When freshman Chase Bittle stepped on to the wrestling mat for the first time as a member of the Althoff Crusaders last November, he did so with a world of experience and confidence.
Active in the sport since the age of four, when he started wrestling as a member of the Belleville Little Devils, Bittle already had won seven IKWF state championships and last summer captured the USA Wrestling 15-and-under 115-pound freestyle national championship in Las Vegas.
But after 48 straight wins in his first year with the Crusaders, Bittle finally met his match when he took on Alec Henze of Class 1A state power Dakota with the 113-pound state crown on the line. Henze, a junior, simply overpowered Bittle in an 8-2 win
“I remember he (Henze) came out and got a quick takedown and that he was very strong. He was a very big 113-pound wrestler. He was a lot bigger than anybody else in the weight class,’’ Bittle said. “It was a disappointing way for me to end a very good year.
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“What did I learn from that match? Well, if I want to be able to wrestle at 113 again next year and I think I do, I know I’ve got to get stronger.’’
A key member of a young Althoff squad which reached the Class 1A dual team sectional before losing to Vandalia, Bittle finished with a record of 48-1. Among his accomplishments was a South Seven Conference title along with regional and sectional championship efforts.
For those accomplishments, Bitttle has earned the honor of Belleville News-Democrat Wrestler of the Year for the 106- through 145-pound weight classes.
Despite being new to the rigors of high school wrestling, Bittle’s freshman season was impressive. A superior technician both on top and bottom, Bittle rolled through the regular season, ending many of his matches by pin.
Included were a pair of pins in under 10 seconds which came on consecutive nights.
“I think one was like in five seconds and the other one was six or seven. Something crazy like that,’’ Bittle said, smiling. “How do you pin somebody that quickly? I don’t know. I took him down, he went to his back and I laid on him.
“It was a good year. I don’t know if I expected to be 48-1 and wrestling for the state championship when the season started. I don’t think I ever dreamed that would happen. I owe a lot of it to my coaches and teammates. We were close and it was almost like one big family.’’
Like most young athletes, Bittle played several sports while growing up. It wasn’t until the start of seventh grade where his focus turned to wrestling only.
“I just felt like it was something I was good at, had wrestled for a long time already and that if I gave it everything I had, that I could really take it to the next level,’’ Bittle said. “It really wasn’t that tough of a decision. I just love to wrestle.’’
Bittle’s goals for the offseason are to qualify for the Illinois Freestyle Championships and the Fargo (N.D.) Nationals this summer. His USA Wrestling national championship and the state runner-up finish already in hand, Bittle’s wrestling resume is already strong.
“I pinned my way through the national tournament all the way until the semifinals. Going out there (Las Vegas) I really didn’t know what to expect,’’ Bittle said. “I had never wrestled anybody from the West coast before and didn’t know what kind of style they wrestled.
“But they didn’t know anything about me either.’’
Bittle’s goals for the future? Keep working hard, get stronger and continue to improve his wrestling skills.