MARQUETTE - In the 171-pound weight class championship of the Marquette Wrestling Challenge on Saturday, Marquette Senior High School wrestler Curt Calovecchi couldn't capitalize on a last-second opportunity for a takedown.
After taking a 6-3 championship loss to David Pophel of the winning Merrill, Wis. team, Calovecchi calmly assured that losses like this one were the main reason MSHS continues to hold the Marquette Challenge.
"It's always better when we start out with the tough competition," he said following his match. "It readies us for the rest of the year. It really lets you know where you're at. I know what I need to work on and I know where I need to be at."
And while Calovecchi nearly took a win against Pophel, losing in the last seconds with an unsuccessful attempt at a takedown, his teammate Joe Iwanicki faced even stiffer competition in St. Ignace's Joe Ostman, a two-time state champion. Iwanicki was pinned in 2:36 at 215 pounds.
"Curt had a good chance to win that one. He just wrestled a tough kid from Merrill," Marquette head coach Tony Gentz said. "He was in a good position to win the match, and just came up on the short end of the stick.
"Joe just ran into a tough wrester. (Ostman) is a two-time state champ, he's been undefeated the last two years, and he's just a tough kid. Joe is probably going to see him a couple more times this year and our goal is to try to get better and try to take it to him."
Inviting teams and individuals that have undefeated records and state championships under their belts is a bold move, and both Calovecchi and Gentz knew that coming into Saturday's 18-team invitational. Yet after the championship rounds - in which only four Upper Peninsula athletes competed - Gentz was positive about the team's performance against wrestlers that for the most part have seen state championship mats at least once.
"I was hoping for a couple medals and we got better than expected with two finalists and a fourth place finish," Gentz said. "This is a good measuring stick of where we need to be at. There are a lot of state-placers or state champions in here that gauge where we need to get better as a team and as individuals."
Both Calovecchi and Iwanicki made the final match in their respective weight classes, while Rainger Rossway took fourth place at 275 after losing to Dakota Pike of Grandville, 2-1, in the semifinals.
Iwanicki was pinned in the finals to take second place to Ostman, while Chris Briar of Menominee was the only other U.P. athlete to appear in finals. He went on to lose to New Lothrop's Jacob Perrin 8-4.
But like Gentz and Calovecchi reiterated, it's meets like these that prepare teams for what's inevitably lying ahead in the postseason.
So while wins didn't happen for MSHS on Saturday, tough competition is always a good thing. Marquette ended up in 11th place of the 18 teams in the meet, which Gentz said was pretty average for the team in the annual early-season meet.
"We've been right there, you know top-10 is about where we've been," he said. "That's why I love running the tournament. We can't get better competition and especially having them come to our gym, it's great."
Marquette was bested by only two other U.P. teams, as St. Ignace took seventh with 109 points and Escanaba 10th with 71, edging the Redmen out of the top-10 by only two points.
Winning the meet was Merrill, Wis. with 232.5 points, while New Lothrup had 220.5 for second. Pine River and Mason both followed NL with 132 points each.
U.P. schools that followed Marquette were Gladstone in 12th place, while Iron Mountain, Menominee, Westwood and Negaunee took 15th-18th place, respectively.
Individual medalists from the U.P. included Jared Gauthier of Iron Mountain, taking third in the 119-pound weight class; Zach Priebe of Escanaba taking fifth place at 125; Brody Rosten of Negaunee with a fourth place finish at 130; Hunter Sadler of Escanaba with a fourth place at 135; Kaleb Rahoi of Escanaba took fifth place at 140; Jason Kaster of Menominee taking fifth at 145; Travis Heller of Escanaba taking third at 152; and Tom Bailey of Gladstone with a fifth place at 275.