High School Sports

West matmen eager to compete

West High School wrestling coach Al Sears didn’t get everything he wanted for Christmas as the Maroons fell short of winning tournament titles at both the Hinsdale Central and Mater Dei Invitationals.

But Sears got the next best thing — solid competition for his team of grapplers.

“If you look at who was in the top four at Hinsdale Central — Oak Park-River Forest, Carl Sandburg, (Lombard) Montini and Lyons Township, you’ve got four of the top programs in the state and Midwest. Oak Park is ranked second in the nation right now,” Sears said. “Those teams aren’t there (Hinsdale) just to be there. Those coaches are there to get their kids the best possible competition and get them ready for the state tournament series. We placed fifth and we had seven placewinners. But the competition is the important thing. We wrestled some of the top kids in the state, which has got to help us down the road.”

It has in the past. Since the 2010 Class 3A state tournament, West matmen have earned more state medals then any other area program with 10, including three state tournament runners-up in DeMechico Spraggins (twice) and Nate Higgins, along with a state championship in 2013 from Spraggins.

Spraggins is now in the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman at Arizona State University.

At Hinsdale Central, West was led by Nick Foster (145 pounds) and Ricky Nelson (heavyweight), both of whom placed second at their respective weights. Nelson is ranked fourth in Class 3A while Foster is ranked No. 6 by Illinois Best Weekly.

“Ricky lost to Jack Allen of Hinsdale Central in the finals. Allen’s two brothers were both state champions and I think he’s ranked second right now. But Ricky had a big win over a kid from Oak Park-River Forest in a semifinal match that he just dominated,’’ Sears said. “Nick lost 3-1 to a three-time state placewinner from Montini.

“I was a little disappointed we didn’t have a champion. In the past we’ve been able to have at least one. But it was a good weekend. The kids wrestled well and we got great competition.

West didn’t fare was well at the Mater Dei Inviational in Evansville, Ind. Wrestling without top 12 ranked Nathan Smalling (138), who is injured. West placed sixth in the tournament, which featured 18 teams, mostly from Indiana and Kentucky. Foster again led the way, placing second at 145.

Freshman Garrett Bass (106) also placed second.

“It was a tough tournament because we know nothing about these kids and they know nothing about us. It’s hard for us to get good seeds. I think Nick (Foster) was a No. 3-4 seed and he had two losses,’’ Sears said. “Nick just had one lapse of about two seconds where the kid caught him and put him on his back.

“It was a little alarming because I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on his back. But if he learns from it, it’s good. I’d rather see this happen now than in February.’’

West returns to action Thursday, when it travels to Alton for a Southwestern Conference match against the Redbirds. West upset defending SWC champion Edwardsville last month and heads into the match undefeated in league play.

“Alton is a very good team and coach (Eric) Roberson is a great coach who has really turned that program into a very strong one,’’ Sears said. “This being my last year as coach, it would be nice to be able to win the league title.

“But it’s all about getting the kids ready for the state tournament series. I think we’ve got four or five kids capable of doing some damage at the state finals. But you’ve got to be healthy and you’ve got to be at the top of your game. It would be nice to come home from the state finals one last time as head coach with a few happy kids and some medals.’’