Belleville East and Belleville West will have several individuals competing at the Class 3A Granite City Sectional Wrestling Tournament on Saturday at Granite City High School.
Neither the Lancers nor Maroons have the depth needed to contend for the team title and berth in the Class 3A Dual Team Sectional. But both have individuals capable of competing at the Class 3A state tournament in two weeks at the State Farm Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
“This is the fun part, where kids put it all on the line,” West coach Joe Rujawitz said. “This is where wrestlers learn perseverance, commitment and occasionally heartbreak. In the end it just makes them better human beings.”
Perennial state tournament qualifiers Edwardsville and O’Fallon will be among the favorites to battle for the team championship Saturday when wrestling begins at 9:30 a.m. Session two is set to begin between 1-1:30 p.m. with the top three placewinners in each of the 14 weight classes advancing to the Normal Sectional, Feb. 10-11.
Class 1A and Class 2A regionals are also on tap Saturday at Mount Olive High School and Jerseyville High School. The Class 1A Mount Olive Sectional, featuring defending state champion Chase Bittle, of Althoff, begins at 10 a.m. The Class 2A Jerseyville Regional begins at 9 a.m.
Among the wrestlers Rujawitz feels could advance are Justin Koderhandt (132 pounds), Logan Johnson (138) and Garrett Bass (145). Bass is a former state tournament qualifier. Tristin Caswell (170) and Anthony Graham (285) could also advance with solid performances.
Like Rujawitz, East coach Maurice Brown is also hoping to advance at least four or five wrestlers.
“Our best chances are with Carson Gamboe at 120 pounds,” he said. “He has looked strong recently, as have Trey Fernandes (138), Justin Sanders (145) and Caleb Grau at 152.”
Among the top individuals to watch are Edwardsville freshman Luke Odom, who is ranked first in the state at 106. O’Fallon senior Mason Hewitt is ranked fourth at 182.
Class 1A Mount Olive Regional
Althoff, which reached the dual team sectional a year ago, is expected to battle Litchfield for the team championship in the 10-team event at Mount Olive High School.
Led by Bittle, who has lost just two matches in three years with the Crusaders, and Danny Braunagel, Althoff has the better individuals. But does Litchfield have more depth?
“I guess we’ll see,” Crusaders coach Josh Harper said. “I think we’ve both got seven or eight wrestlers who could advance on Saturday. Hopefully we can advance in the team competition.”
Both Bittle (126 pounds) and Danny Braunagel (152) are ranked first in their weight classes, while Zac Braunagel (170) is ranked second and Max Kristoff is ranked third (132),
Class 2A Jerseyville Regional
Triad, Cahokia, Civic Memorial and Highland should all be in the running for the team championship at Jerseyville. East St. Louis senior Tyler Dunn is ranked third in the 132-pound class, while Trent Rakers, of Highland, is ranked second in the 170-pound weight class.