal tilt to third-seeded Ankeny Centennial, Bettendorf rebounded with victories over West Des Moines Valley, 41-21, and Waukee, 41-26, to salvage fifth place in the Class 3A state dual tournament.
“This was big to get the experience for our underclassmen,” junior Aiden Evans said. “This will be a huge step for us as a program knowing we’ve been here as a team and that we belong.”
This was the Bulldogs’ first trip to state duals since 2015.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bettendorf back soon with only four seniors in its lineup.
“I think everybody will work a lot harder knowing that we didn’t like losing in the first round here,” sophomore 285-pounder Griffin Liddle said. “Everybody is going to want more and hopefully can get more.”
Bettendorf was competitive with a Centennial squad which hadn’t dropped a dual coming into the tournament.
Powered by bonus-point wins from Damian Petersen (138 pounds), Bradley Hill (152) and Voyen Adamson (160), Bettendorf had a 14-12 lead after six weights.
Centennial strung together four consecutive wins — including a pin and two majors — in the upper weights to build a 15-point cushion.
Logan Neils (170), Nic Leo (182), Ethan Frazier (195) and Lane Pruisner (220) are all upperclassmen and each state-ranked.
“We can’t give up bonus points like we did in what I thought was two pretty evenly matched teams,” Bettendorf coach Dan Knight said. “It’s not so much we gave them up, but they went out and got them.
“Some of our kids, to be honest, haven’t had success down here yet even if it is their second trip. That’s why I’m glad we made (state duals), so it gave them a chance to work out the kinks.”
Bettendorf has a dozen wrestlers participating in the traditional tournament that commences at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“To see the crowd, feel the atmosphere and what it is like to be here was big today,” Evans said. “If you have any bad matches, you can get them out of the way and start fresh (Thursday).”
The Bulldogs won the first seven bouts against Valley to build a 33-0 margin. Logan Adamson (145), Will Jefferson (170) and Alex Blizzard (182) registered pins.
Voyen Adamson, Liddle, Dustin Bohren (106), Kohler Ruggles (126) and Rylan Hughbanks (132) had falls in the win over Waukee.
Voyen Adamson and Liddle were the only Bulldog wrestlers to go 3-0 Wednesday.
Knight’s team finished the season with a 24-4 dual record, a substantial improvement from the past couple of years.
“Any time you have some success like this, it just builds, and hopefully I won’t have to nudge them as much to get back in the room because they’re going to be excited,” Knight said. “That excitement leads to more mat time and that leads to them getting better.”