Before the first takedown was attempted or the first pin recorded this fall, Althoff wrestling coach Josh Harper knew his 2016-17 Crusaders squad would his deepest team ever.
After wins over city rivals Belleville East and Belleville West on Wednesday, there might be reason to believe the current Crusaders are also Harper’s best.
Relative newcomers to metro-east area high school wrestling, Isaiah Bernal, Matthew Minnick and Anthony Federico swept the 103-120 pound weight class championships to help lead the way as the undefeated Crusaders captured their first “Battle of Belleville” City Wrestling championship before a large crowd at Belleville West High School.
Freshmen Bernal (106 pounds) and Minnick (113) each won two matches as did Federico at 120 for the Crusaders (5-0) who defeated 2015 champion Belleville West 43-33 and Belleville East 42-28.
The Class 1A state champion at 120 pounds last year, junior Chase Bittle also was among the individual city champions that included brothers Danny Braunagel (152) and Zac Braunager (171). Althoff also had a solid effort from Austin Carey in the 182 pound weight class.
For Harper the title was a special one as it broke a long title run by Belleville West and confirmed his pre-season prediction.
“I said all along that this could be the deepest Althoff team we’ve had since I’ve been coaching. And we still don’t have everybody where we want them in the lineup,” Hartper said. “This means a lot. When I wrestled, we beat Belleville West, but Belleville East wasn’t here and we beat Alton that night.
“It’s nice to work for something like these kids have and see the work pay off.”
Belleville West (4-7) placed second Wednesday, defeating Belleville East 41-27. But the night belonged to the Crusaders.
Bittle, who has lost one match during his entire high school career, won the 126 pound title on Wednesday. After defeating his Belleville East opponent in 17 seconds, Bittle was pushed into the second period before recording yet another pin.
“Chase looked good in his first match then was taken in to the second period by the wrestler from West. Once on top at the second period, Chase did what he does best. He turned him and pinned him,” Harper said. “I thought our wrestlers in the light weight classes (Bernal, Minnick and Federico) really looked sharp. They are new to high school wrestling, but they have had success in kids wrestling. They’ve all done a good job this season.
Belleville West got championship efforts form Justin Koderhandt (138 pounds), Logan Johnson (145), Stefan Caswell (160) and Isreal Griffin (285). Second year coach Joe Rujawitz also got a good effort from Tristin Caswell at 182 and 195 pounds. Belleville East was led by 220 pound city champion Aaron Wallace.