It happened rather unceremoniously, but there was a changing of the guard last Monday and Tuesday for one of the state’s biggest high...
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Three-time state champion Eleazar De Luca of Phoenix earned All-American status Saturday with a third-place finish at the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Junior Nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
De Luca secured a dramatic comeback in the semifinals with an overtime win but fell short in the finals to Missouri's Clayton Ream. In a true second place wrestleback, De Luca lost in a 3-2 match against hometown wrestler Brandon Sorenson of Iowa.
"It was a fun tournament," said De Luca. "It was a great trip, a great experience."
The Phoenix High senior took a bus to the elite tournament with a group of Henley wrestlers, then added to the highlights of his trip with a dominant early showing in the 145-pound bracket. He pinned his first three opponents before scoring a major decision in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals against No. 3 seed Austin Eads from Missouri, De Luca found himself in a 7-1 hole before rallying. He still trailed 9-6 with 20 seconds to go in the third period when he received a locking penalty point. De Luca followed with a shot but was turned away, then found some room and secured a takedown at the buzzer to send the semifinal into overtime tied 9-all.
"I just kept wrestling, I didn't stop," De Luca said of his comeback. "The match is never over until the whistle blows. He caught me early and I knew that I was down and I had to come back so I did."
In the one-minute overtime, De Luca capped his dramatic rally with another takedown with 10 seconds to go to advance to the finals with an 11-9 decision.
"It felt good," he said of edging Eads. "I shouldn't have been down that bad so I was kinda just glad I pulled it off more than anything because I shouldn't have been in that position in the first place."
De Luca faced another early deficit in the finals against Ream, down 8-3 at one point, before pulling within two points at 10-8 with 20 seconds to go. Going for broke, De Luca went for the win down the stretch but Ream turned that against him to score a 14-8 decision and the folkstyle championship.
"If there's 20 seconds left, I'm going for it, I'm not letting up," said De Luca. "I just had a desperation move in the last five seconds that just didn't work out for me."
Losing out on the championship was especially tough, not because of his opponent but because De Luca didn't feel like he was at his best in the finals.
"I don't think I wrestled to my full potential to what I believe I should've done," he said, "but (Ream) was a good kid and that's taking nothing away from him. He came to wrestle and it went his way."
Beat up through a tough tournament run, De Luca still had one more match to go since he and Sorenson had not faced one another, thus necessitating the wrestleback for a true second. In that extra match, Sorenson was able to score a one-point decision.
The top six wrestlers in each weight class at nationals finish as All-Americans.
De Luca is also slated to compete at the USA Wrestling Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals in July at Fargo, N.D.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry