Always a threat in the postseason, the Triad Knights enter the first two rounds of the Mahomet-Seymour Wrestling Sectional on Friday with three wrestlers who earned medals at the Class 2A State Tournament a year ago.
All three — seniors Cole Witzig, Merik Fulton and John McKinney — are ranked or have been ranked among the top eight in their respective weight classes. And all three could possibly contend for state championships next weekend at the ‘16 state finals at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
That is if they are healthy. All three have been out of the lineup at one time or another this season with injuries.
“We’re as healthy as we’re going to get,’’ Knights coach Russ Witzig said. “Cole missed a few days and Merik was out as well, but John (McKinney) has missed a lot of the season and only has wrestled 14 matches this season.”
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“We’ve been working him hard trying to help him get his conditioning down and get him in shape. He’s a tough kid.”
A fourth senior, Matt Sarhage, who missed earning a medal by a single match a year ago, rounds out the Knights quartet of regional champions who will compete against many of the top wrestlers from central and southern Illinois when action begins on Friday at 4:30 p.m. Two rounds of wrestling will be conducted on Friday with the semifinals and wrestle backs set for Saturday morning.
The top four wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes advance to the ‘16 State Wrestling Tournament, Feb. 18-20 at the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Cole Witzig, the state runner-up at 170 pounds a year ago, heads into the sectional ranked third at 170 pounds and is currently 39-1 for the season, while Fulton, fourth at 126 last season, is currently ranked second at 132 pounds. Fulton will carry a mark 30-2 into his second round match.
All regional champions receive first-round byes at the sectional events.
“Cole will probably meet the kid from Carbondale in the final. He’s a wrestler who is a good kid and placed at the state tournament last year. He’s beatable but I’m sure he’s looking at Cole and thinking the same thing,” Witzig said. “Merik is probably wrestling the best he has in a long time since he came back from being out. I think if he wrestles the way he can, he can win the whole thing.”
While Fulton and Witzig look to continue their journeys towards a possible state title this weekend, several other top area Class 2A wrestlers could also move on.
Undefeated Highland senior Trent Rakers (36-0) also looks to take that final step towards a return trip to the State Farm Center and should be one of the favorites at 160 pounds while other regional champions 220-pound Sarhage (19-9) and Christian North (23-18) at 285 pounds of Triad and Cahokia’s Antwon Johnson (19-5) at 120 pounds and 145-pound Martell Boone (25-8) also won’t wrestle in the first round.
Other top hopes include Trenton Finch of Mascoutah (106), Christopher Tucker (113) and Tyler Dunn (126) both of East St. Louis and Waterloo’s Austin Stewart (145).
Class 3A Bolingbrook Regional
With a pair of Class 3A State Wrestling Tournament medals already in the family trophy case, Belleville West senior Nick Foster continues quest towards the ultimate medal — the 152-pound championship medal — on Friday at Bolingbrook High School in suburban Chicago.
Ranked first in the state and ninth in the nation in the 152-pound weight class, Foster will be one of three regional champions from Belleville West who look to move on to the state finals this weekend at the Class 3A Bolingbrook Sectional.
Foster, who put the finishing touch on a regional title last week by beating Guy Brown of Edwardsville in the 152-pound final at the Quincy Regional, will be joined by teammates and regional champions Logan Johnson (113 pounds) and Garrett Bass (126) when action begins at 4:30 p.m.
Undefeated Belleville East senior Dewayne Hill will put his (43-0) record on the line as one of the pre-tournament favorites in the 220-pound weight class. Other local regional champions competing this weekend at Bolingbrook include Korinthian Nabors (285) and Kyle Thompson (160) of Granite City, Noah Sertin (106) and Chris Prosser (170) of Edwardsville, Jevonn Pargo (120) of Collinsville and Kobey Bosworth (195) of O’Fallon.
Class 1A Carterville Sectional
With a high school career record of 87-1, there aren’t many titles that Chase Bittle (120 pounds) hasn’t won as a member of the Althoff wrestling team. On Friday afternoon at Carterville High School, Bittle continues his chase towards the one title he doesn’t have and the one he wants the most — the state title.
Currently 38-0 in his sophomore season, Bittle is one of four Crusaders sectional champions who look to take that final step towards the state finals by playing in the top four in their respective weight classes.
And with as dominant as Bittle has been in his Crusaders career, there is a good chance he’ll be in the title match on Saturday.
“He’s had a couple of close matches, but for the most part Chase hasn’t really bene pushed very much,’’ Althoff coach Josh Harper said. “He’s just very solid in all areas — on his feet, on the mat and he’s a very smart wrestler. He’s also gotten a lot bigger and stronger.’’
While Bittle, the 113-pound state tournament runner-up last year, has been dominant in the metro-east and statewide this season, so to have the Braunagel brothers. Three-time state tournament medal winner Jarrid Braunagel improved to 39-1 last week by winning the 138-pound title at the Althoff Regional, while twin brothers Danny Braunagel (145) and Zac Braunagel (170) are sophomores who have spent the season ranked among the top eight in their respective weight classes.
All three Braunagel brothers won regional crowns last week as did Althoff freshman Max Kristoff who took the 126-pound title.