The Highland High School wrestling team will have a huge chasm in its lineup as senior Trent Rakers, one of the top grapplers in the state, will most likely miss the first half of the season while recovering from surgery after breaking his fibula Sept. 30 in the football team’s 26-21 win over Civic Memorial.
But a bright spot for the Bulldogs is having good numbers with nearly 30 grapplers out for the team this winter.
“I have numbers which I’ve never had before, I mean this is the biggest group that I’ve had,” Highland coach Terry Ohren said. “My first year coaching I only had 14 kids and now I’ve got almost 30, so the numbers are coming up. I just wish I could get more football guys out.”
However, Ohren is a bit concerned about having a lot of youth and inexperience on his squad.
“I have got a lot of first-year kids who have never wrestled before, which is good if they stick with it,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of freshmen and sophomores. But the older guys are my experienced guys and at least they are weights apart from another. Hopefully, they can help the younger guys mature as the season progresses. I’ve got some pretty good wrestlers. I should be pretty tough at the lower weights.”
Returning state qualifiers
Rakers and fellow senior Jacob Mitchell are returning state qualifiers from a year ago.
Last year, Rakers went 42-2 and became the third wrestler in school history to garner a medal at the IHSA Class 2A State Wrestling Finals at the University of Illinois in Champaign with a fourth-place finish at 160 pounds.
The other two state medalists were Tanner Farmer and Nick Czar. Farmer won 75 consecutive matches en route to repeating as the 285-pound state champion in 2013 and 2014. Czar took second at 285 in 2015, with his only loss of the season came on a narrow 2-0 defeat in the 2A state championship bout.
Although Rakers will most likely miss the first half of the season, his goal of capping off his career as a state champion at 160 pounds remains intact. The HHS senior still hopes to be able to surpass Farmer with the most wins in school history. He currently is 20 victories shy of trying Farmer’s mark and needs 21 to hold it outright, which would be all but a foregone conclusion if he were healthy to start the season.
“If he were healthy to start the season, he would destroy Tanner’s record,” Ohren said. “But he still should have a good chance of winning the state title to join Tanner as the only state champions from Highland.”
Rakers has an even better chance of conquering state gold, considering the three wrestlers who placed ahead of him at state last season all graduated.
Rakers is seriously mulling wrestling for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville beginning next year.
Mitchell, who joined Rakers in Champaign a year as a state qualifier at 126 pounds, will vie at 126 again or at 132.
“Jacob Mitchell should be able to qualify for state again this year,” Ohren said.
Other key returners, newcomers
Ohren believes that sophomore Colton Brown, who qualified for sectionals last year and narrowly missed advancing to state at 120 pounds will have a good shot this season either at 120 again or a slight bump up to 126.
“He gave a real good showing and he was only a freshman,” Ohren said. “So he has another year of experience on him and he is stronger. He is strong and quick and I am hoping he can make it to state as a sophomore. That would give him a lot of confidence just to get up there. And if he would win a match, then the confidence would really go up.”
Senior Brett Brown was also a sectional qualifier last year at 195 pounds. He is healthy from a football injury in which he missed several games. He may start at 220 but would like to get back to his more desirable wrestling weight of 195.
“So I am hoping to get four or five guys, if not six guys, up to sectionals, and maybe four or five to state again because two years ago I had four at state, and that was the first time I have ever had four,” Ohren said. “The more I can get up there then the better I am doing.”
Other key returners are Caleb Machuca, Jaykob Marti, Mason Geiger, Christian Zuccarelli and Devin Wills.
Newcomers hoping to make an impact in the lineup right from the outset are Garrett Metz, Clayton Goodall, Nolan Bennett, Monroe Ferguson and Jason Haase.
Although he has helped several wrestlers make it to the state meet, Ohren said he still has the goal of winning the Mississippi Valley Conference for the first time in his tenure.
“I still want to win conference,” he said. “But Triad is always there, although they lost a lot (to graduation) last year. They lost about five really good wrestlers. Mascoutah is going to be pretty tough. They’ve got a lot of young kids that were eighth-graders and are now going to be freshmen.”