BELLEVILLE The Althoff Crusaders head into the Class A Roxana Regional on Saturday with high hopes and three wrestlers ranked in the top five in the state in their respective weight classes.
But individual honors won’t be the only thing on the mind of second-year coach Josh Harper, who hopes to lead a young but much-improved Crusaders squad to a regional title at Roxana High School.
“In the last few years we’ve concentrated more on individuals because we just haven’t had the numbers in the program to where we could compete as a team,’’ Harper said. “We’ve still got some holes in the lineup, but not as many, and the fact that we’ve been able to win some dual matches against some pretty good competition this season has been great for morale and has given the kids some added confidence.’’
Led by top-ranked Jarrid Braunagel and Rodney Baker, the Crusaders are expected to battle host Roxana and Litchfield for the team title when wrestling begins at Roxana High School at 9 a.m. A total of 10 teams will compete with the top three wrestlers in each weight class advancing to the Vandalia Sectional on Feb. 14.
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Mater Dei and Carlyle are competing at the Lawrenceville Regional, while Freeburg, Sparta and Red Bud are at the Carterville Regional on Saturday. The area Class 2A regional is being held at Waterloo High School while the local Class 3A Regional is at Belleville West High School.
A two-time state tournament placewinner, Braunagel is ranked No. 1 by Ilinois matmen.com at 132 pounds. Baker is top-ranked at 285.
Undefeated freshman Chase Bittle rounds out the Crusaders ranked wrestlers. He is No. 4 at 113.
“The kids are excited and ready to go,’’ Harper said. “It’s been a few years since we’ve had this kind of feeling going into the regional tournament. Roxana and Litchfield both have some very good wrestlers but it’s going to come down to who has the better day.
“I’d like to think that our level of competition will help us. We’ve competed with and beaten some very good teams this season.’’
While the Roxana Regional looks to be a three-team race, Triad is clearly the team to beat at the Class 2A Waterloo Regional, which begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Waterloo High School.
The Mississippi Valley Conference champion Knights have three wrestlers ranked among the top five in their weight classes. Senior Cole Witzig is No. 2 at 170 while senior Cole Wysocki is ranked third at 138.
Junior Matt Sarhage is No. 4 at 220.
Other local top-5 ranked wrestlers competing at Waterloo include Nick Czar of Highland. The undefeated Czar is ranked fourth at 285, while East St. Louis standout Chrishon Tucker is No. 4 at 106.
The top three wrestlers in each weight class advance to the Mattoon Sectional on Feb. 14.
At Belleville West, Southwestern Conference champion Edwardsville doesn’t have a single wrestler ranked among the state’s top five in any weight class. But coach Jon Wagner’s squad has some impressive depth.
Action gets started at West beginning at 9:30 a.m. with the finals set for 2 p.m. The top three wrestlers at each weight advance to the Normal Sectional on Feb. 14.
The Maroons have one wrestler ranked in the top 5 — senior Ricky Nelson who is fifth at 285.