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‘Rebuilding’ Panther squad gained first state trophy

Surprising 1974-75 team to join mat Hall of Fame

Creston wrestling had emerged as a southwest Iowa power in the 1970s under head coach Jerome Hruska, but 1974-75 was expected to be a rebuilding season.

As it turned out, it was far from just a rebuilding season, as the team sported a 10-1 dual meet record and a three-man contingent at the state tournament earned enough points to earn the school’s first state trophy as Class 2A state runner-up.

The 1974-75 team will be among the Creston Wrestling Hall of Fame inductees at the upcoming banquet Nov. 17 at the Eagles Club in Creston. (See related story.)

The Panthers had finished sixth, fourth and fourth at state during the previous three years, narrowly missing one of the three team state trophies in Class 2A. Each of those three previous years, the Panthers won the Corning Tournament, sectionals and districts.

Lost to graduation in 1974 were two-time state champion Mike Howard, two-time state qualifier Dan Hayes (fourth at state), sixth-place state placewinner Scott Wood, state qualifier Paul Parker, Mike Seddon, Kevin Murphy and Bob Marxen. And, there was the untimely death of team member Mike Abel, who had placed sixth at state in 1973.

Tempered expectations

There were seven lettermen among the 52 squad members reporting for the 1974-75 team for coach Hruska and new assistant coach Greg Gruss, who replaced Rich Downing as Downing became the coach of SWCC’s revived wrestling program.

Also new on the staff was Gary Stamp, who was freshman and junior high coach, taking over for Randy Hughes, who had been the junior high coach for four years.

“This is the most inexperienced squad I have ever coached as far as the varsity is concerned, but if all goes well and we can get the wrestlers in their right weights, we’ll be respectable,” Hruska told the Creston News Advertiser.

The headline read, “Panther mat team is a question mark.”

The lettermen were seniors Jeff Abel, Terry Latham and Gary Veitz; juniors Jerry Bird and John Walters, and sophomore Terry Fry. Also returning with varsity experience were juniors Kenny McIntire and standout Dennis Smith, who lettered as a freshman and wrestled only part of the previous season.

While the team lacked quantity in varsity experience, it boasted quality. Abel returned as a three-time state placewinner (fifth, third and third). Latham was already a two-time conference champion who placed fifth at state. Walters was a district champion and a state qualifier as a sophomore the previous season.

The squad began the season with a dual win over Winterset (35-23) before placing eighth in the rugged field at the Eagle Grove Tournament. Competitors at that star-studded northwest Iowa tourney would go on to earn nine state championships, three state runner-up finishes and 11 other state placings in that year’s state tourney, along with eight other state qualifiers.

Faring better against conference opponents, Creston routed Red Oak 43-12 and Shenandoah by a 48-15 score. The Panthers then came up with a big 32-18 win over a strong Atlantic team that had six state qualifiers in a lineup that won the Corning Tournament.

Creston then beat Clarinda 42-11 and ended up two points behind Atlantic in the Corning Tournament. Walters, Abel and Latham won titles in that event, while Smith lost a heartbreaking 9-8 match in the finals. Latham won 5-0 over 1A state runner-up Mike Bradley of Lenox in the finals, and Abel knocked off returning 1A 105-pound state champion Dave Finken of Tri-Center in the finals. Another highlight for the Panthers was Kirk Larkins gaining two big pins to reach the 185-pound semifinals.

A gruesome schedule followed with six duals in 13 days against some of the strongest opponents, starting with Harlan. The Panthers saw their 20-dual victory streak halted, dropping the meet and the conference dual championship in a 30-14 setback, the only dual loss of the season.

Creston traveled to Greenfield to take on the Tall Corn Tournament champions from the previous week. This was perhaps the only dual the Panthers ever won while losing one more match than their opponent. All five Panther wins were by pin with the biggest coming at heavyweight when Terry Fry broke the 26-26 deadlock with a pin of Roger Benton in 3:35.

The Panthers then rolled past Lewis Central, 50-8. Creston prevailed over Corning in the fourth dual of the week, 33-19. Barry Weeks filled in for the injured Fry and got a fall in 22 seconds.

Creston followed with a 31-22 victory over a strong Mount Ayr team, including a key 7-6 win by Gary Veitz over Allen Schafer. Mount Ayr future state champion Curt Braby trailed Weeks 4-0 before rallying for a win by fall.

Creston closed out the dual season with the Glenwood Rams. Latham came up with a crucial win by fall and Weeks clinched the Panthers’ 27-25 victory with a pin after trailing 5-0 early in the match. That ignited a roar from the home fans in the old Creston High School “pit.”

The Panthers were at less than full strength for the conference tournament and finished in fourth place. Latham won his third conference title in taking the 167-pound class and Veitz won the 126-pound crown. Losing one-point decisions in the finals were Walters and Abel, and Steve Baird was also a runner-up at 138 pounds. Abel’s loss to Harlan’s Bob Goetz was his first of the season, after the two had locked in a 2-2 draw at the conference dual. Smith placed third at 112 pounds. Doug Driskell and Marty Arey each placed fifth.

