Highland grappler Trent Rakers put the finishing touches on his spectacular junior season with a fourth-place finish at 160 pounds the IHSA Class 2A State Wrestling Tournament this past weekend at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s State Farm Center.
Rakers entered the event undefeated and went 3-2 to finish the season at 42-2 and join former teammates Tanner Farmer and Nick Czar as Bulldogs to win Class 2A state finals medals. Farmer is currently in the football program at the University of Nebraska, where he also competed as a wrestler this winter. Czar is currently in the football program at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Rakers opened the Class 2A state tourney on Thursday with a 3-0 victory over Hayden Patterson of Kaneland (Maple Park). Then on Friday afternoon, Rakers scored a hard-fought 3-2 win over Cameron Lopez of Mount Carmel to advance to the semifinals and guarantee a top-six state medal.
In his semifinal match on Friday night, the Highland junior appeared to be headed to the state championship bout after scoring a reversal with about 20 seconds left to take a 4-3 lead, only to have Washington’s Ryder Punke pull off an escape in the waning ticks of the clock to send the match into a sudden death overtime. Then in the extra session, Punke executed a takedown to hand Rakers his first defeat of the year and advance to the title match.
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Then in the final at 160, Jose Champagne of Chicago Heights Marian defeated Punke 5-2 to cap off an undefeated campaign at 31-0.
Rakers bounced back on Saturday to hammer out a 9-4 triumph over Urbana’s Felix Imbanga to earn a berth in the third-place match. Then in a rematch against Lopez later on Saturday, it was Lopez who was the winning wrestler this time as he earned an 8-4 decision to grab the third-place medal.
The dream to become the first state wrestling champion at Triad High School since 1974 came up one match short for Knights seniors Cole Witzig, Merik Fulton and John McKinney on Saturday at State Farm Center.
Witzig, the Class 2A state tournament runner-up at 170-pounds a year ago, rallied from a 5-0 deficit but fell came up one point short, 6-5, to Kordell Norfleet of Chicago Heights Marion in the 170-pound final and was one of three Knights to earn second-place medals in a near record-breaking day for Metro-East wrestlers at the newly remodeled University of Illinois arena.
Beaten by Norfleet at the Granite City Holiday Tournament in December, Witzig (45-2) gave up a takedown and 3-point near fall in the opening minute of the match, then tied the score at 5 with under a minute left in the third period. But Norfleet scored a one-point escape in the final 12 seconds to secure the win.
“One five-point move in the first period and it cost me,” an emotional Witzig said afterward. “After that it wasn’t even close.’’
The Triad senior started the tourney on Thursday with a 10-2 major decision over Geneseo’s Cole Hunzeker. Witzig followed that up with a pair of victories on Friday, 7-3 over Tinley Park’s AJ Stengel and 5-2 over David Rojas of Mount Carmel to reach the final.
Fulton (36-3) lost in the 132-pound final. He was trailing 8-5 to We Rachal of Chicago Washington before being caught and pinned with 42 seconds remaining in the match. To reach the championship match, Fulton scored a 6-0 win over Trevor Koepke of Tinley Park, a pin of Anthony Randazzo of Woodstock Marian at the 3:50 mark, and a 4-1 triumph over Kendall Coleman of Mount Carmel.
McKinney (19-2), who missed about half of the season with an injury, lost on a 24-9 technical fall in the 195-pound final. To reach the title bout, McKinney earned an 11-3 major decision over Keegan Odonnell of Crystal Lake Central, followed by a 5-3 decision over Dru Worker of Mount Carmel, and a 3-1 overtime triumph over George Bessette of Antioch.
All three Triad wrestlers were bidding to become the Knights first state champion since Fritz Nemsky won the heavyweight championship in 1974.
Fulton placed fourth in the 126-pound division last year while McKinney was fourth in the 195-pound class in 2015. And in his addition to his second-place finish last weekend, Witzig, whose father Russ is the Knights coach, placed third in the 160-pound class as a sophomore and second at 170 as a junior.
“It’s been great and something I’ll have with me and remember forever,” Witzig said when asked about competing under his father.