Hannibal High School senior Kaleb Greening shared a special moment with his father and coach, Derek, after advancing to the state wrestling championships for the first time.
Raw emotions were on full display as Kaleb Greening closed out the final seconds of a win to secure entry into the Class 3 state wrestling championships.
This moment was a long time in the making. Last season, the Hannibal grappler made a late mistake and finished one match short of qualifying for the state meet, a chip on his shoulder he has used for motivation in the 12 months since.
This time, Greening would not be denied.
The seasoned wrestler earned a 10-5 decision over Wentzville-Liberty's Trentin Helton in the semifinals of the Class 3 District 2 Tournament on Saturday to punch his ticket to the state tournament. The top four grapplers in each weight class advanced.
Greening followed that by defeating Fort Zumwalt South's Christian Null by a 6-1 decision in the 145-pound district championship, avenging a regular-season loss to the same opponent for the 100th victory of his career.
Greening will be one of eight Hannibal wrestlers competing at Mizzou Arena in the state tournament that begins Thursday.
“It feels good,” Greening said. “This is a long time coming. I've been training for this for a long time, and I finally got there. It just feels really good.”
Looking on from the edge of the mats was perhaps the most influential person who helped Greening complete his mission of reaching state.
That individual was none other than his father, Derek, a former Hannibal standout who has been head coach of the Pirates for the last 12 seasons.
After the semifinal win, Kaleb and Derek celebrated the achievement together inside Korf Gymnasium with an embrace neither are likely to ever forget.
“I stood up and was just like, 'Yeah!' And my dad was doing the same thing so I ran over and hugged him,” Kaleb said. “This has been one of my goals for a long time and I haven't made it. This was my last chance so I had to do it this year.”
Derek refused to even let himself think Kaleb would reach state until the last five seconds of the semifinal. The referee counted the fifth second for three near-fall points, which put the senior ahead by five.
“That's when I thought, 'He's got it! He's got it!'” Derek recalled. “Last year, those last few seconds were terrible, hard to watch. But this time, it's hard to explain what I felt. Pride and joy. Kaleb has worked so hard and never missed a summer, a spring, a fall or a winter practice. Of course I don't let him miss, but he wouldn't miss anyways.”
“All those early mornings and late nights, they definitely paid off,” Kaleb added.
Entering the district title match Saturday afternoon, Derek gave Kaleb a pep talk — one that came from the heart as both a father and a coach.
The way Kaleb dominated his first three matches of the weekend, Derek knew his son had what it would take to win the bracket.
“I could just kind of tell that Kaleb didn't believe he could win, but then he went out there and did the couple things we talked about and realized, 'I can do this,' and you could just see his confidence growing,” Derek said.
With a district championship in tow, Kaleb brings a 34-15 record into the state tournament and will face Jack Teague of McDonald County in the first round.
When Kaleb competes on the mats in Columbia this week, he will remember both the exhilarating highs and devastating lows of his high school career.
How even the worst of moments — such as the loss that cost him a trip to state last year — were part of his journey to reach this grand stage.
“State is going to be a lot different,” Kaleb said. “Everybody is going to be good down there and there won't be a person that's bad. But I've just got to wrestle my hardest. I've learned not to underestimate anybody and to just go out there and wrestle my best.
"And whatever happens happens.”