West's Higgins come home in second

News-DemocratFebruary 22, 2014 

— The latest in a long line of elite wrestlers produced at (Chicago) Mount Carmel High School, Bryce Brill showed why he's the top 152-pound wrestler in the nation Saturday at the State Farm Center.

Brill scored three early takedowns and never looked back as he clinched his second straight state title with a 17-6 win over Belleville West senior Nate Higgins.

A Northwestern University recruit, Brill jumped out to an 8-2 lead late in the first period against Higgins, who earned his first state title berth with a 6-5 win over second-ranked Matt Rundell of Oak Park-River Forest on Friday.

But against Brill (45-0) there was no upset.

"The kid (Brill) isn't ranked No. 1 in the nation for nothing. He's a great wrestler and Nate Higgins is also a great wrestler,'' Maroons coach Al Sears said. "Nate went right at him. There was no fear. We knew we had a tough way to go tonight, but Nate didn't back down.

"I think Brill knew he was in a match. I'm very proud of that kid. He's a great young man with a very bright future ahead of him.

Higgins placed third at 152 as a junior and was one of four wrestlers from Belleville who earned medals this weekend at the State Farm Center.

Higgins teammate Nick Foster placed sixth at 145. In Class 1A, Althoff's Jarrid Braunagel was third at 120 and Rodney Baker was sixth at 285.

Foster, who finished his season with a record of 42-10, made it an even a better trip for the Maroons, with his sixth-place finish. He lost the fifth-place match to Eric Barone of Crystal Lake South 2-1 in an overtime tiebreaker.

"I'm pleased with how I did. I just wish I would have been able to win my last match,'' Foster said. "I'm very happy to win a medal. I wasn't even sure I'd make it here, so it was a good tournament for me.''

Sears said Foster hasn't even scratched his potential as a wrestler.

"He's a natural athlete. Nick comes from a very athletic family and I think doing so well here will give him a boost heading into the offseason and then next year. He's the next big name in Belleville wrestling,'' Sears said. "What makes it even better is that he's one of the nicest kids I've ever coached.''

Braunagel, who placed third at 113 in 2013, defeated (Toledo) Cumberland's Nathan Day 6-3 in the third place match at 120.

The third-place medal may be a little bittersweet to the Crusaders sophomore, who came into the state meet undefeated and was 30 seconds away from a berth in the state championship match.

Leading 1-0 with time running down in his semifinal on Friday, Braunagel had his hopes dashed when Prentice Walls of Dakota scored a late takedown to post a 2-1 win.

"It was tough to come back today (Saturday), because my goal all season has been to be a state champion. But my coach told me that champions show character,'' Braunagel said. "It was a good year. I had to beat a couple of good kids today to finish third.''

Braunagel ends season with a record of 40-1

Braunagel's teammate, second-year wrestler Rodney Baker, placed sixth at 285 after being pinned late in the first period of his fifth-place match against Plano's Junior Nunez

"I'm very happy with how Rodney wrestled this weekend. For a second-year wrestler to come up here and medal is an excellent accomplishment,'' Crusaders first-year coach Josh Harper said. "I would have like to have seen him wrestle a little better today (Saturday) though.

"To bring two kids up here and leave with a couple of medals is just great.''

A fifth Belleville wrestler, East junior Matt Striegel, lost his first match at 170 on Thursday.

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