State wrestling: Ames heavyweight Gabe Greenlee comes from a long line of successful heavyweights
Gabe Greenlee cuts a towering figure, at 6-foot-7 and around 240 pounds. He’s mean and aggressive. In another life, maybe he’s a power forward, or a tight end. But in this life, he’s one of the nation’s best heavyweights.
And the secret to his success, he’ll tell you, is the tall man in the corner — his coach, but also his dad, Justin Greenlee.
“Basically,” Gabe said, “everything I’ve learned has come from him.”
Gabe, the No. 1 seed at heavyweight in this week’s Class 3A state wrestling tournament, recorded a first-period pin over Des Moines North-Hoover’s Orlando Fuenteson Thursday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena. He advances to Friday’s quarterfinal round, where he’ll wrestle Muscatine’s Togeh Deseh.
This week is another opportunity for Gabe to show that he’s the next great heavyweight in a long line of great heavyweights.
Justin won a state title for Waverly-Shell Rock in 1990, and was also a Cadet and Junior freestyle All-American. Then he became a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA finalist at Northern Iowa. Gabe's uncle, Joel, also reached the NCAA finals in 1989, and has spent the last two decades as Ohio University’s head wrestling coach.
Genetics were, quite literally, huge for Gabe, but it wasn’t until middle school that he decided wrestling was going to be his future.
“When I was younger, I felt for a while that I was just in wrestling because I don’t know what my dad would say if I didn’t do it,” Gabe said. “But then in seventh and eighth grade, I started to develop a passion for it and got better.
“Then my freshman year, I decided that this was what I was going to do.”
The results look like this: he failed to qualify for state as a freshman wrestling at 195, then took fifth at state as a sophomore at 220, then reached the finals last season at 285, and is back again as the 1-seed with his sights set on gold.
Along the way, he’s had his dad (and his uncle, too) to help streamline his development. Gabe played basketball in middle school (split-season, Justin said) and has the size, speed and strength to probably be a decent tight end prospect, too.
But his commitment to wrestling has endured. He signed to wrestle at Iowa State next year, and is also ranked 16th nationally at heavyweight by MatScouts.
“A lot of kids his size, it’s more, are you a football player or a wrestler?” Justin said. “He hasn’t gone out the last two years. He’s that serious about wrestling.”
The biggest improvement he’s made, Justin added, is his confidence in his offense. Gabe is now 32-0 with 17 pins after Thursday’s result. Of the 17, 12 have come in the first period. Of the other 15 matches, six are forfeits, but in the remaining nine contested bouts, Gabe has outscored his opponents 66-18.
“Early in development, it’s just about being tougher,” Justin continued. “He picked that up a few years ago. But the biggest thing this year he’s not waiting for things to happen. He’s taking it to the good guys.
“That’ll be the key to winning this week, being offensive. I am certain there is nobody here that can stop him if he does that, so he just needs to do that.”
If the seeds hold, Gabe would get a rematch of last year’s state final on Saturday night, against Bettendorf’s Griffin Liddle. Liddle, an Iowa football signee from another wrestling family, won last year, 7-2. But Gabe usurped him in both the state and national rankings after beating Liddle at the Ed Winger Classic, 3-1, last month.
A takedown in the first period won that match, same as how a takedown in the first period led to a first-round pin on Thursday. Much like what Justin said, Gabe agreed that mentality is what’ll take him to the top come Saturday.
“I know what I have to do,” Gabe said. “If I come out with my good stuff, there’s nobody who can hang with me this week.”
More from Day 1 of state wrestling
- Class 1A: Logan-Magnolia three-time finalist Briar Reisz still after first title
- Matches to watch: Analysis of Friday's top quarterfinals in each class
- Photos: Every picture from the 2021 state tournament
- Updates: Opening sessions, as they happened
Waukee storms to early team lead
A three-team race was expected in Iowa's largest wrestling class, but Waukee staked its claim as the front-runner after Thursday's opening session.
The Warriors sit in first entering Friday's second round, with 32.5 points, ahead of second-place Waverly-Shell Rock (28.5) and third-place Southeast Polk (26.5). Iowa City West (23), Bettendorf (22.5), Ankeny (22), Fort Dodge (21.5), Norwalk (20) are 4-8.
But it was Waukee that surged ahead, putting nine of 12 qualifiers through to the quarterfinals. The Go-Hawks and Rams both pushed eight through, and Ankeny and Fort Dodge both have seven.
It's all setting up for Friday's quarterfinal and semifinals rounds, as well as the ensuing wrestlebacks, to be all the more crucial in deciding this team race. Thursday turned out to be a great opening act for what could ultimately be a tremendous three-day show.
Bettendorf’s Schmit one win from the podium
Two girls reached this week's state tournament: Bettendorf's Ella Schmit and Ottumwa's Jasmine Luedkte. They are the third and fourth girls ever to qualify for the Iowa High School Athletic Association's state wrestling championships, joining both Cassy Herkelman and Megan Black, who both qualified in 2011.
And Schmit, a two-time Iowa girls' state champ, is now one win from being on the podium with the boys.
Schmit, a junior, first lost to Waverly-Shell Rock's Zane Behrends by an 8-1 decision, but rebounded with a second-period pin over Carroll's Cael Nelson to advance in the wrestlebacks. She will face the loser of the Blake Gioimo-Kael Kurtz semifinal in Friday's first session, and the winner will guarantee themselves a medal with a top-eight finish.
Her victory was the first ever pin for a girl at the IHSAA state wrestling tournament, and if she wins Friday, she'll be the second girl ever to win a medal — Black qualified again in 2012 and finished eighth at 106 pounds in Class 1A for Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont.
"Win and get on the podium," Schmit said afterward. "That’s what I’m thinking about. I believe I can do anything I put my mind to."
Luedtke ultimately went 0-2 and was eliminated during Thursday's opening session. She lost to Gioimo, from Cedar Rapids Prairie, by fall, then lost to Dallas Center-Grimes' Luke Stover in the wrestlebacks.
Sheedy flips result in district rematch
There were seven district rematches in Class 3A's first round on Thursday, which is both weird and frustrating because that means kids have to wrestle twice in back-to-back weeks but was made a possibility when the IHSAA decided to forgo the random draw formula in favor of seeding the entire tournament.
But one of those results went the other way this time.
Davenport North's Cade Sheedy beat North Scott's Joey Petersen, 6-5, in the first round at 195 pounds, less than a week after Petersen pinned Sheedy in the district finals. Sheedy advances to wrestle Southeast Polk's Kalob Runyon in Friday's quarterfinals. Petersen later won to advance through the wrestlebacks.
The other six rematches went the same way they went at each respective district tournament last week. Between all three classes, there were 27 district rematches slated to take place in the first round.
That's too many, but kudos to Sheedy for taking advantage of the opportunity.
Hempstead's Bellis advances via … mouthpiece DQ?
Weird thing happened at 120 pounds. Hempstead's Chad Bellis advanced over Dowling Catholic's Ethan Mahoney because Mahoney didn't have a mouthpiece to cover his braces.
The two had wrestled for a minute when the official stopped the match and told Mahoney to get a mouthpiece. According to coaches from both Hempstead and Dowling, the official started injury time, and Mahoney couldn't find a mouthpiece in time, so he lost by disqualification. The official term is "mouthpiece infraction."
Thankfully, Mahoney found a mouthpiece later on, and beat Boone's Ty Solverson, 9-7, to advance in the wrestlebacks. Bellis advances to wrestle Fort Dodge's Lane Cowell in the quarterfinals.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.