The past five Class 3A state wrestling tournaments have ended on the final day of competition for Belleville West coach Al Sears, who has watched grapplers from his program finish their season with medals around their necks.
Making it six years year in a row eight days from now, at the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, won’t be easy.
Senior heavyweight Ricky Nelson and junior Nick Foster headline a group of six Maroons who will look to take that final step to Champaign beginning Friday, when they wrestle in first- and second-round matches at the Class 3A Normal Sectional.
A regional champion, Nelson needs to win only his first two matches while Foster needs to win at least three to clinch his second straight state finals berth.
Freshman Garrett Bass (106) and senior Vic Beloach (113) also have solid chances of finishing in the required top three of their weight classes for trips to state, which is held Feb. 19-21.
This also is the final trip to the state tournament for Sears as the Maroons head coach. He announced his resignation earlier in the year.
“It’s getting close,’’ Sears said of the end of his coaching career. “It will be tough. I’ve been involved in the sport for four decades. I’ll still be around though.
“I am really looking forward to the weekend. I think we got great draws and we’re wrestling well.”
Action begins at Normal Community High School at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Semifinals and wrestlebacks are set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, with the finals scheduled fot later in the day. Southwestern Conference champion Edwardsville, led by regional champions Ben Schlueter (113) and Tanner Ambry (120) along with state-ranked Chris Prosser (160), will have 10 wrestlers in action Normal.
Other area wrestlers with a good chance of reaching the state finals are Belleville East seniors Matt Striegel (171) and Lucas Bernal (126), regional champions Quinlin Preston (195) of O’Fallon and Matt Wylie (220) of Granite City and Collinsville’s Cole Zabala (138). The Alton brothers duo of Phyllip Deloach (145) and Nicholas Deloach (152) are both undefeated. Teammate Quianta Wagner (160) also is a serious contender for the Redbirds.
While the Class 3A sectional is being held at Normal, the area Class 2A sectional is being hosted by Mattoon High School. The area Class 1A Sectional is set for Vandalia High School on Friday and Saturday.
Class 1A Vandalia Sectional
Regional tournament champion Althoff had a day to remember last Saturday, when it had seven champions and advanced two others out of the Roxana Regional with top three finishes
Now coach Josh Harper’s young, but talented team must do it all over again beginning Friday at Vandalia.
Getting a 14-second pin from freshman Chase Bittle in the 113-pound final, the Crusaders won five straight weight classes and got victories later in the day from freshman Zach Braunagel (160) and senior Rodney Baker (285) as they rallied past Litchfield for the regional team title.
“We were behind Litchfield going into the final round, but I liked where were in terms of the points, because we had seven guys in the finals and in a lot of those matches we were the favorites. All we had to do was go out and wrestle the way were capable,’’ Althoff coach Josh Harper said. “Chase (Bittle) had had some quick pins this year. but 14 seconds is really quick. We got on a roll there from 113 to 138 (pounds).’’
After Bittle won by pin, Eli Wall-Lampkin (120), Jevon Hay (126), Jarid Braunagel (132) and Daniel Braunagel (138) also followed with victories.
“It was a great team effort. The kids really stepped it up later in the day,’’ Harper said. “But it’s going to get a lot tougher from here on out. These next two weekends, are the best wrestlers in the state.
“You’ve got to be able to focus and be ready to give everything for every second you are on the mat.”
Other local wrestlers hoping to advance are Carterville Regional champions Cooper Secker of Freeburg (120) and Will Monroe of Sparta (195).
Class 2A Mattoon Sectional
Highland senior Nick Czar and the Triad Knights senior combinaton of Cole Wysicki (138) and Cole Witzig (170) will lead the way for local wrestlers at Mattoon High School.
Czar, undefeated and looking to become the Bulldogs third straight state champion at 285, has been ranked in the top five all year and heads to Mattoon as the wrestler to beat. Nebraska football player and 2004 Highland grad Tanner Farner won state at 285 the previous two years.
Like Czar, both Witzig and Wysocki, have been ranked among the top six at their weights all season. Other Triad wrestlers with high hopes Merik Fulton (126), Alex Crehan (182) and John McKinney (195).
Others with good hopes of advancing are brothers Crishoo and Christopher Tucker (106 and 113) of East St, Louis, Marlon Manuel (120) of Cahokia, Mac Mundy (145) of Waterkloo, Trent Rakers (160) of Highland and Jacob Musick (220) of Mascoutah.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.