Tourney trail

At the Winterset sectional tourney the Panthers placed second behind Adel. Creston’s Walters (105), Smith (112), Veitz (126) and Latham (167) won titles. Qualifying for districts by winning wrestleback matches for second were Abel (119) and Fry (Hwt). Smith found himself in a predicament in the semifinals, tied with Mike Gilliland of Mount Ayr 6-6, before beginning his run to the state championship with a 12-0 advantage in the overtime periods.

At the district tourney at Audubon, the top three finishers from the eight-man brackets would qualify for state. Creston took fourth among 24 teams. Winning district titles were Walters, Smith and Abel.

That district meet had a series of close calls for the Panthers, as Veitz, Latham and Fry just missed out on state qualifying by losing in the wrestleback round.

District champions received byes in the state preliminary round on Thursday, so coach Hruska arranged for a practice at West Des Moines Dowling High school with several other state qualifiers.

Unfortunately, Abel suffered a shoulder injury in that spirited, competitive practice session.

While wrestling with a wrapped shoulder in his first match at state, Abel won 5-0 in the quarterfinals. He then lost a wild 13-8 match to returning 112-pound state champ Rich Wilson of Belmond. Abel then lost 5-4 to Sheridan of Johnston and finished in fourth place to complete a career of four state placings, the first in southwest Iowa to do so.

He would remain the lone southwest Iowa four-time state placewinner until Creston’s Boone Hayes duplicated the feat in 2004.

At 105 pounds, Creston’s Walters won 9-1 in overtime against Doug Hansen of Hampton in the quarterfinals, then decisioned Dan Boos of New Hampton, a returning state runner-up, by a 6-5 score. Returning state champion Dave Prehm of Eagle Grove beat Walters 11-3 in the finals, but it was a 6-3 match late in the third period before Walters attempted a lateral drop in a desperation comeback attempt.

Smith had a strong tournament run at 112 pounds. In the quarterfinals he was trailing 4-2 with 15 seconds left and scored a reversal and nearfall to win 7-4. Smith beat Bill Bernardo of Algona in the semifinals to set up a big challenge in the finals against Cresco’s Mark Aspensen, the previous year’s third-place finisher at 105 pounds.

Smith dominated the finals match 10-2, handing Aspensen only his second loss in 23 matches that season.

Algona sailed to the team title with 56.5 points, but Creston’s three-man team scored 31 points to top Emmetsburg (29.5) and the fourth-place tie between Adel and Turkey Valley with 28 points.

Hruska was proud of his group that performed above preseason expectations.

“I was awfully proud of these three boys as they did a tremendous job,” he said. “They were dedicated young men who went to Des Moines to wrestle and they really worked at it.”

“We didn’t win any tournaments that season, but we went 10-1 in duals against a really tough schedule, and we were the first team to win a state trophy, so we exceeded the expectations,” Walters said. “It was a shame that Veitz wasn’t able to practice that last week because of a chest injury. In the district wrestleback he lost to an Atlantic kid he had beaten 5-2 and 6-2 that year. Latham had been fifth at state the year before, but he lost in an upset in the district and didn’t get through wrestlebacks. We were very close to getting a couple of more guys to state and scoring more points there.”

Abel finished his stellar career with 112 wins and only 14 losses, with two ties. He had 58 victories by fall. Latham finished his senior season with a 26-3 record with four tournament titles. Veitz compiled 17 victories in earning his third varsity letter. Brian Kelley was also a senior letterman on that squad.

Team members who are deceased include Veitz, Arey, Steve Baird, Jim Bird, Jerry Oswald, Chuck Day and coach Stamp. There will be a special observance of those team members at the induction ceremony.

— — — — — —

Induction Nov. 17

The second annual Creston Wrestling Hall of Fame banquet will be held Saturday, Nov. 17, at The Eagles Club, 300 E. Montgomery St. in Creston.

Happy hour with a cash bar begins at 4:30 p.m. followed by a steak dinner at 6 p.m. and Hall of Fame inductions beginning at 6:45 p.m.

Also to be honored at the induction ceremony are former Creston wrestler and coach Rich Downing, and the Dr. Larry Goetz family for its many contributions to the program, including Panther team members Devon and Lance Goetz and the state Team Doctor award received by Larry Goetz.

For more on the honorees, see page 9A.

Tickets can be purchased at Hulett & Sons Auto Salvage and Carter Agency, or by contacting committee members Dannie Stephens (641-202-3385), Cody Downing (641-344-7576), John Walters (641-247-1984), Chuck Hulett (641-202-2262), Tami Hulett (641-202-2452) or Emmy Key (641-202-3136) or email crestonwrestlinghof@gmail.com.

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