Joe Cliver’s road to the WIAA Division 1 state wrestling tournament was a step-by-step journey.
Early success led to heartbreaking defeats until, finally, a sectional championship at the 145-pound class in last Saturday’s sectional at Green Bay West.
It was a satisfying moment for the Polar Bears junior, and Hortonville coach Chris Gennrich was a witness to it all.
“Joe works extremely hard all year round, not only in wrestling, but baseball and football, too,” Gennrich said. “Even though he was dropping the close matches early, we were able to stay positive with him. Joe never seemed to get down on himself. We kept telling him over and over again it was a matter of time and he would make the breakthrough. That all these close losses now would have him prepared for the end of the year. He bought in and stayed focused and worked hard every day to break through the barrier.
“He had a great freshman year where, at that time, set a record for most wins in Hortonville history by a freshman. Last year, he did not achieve that same number of wins. He missed the state tournament in both his freshman and sophomore years.”
Cliver (37-8), who takes on Menomonee Falls’ Jake McMahon (34-14) in a preliminary Thursday at 3 p.m., said winning the sectional title “felt great.”
“I’ve attended some camps during the off-season and put in a lot of time working up in the wrestling room with (Gennrich) and getting after it with my practice partners,” Cliver said. “And, finally, when I punched my ticket down there. It felt great. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
Cliver just missed the state tournament last season after finishing fourth at the sectional meet, losing several close matches, including a 2-0 decision to Jake Gille of Pulaski in the third-place match.
Those tough losses to eventual state qualifiers seemed to repeat themselves throughout most of the early portions of this season.
Cliver had a one-point loss in double overtime to Sauk Prairie’s Eddie Smith (45-1), a two-point loss to Waukesha South’s Jordan Yatchak (44-6) and another two-point loss to Two Rivers’ Chris Yauch (46-3).
But Cliver finally broke through when he absolutely needed to. Facing Fond du Lac’s Josh Adams, Cliver rallied late to upend Adams 2-1 to clinch the Fox Valley Association title at 145. Adams (41-2) is also at the state tournament.
Through it all, Cliver said that his coach’s optimism really helped him through the tough times.
“I’ve had a couple of those close matches this year and it’s always nice to have a coach as good as coach ‘G.’ He kept me positive all year and even from last year telling me that I should stay positive and keep working,” Cliver said. “Hopefully, now the tide’s turned and I can start winning some of those close matches, which are starting to happen.”
Gennrich said that Cliver’s ability to stay on his feet will aid him at the state tournament. He also said his strength is from the top, while he has also improved his skills from the bottom position.
“Joe’s developed a very good offensive attack from the neutral position and is very difficult to take down,” Gennrich said. “He defends his legs well and is excellent at scoring off the other guy’s attack. We worked long and hard over the summer and fall in certain positions and it has become a big strength for him from his feet.”
Cliver said that he will be a little nervous at his first state tournament, but that he is familiar with many of the wrestlers in the Division 1 bracket.
“I know from some of the wrestlers that are down there, I’ve wrestled a lot of them that are ranked up by the top,” Cliver said. “I know my weight class is going to be very competitive, but I know that I can compete with all of them and if I have a good day, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t and can’t be on the podium.
“I’m sure there will be some nerves but ‘G’ talked about it all year long, you just have to control the nerves. And nerves are a good thing as long as you don’t let them take over. Just want to control the nerves and put my foot on the line and wrestle real well.”
— Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo
Appleton North (1): Hunter Lee (220).
Appleton West (1): Adam Gusky (195).
Hortonville (4): Jacob Barnett (113), Curtis Diedrich (126), Joe Cliver (145), Elliott Luker (152).
Kaukauna (8): Trent Leon (120), Zach Lee (126), Tres Leon (132), Robert Lee (138), Drew Krepline (145), Bailey VanHandel (152), Zach Shukoski (170), Keaton Kluever (285).
Kimberly (2): Jordan Weinzetl (132), Blair Mulholland (182).
Menasha (1): Bailey Whipple (160).
Neenah (1): Brandon Beauchamp (106).
New London (1): Scott Cook (132).
• Coming Thursday: A look at the Division 2 and 3.
Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. on postcrescent.com as Kaukauna’s Bailey VanHandel and Kimberly’s Blair Mulholland talk wrestling with host Ricardo Arguello.