BELLEVILLE — After three months of strapping on the head gear, fighting weight issues and coping with nagging injuries, it's back to square one for metro-east wrestlers.
Beginning today at sectional meets at Robinson, Chatham-Glenwood and Normal West high schools, everybody is back at 0-0.
"This is what you work for. This is what it's all about. It doesn't matter what you did during the regular season anymore. What matters now is placing in the top four in your weight class to qualify for the state finals,'' Belleville East coach Maurice Brown said. "Anything can happen. You can be the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the state and if you have a bad day and lose twice, it's over.''
Fresh off a solid performance at the Granite City Regional last week, Brown will take four members of his Lancers north for the Class 3A Normal West Sectional, which begins at 5 p.m. today.
The Lancers feature two of the top wrestlers in Southern Illinois in Matt Striegel at 170 pounds and Jeff Brown (285). LaTrell Hardison (132) and highly touted freshman Austin Thurman (160) are the Lancers other sectional qualifiers.
"We're hoping to get at least two out with Matt (Striegel) and Jeff (Brown), but I certainly think that if Latrell and Austin wrestle well, they've got a shot,'' Brown said. "I'd be happy with two. Anymore would be icing on the cake and I like cake.''
Also scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. today are the Class 2A Chatham-Glenwood Sectional and the Class 1A Robinson Sectional.
Semifinals, third place and title matches are set for Saturday with the top four wrestlers in each weight class advancing to the state wrestling tournament in Champaign on Feb. 20-22.
While Striegel and Brown are the Lancers top hopes, the top Class 3A medal hope is Belleville West standout Nate Higgins (152). Higgins took third in the 152-pound weight class a year ago.
But West coach Al Sears is hoping to advance more than just Higgins to state. Other top hopes include Cooper Secker (106), Nate Smalling (138) and Nick Foster (145).
"If we get three out, I'd be happy with that. We've got some tough draws, but I think we could possibly get more than three if they wrestle like they are capable,'' Sears said. "Nate (Higgins) looked awfully good at the regional as did Nick (Foster).
"It just depends on who comes to wrestle.''
Regional champions Tanner Ambry (106) and Matt Kent (220) are just two of several top hopes for regional champion Edwardsville, while always tough Granite City will be led by Justin Nelson (113) and Dylan Gray (195).
O'Fallon's Jon Villagran (120) and Collinsville's Dylan Johnson (160) are top hopes for their respective teams.
Highland senior and defending 285-pound state champion Tanner Farmer will lead a strong group of wrestlers at the Class 2A Chatham-Glenwood Sectional.
Farmer, headed to the University of Nebraska where he will play football, is undefeated and ranked second in the 285-pound division.
Other top Class 2A hopes include former state tournament medalists Dameon Adams (120) of Cahokia and Cole Wysocki (126) of Triad, while SirRomeo Howard (145) of East St. Louis and Waterloo standouts Paul Stewart (138) and Pat Bieber (182) also could contend.
While local Class 2A and Class 3A wrestlers head north for sectional competition, Althoff leads a small but strong group of wrestlers into competition at the Class 1A Robinson Sectional.
Led by first year coach Josh Harper, the Crusaders will have three wrestlers competing -- including second-ranked Jarred Barnacle at 120 pounds.
Cody Harris (132 pounds) and Rodent Baker (285) are other top hopes for Althoff, after winning regional crowns last week.
"I hope we're ready and I think we will wrestle well,'' Harper said. "At this stage of the season, everybody is a quality wrestler or they wouldn't be here.''