The Althoff Crusaders were one of the surprise teams at the Class 1A state wrestling tournament a year ago when they took five wrestlers to the State Farm Center in Champaign and came home with five medals.
This year there will be no surprises.
A state champion at 120 pounds a year ago, Althoff junior Chase Bittle and 2016 finalist Danny Braunagel headline a list of five Crusaders who will compete in first-round matches when the 2017 state finals begin at 1 p.m. Thursday.
“We have high hopes again,” Althoff coach Josh Harper said. “We’re hoping for a good weekend.”
Class 2A wrestlers take the mat at 3 p.m. with the Class 3A first-round matches set for 5 p.m. Quarterfinals and semifinals are Friday with the final day of competition Saturday.
The Grand March of state finalists is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday with state championship matches in all three classes to follow.
Bittle is ranked first in the 126-pound weight class and is 42-1 on the season, while Danny Braunagel is 43-0 and ranked first in the 152-pound division.
Zac Braungel is 42-1 in the 170-pound weight class, and sophomore Max Kristoff is 38-9 in the 132-pound division. Both Kristoff and Zac Braunagel were medal winners last year.
“Chase and the Braunagel brothers have been pretty dominating all season, and they’ve looked good so far in the regional and sectional,” Harper said. “Danny has had just one match where he hasn’t won by either pin, major decision or technical fall. “I like the way we’re wrestling. Hopefully we can keep it going for three more days.”
A total of 31 metro-east area athletes will compete during the tournament.
Ranked in the top three in their respective weight classes, Cahokia junior Martell Boone and Highland senior Trent Rakers hope to be atop victory stand Saturday.
Rakers (31-0) tops the 152-pound weight class bracket after winning the sectional title last week, while Boone (35-1) is the No. 2 seed in the 145-pound weight class after beating highly-ranked Garrett Walker, of Chatham-Glenwood, 3-2 in the final last week.
“The goal this week is to win the state championship. I think that should be everyone’s goal who is up here,” Boone said.
East St. Louis senior Tyler Dunn is ranked in the top four in the 132-pound weight class in class 2A. Dunn, coming off a loss in the sectional final, takes a record of 37-2 into the state finals.
In Class 3A
Edwardsville and O’Fallon lead the way for the local contingent with a combined nine entries. O’Fallon has five wrestlers, including Alek Ziegler (120 pounds), Jack Bond (160) and Mason Hewitt (182), and Edwardsville has the best chance for a state championship in freshman Luke Odom (106 pounds).
Odom (39-6) is the top-ranked Class 3A 106-pound wrestler in the state.
“He’s impressive, isn’t he?” Tigers coach Jon Wagner said following the Granite City Regional. “He’s very mature, he’s strong and you can just tell he’s wrestled a lot of matches over the years by the way he handles himself.”
Edwardsville’s Noah Surtin (113), Collinsville’s Jevon Pargo (126) and Granite City’s Kyle Thompson (195) are also expected to contend.