Usually a man of few words, East St. Louis wrestling coach Paul Wright just smiled when asked to recall the last time the Flyers advanced four individuals to the state finals in the same year.
The answer was obvious.
"I've been here 29 years and I can't ever remember it happening in that time,'' Wright said. "There have been years when we've had one or two, but to able to advance four is just outstanding.
"The (East St. Louis) wrestling club has been a big help in getting the kids involved in wrestling throughout the year, but it's the wrestlers who deserve the credit. They are the ones who have sacrificed and put in the work.''
Ranked second by Illinois Best Weekly in the Class 2A 145-pound weight class , Flyers senior SirRomeo Howard is one of several local wrestlers who will have a good chance of bringing home medals from the state wrestling tournament, which begins today at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
Chrishon Tucker (106 pounds), Christopher Tucker (113) and Don Cavitt (126) are the other Flyers who will compete when Class 2A first-round action begins at 3 p.m.
The three-day tournament opens at 1 p.m., when Class 1A wrestlers particiapte in first-round action. Class 3A matches begin at 5 p.m.
Quarterfinals and semifinals are set Friday with the final round set for Saturday.
Howard is the Flyers' top hope and their best medal contender since Demond Wilbourn placed fifth in Class AA at 125 in 2002.
"It's been a long time since we've been on the medal stand,'' Wright said. "Our goal is to have all four kids bring home medals. I think we've got a chance.''
The top local qualifier in Class 2A is Highland senior Tanner Farmer. The defending 285-pound state champion, Farmer is 32-0 entering the tournament and is the ranked second behind Michael Johnson of Lombard Montini. Johnson is 37-1 for the season.
Cahokia, who along Triad, has the most state qualifiers of the local schools, has two ranked wrestlers in Dameon Adams, who is ranked fourth at 120, and Darrell Hinkle, who is No. 5 at 160.
Adams placed third at 113 a year ago.
Triad's hopes are led by Cole Wysocki, who is ranked No. 5 at 126. Sophomore Cole Witzig is ranked sixth at 160.
Althoff sophomore Jarrid Braunagel will lead the way in Class 1A. Braunagel, who placed third at 113 in 2013, is undefeated at 39-0 and ranked No. 2 at 120.
Nelson Baker of Byron is ranked No. 1 at 120. He boasts a 38-0 mark.
Edwardsville senior Matt Kent (220) and Belleville West senior Nate Higgins (152), along with Belleville East junior Matt Striegel (170), are the metro-east's top hopes in Class 3A
Third at 152 a year ago, Higgins is ranked third heading into state. Maroons teammate Nick Foster (145) is the Maroons other wrestler.
"I think they'll both go up and have great tournaments," West coach Al Sears said. "We've had a good couple of days of practice and they're both sitting good with their (tournament) draws."
Kent, who is 46-5 for the season, is ranked No. 5 at 220.