DeWITT — Freshmen can come into a wrestling program and make an impact.
But it is rare when a freshman can come into a program and make a historic impact in the first season. But that is exactly what Central DeWitt's Keaton Zeimet has done for the Sabers this season.
Zeimet became the first freshman in the 81-year history of DeWitt's wrestling program to qualify for the state meet when he won the 106-pound title during Saturday's Class 2A district meet in his home gym.
Zeimet also tied the school's single-season record for victories when he won his 42nd match of the year in defeating Cole Whitehead of Center Point-Urbana, 8-1, in the championship match. If Zeimet can win at least one match at state next week, he can add to what has already been a historic season.
He also owns the school's single-season record for pins at 28 after he pinned his semifinal opponent. Zeimet's only defeat this season was early on to a wrestler from the Chicago area during a tournament.
"It feels pretty good knowing I am the first freshman to go to state. But it just means that I have to get ready for the next stage," Zeimet said. "I am more proud of the team and how hard we have worked this season."
Zeimet gave a lot of credit to his drill partner and fellow freshman Robert Howard, who competes for the Sabers at 113 pounds. Howard came up a little short in his bid to join Zeimet at state, losing his wrestle-back match for second place to Mount Vernon junior Ryan Clark, 7-3.
Out of Howard's 10 losses this season, four of them have come to Clark, who has a record of 41-7.
"I think we push each other every day in practice and (Howard) is a big reason for my success," Zeimet said.
Nick Smith captured the other title for the host Sabers, after winning the 195-pound division with a pin in 3 minutes, 19 seconds over Camron Woodley of Mount Vernon. This is Smith's second trip to state and a nice ending to his senior year after an elbow injury forced him to miss the first half of the season.
Smith said the future of DeWitt's wrestling program looks bright behind the potential leadership of Zeimet, Howard and fellow freshman Cody Penniston, who competed at 120 this season.
"Our freshmen's work ethic is amazing," Smith said of the group. "Keaton is always running after practice, and Robert and Cody are always fighting to get better. They do anything to try and get better. It is fun having them on the team, and the future is definitely exciting."
Central DeWitt coach Matt Ohnemus said Zeimet's run and the work ethic of the freshmen could be a watershed moment for the program.
"You really see programs start to turn the corner when you get that first freshman to state," Ohnemus said. "We have the right kids, and it says a lot about what we can do here. It's really gratifying to see (Howard and Zeimet) come into the program technically awesome and feel like, as a coaching staff, we could really help them grow throughout the season. These freshmen are doing the little things in the right way. We are trying to do something special here, and you have to have great ingredients, and this is a great start."
Camanche will send a pair of wrestlers to state in juniors Baylor Crigger and Eric Campie. Crigger snagged the championship at 152 and won his 46th match of the season with a pin of Solon's Zack Bevans in 2:55. Campie lost the title match at 145 but bounced back to win the wrestle-back match, 13-5, over Caleb Ebert of Solon.
Indians coach Brent Carstensen said he was pleased that Crigger and Campie made it but added he was a little disappointed his three other district wrestlers did not.
"We had a couple third-place finishes, but they are both underclassmen so, hopefully, that will give them motivation," Carstensen said. "Those two workout partners (Crigger and Campie) should pat each other on the back because they brought each other this far. It's awesome to watch two kids on a mission."
Tipton's John Crowley was the other area qualifier after he won the championship at 126 with a 15-3 victory over Anamosa's Morgan Rowley.