Although the final destination is still well off in the distance, Bobby Thompson can see a light beginning to emerge at the end of the tunnel for his Fort Dodge wrestling team.
The Dodgers split a CIC cross-conference assignment with No. 12 West Des Moines Dowling and Ankeny Centennial here Thursday on Parents Night, falling 44-28 to the Maroons before bouncing back to handle the Jaguars, 45-25.
''I saw some positive steps and some encouraging things happening out there,'' Thompson said. ''We still have a long way to go, but we're headed in the right direction.
''It's a six-week season stretch of preparation between now and districts. Our focus has to be on getting better each and every day so that we're peaking when it matters most. We performed well (yesterday) against a solid Dowling squad, and anytime you can beat an Ankeny school like that, it's an accomplishment.''
Fort Dodge (4-4 overall) scored bonus points with five pins against the Jaguars (7-9). Fourth-ranked freshman Triston Lara (106), No. 5 junior Erik Birnbaum (113) and sophomore Cole Detmering (120) recorded consecutive pins to distance the Dodgers from Centennial, and freshman Keaton Dornath put the icing on the cake with a pin of senior Dillon Hauser at 170.
Senior Riley Prescott scored the most pivotal victory of the dual against the Jaguars, though, upsetting sixth-ranked John Ware at 195 in a tense 6-5 showdown that had nearly the entire crowd on its feet.
FORT DODGE 45, ANKENY CENTENNIAL 25
182 - Sam Cook, FD, won by forfeit; 195 - Riley Prescott, FD, dec. John Ware, 6-5; 220 - Christian Heimer, AC, pinned Carlos Rocha, 4:55; 285 - Colin Olson, AC, won by forfeit; 106 - Triston Lara, FD, pinned Zach Owens, 4:30; 113 - Erik Birnbaum, FD, pinned Trey Rouse, 2:53; 120 - Cole Detmering, FD, pinned Connor Canova, 1:03; 132 - Aaron Noce, AC, pinned Keenan Cook, 2:39; 138 - Garrett Nichols, AC, dec. Cory Alexander, 13-11; 145 - Logan Kipfmiller, FD, dec. Grant Nehring, 10-5; 152 - Jonah Egli, FD, pinned Dalton Timp, 3:52; 160 - Josh Johnson, AC, pinned Bryce Huebsch, 1:19; 170 - Keaton Dornath, FD, pinned Dillon Hauser, 5:44.
WDM DOWLING 44, FORT DODGE 28
170 - Eli Gaul, D, maj. dec. Keaton Dornath, 12-2; 182 - Sam Cook, FD, pinned Jared Jaeger, 1:23; 195 - Riley Prescott, FD, pinned Joe Brett, 3:45; 220 - Carter Havekost, D, dec. Carlos Rocha, 3-1; 285 - Eli Alger, D, won by forfeit; 106 - Triston Lara, FD, maj. dec. Jake Watters, 16-6; 113 - Erik Birnbaum, FD, pinned Nate Sheehy, 3:55; 120 - Michael Zachary, D, pinned Cole Detmering, 3:11; 126 - Caleb Murray, D, dec. Kole Evans, 6-0; 132 - Merrick Pucell, D, pinned Keenan Cook, 2:45; 138 - Kaden Sauer, D, pinned Cory Alexander, 4:56; 145 - Alex Svec, D, maj. dec. Logan Kipfmiller, 14-6; 152 - Jonah Egli, FD, pinned Ben McCluen, 4:30; 160 - Isaiah Patton, D, pinned Bryce Huebsch, 0:48.
''That was huge for Riley - a big confidence boost,'' Thompson said. ''We were looking for a more consistent performance from him and we got it there. He set the tone for the entire match (which started with a Sam Cook forfeit victory at 182).
''Riley and Keaton did a nice job (against Centennial). For Keaton to beat a senior with a pin like that was a great way to end the night.''
Sophomore Jonah Egli (152) also registered a pin for the Dodgers, with junior Logan Kipfmiller (145) prevailing by decision.
The sledding was tougher against the Maroons (9-2). Cook - rated sixth - won by fall, as did Prescott, Birnbaum and Egli. Lara defeated Jake Watters by major decision, but the Maroons were victorious in the dual's other nine matches.
''We had some hard-fought victories and saw the kind of competition that will continue to help us progress,'' Thompson said. ''That's what you want to see once you hit the stretch run in January.
''There are still plenty of physical and mental corrections that need to be made. It's always good to go through a learning process against high-quality opponents.''
The Dodgers will continue to see that on Saturday at the Jack Mendenhall Invitational in Ames. A total of 29 teams and 47 ranked wrestlers are slated to be in action for the tournament, which starts at 10 a.m.