While the Highland High School wrestling team could not quite stop Triad’s stranglehold on the Mississippi Valley Conference Super Duals on Saturday, the host Bulldogs gave the Knights all they could handle and did the next best thing by finishing in second place.
Triad went 5-0 to capture its ninth consecutive MVC Super Duals crown while Highland posted a 4-1 mark, Waterloo finished 3-2, Jerseyville went 2-3, Mascoutah was 1-4 and Civic Memorial, which only had five wrestlers, rounded it out at 0-5.
“The kids came out and rose to the occasion and wrestled their tails off,” Triad coach Russ Witzig said. “We won a lot of tossup matches that could have gone either way, which was huge especially in the Highland and Waterloo duals.”
Triad opened the event against its two toughest competitors, Waterloo and Highland, and Highland pushed the Knights the most in the second round after only falling by the final score of 42-32.
Triad was led by its upper weights and finished with a total of six conference champions, who went a combined 30-0.
Senior Cole Witzig, at 182 pounds, started a run of four consecutive champions for the Knights with his fourth successive conference title. Senior John McKinney followed at 195 pounds, while seniors Matt Sarhage (220) and Christian North (285) also etched their names atop the conference standings.
In addition, senior Merik Fulton, at 132, and senior Sam Donavon, at 145 pounds, also claimed conference crowns for Triad.
“This is a good springboard for a lot of our upperclassmen and our seniors, kids that have been in the varsity lineup all year long,” Russ Witzig said. “It’s kind of good to close out our regular season like this. It was one of our goals.”
Although Triad continued its team dominance of the MVC, no individuals were any more dominant than Highland junior Trent Rakers (160) and senior Brody Kirsch (170), who spearheaded four conference champions for the host Bulldogs as they both pinned four opponents and received one forfeit.
Rakers was so dominant that none of his four opponents survived the first period. Rakers remained unbeaten at 33-0 and surpassed the 100-win milestone. His 104 career victories sits 30 behind 2014 HHS graduate and two-time Class 2A state champion Tanner Farmer.
Also going 5-0 to claim MVC gold for Highland were Jacob Mitchell (126) and sophomore Colton Brown (120).
Also earning all-conference honors by placing in the top three for Highland were Joe Gallo, second place at 106; Devin Wills, second place at 138; Colton Knebel, second place at 280; Caleb Machuca, second place at 113; Austin Hickam, third place at 145; and Dylan Knebel, third place at 220.
“The whole team had a good day,” said Highland coach Terry Ohren, whose team finished with a 15-4 dual-match record. “Our goal was to go 5-0 but we came up just short. After that early loss to Triad, it put a fire into all of them. The boys do work hard at practice and stuff like that. They horse around but when it’s time to work they work. And I’ve got a young squad with only two seniors, so 12 of the kids should be returning next year. So, that is something to look forwards to. And hopefully, my assistant coach (football defensive coordinator) Jason Basso) will help get some of the football guys to come out and maybe that will also help out a lot.”
All of the Mississippi Valley Conference schools, along with Cahokia, East St. Louis and Jacksonville, will be in the IHSA Class 2 Triad Regional this Saturday. The top-three finishers in each weight class move on to the sectional round the following weekend at Mahomet-Seymour. The state tournament is Feb. 18-20 at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
“I’d say Cahokia will be the favorite,” Russ Witzig said. “We’ll have too many open weights. But we’re looking forward to it.”
Highland’s four conference champions have a really good chance to place among the top three in their respective weight class and qualify for the following weekend’s sectional.
Rakers will be the odds-on favorite to be the regional champion at 160 pounds as he enters with his spotless 33-0 record.
“My goal at the beginning of the season was to place at state and I am very happy with my season and where I am at right now,” Rakers said. “I feel I am in good physical shape and I feel good all around. My neutral wrestling has definitely gotten a lot better this year. That was a little bit of a problem last year. I think I have improved my top and riding a little bit too, but I haven’t had a chance to do that too, too much this year because we really haven’t had the competition. So, that’s going to be a test up at state, just riding kids out on top.”
Coach Ohren added, “He has been working on other neutral moves. He used to just have a one sweeping single (leg), and he hasn’t been using it much this year but it’s still back there if he needs it.”