When asked earlier this week how many of the five Triad High School wrestlers competing at the IHSA state tournament could be on the medal stand late Saturday night at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Knights coach Russ Witzig didn’t hesitate.
“Five.” Witzig said. A former All-American at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Witzig wasn’t joking.
“I like our chances of bringing home five medals if we wrestle like we have all year,” Witzig said. “Some of our kids got good draws and a couple drew highly ranked wrestlers right out of the gate in their first match on Thursday.
“But again, this is the state tournament. At this stage, everybody is a good wrestler. You’ve got to be ready to go for six minutes.”
Sectional champions Merik Fulton (126 pounds), Cole Wysocki (138) and Cole Witzig (170) headline a strong group of meto-east Class 2A wrestlers who will compete in the preliminary round Thursday afternoon when the 2015 state finals get under way.
Class A preliminaries begin at 1 p.m. with Class 2A set for 3 p.m. and Class 3A preliminaries set for 5 p.m. Quarterfinals and wrestlebacks are set for 8:30 a.m. on Friday, with semifinals and wrestlebacks scheduled for 7 p.m.
The tournament resumes at 9 a.m. on Saturday with wrestlebacks. Third- through sixth-place matches begin at 1 p.m. Finals in all three classes start at 5:30 p.m.
Former state tournament medalists Wysocki and Witzig along with Fulton are just three of several local Class 2A grapplers expected to be in medal contention. Included among that group is Highland senior Nick Czar.
Undefeated in the 285-pound weight class, Czar will look to make it the third straight year a Highland grappler has won his weight class, following in the footsteps of University of Nebraska football player Tanner Farmer, who took home the crown the past two years. Bulldogs teammate Trent Rakers (160) also could contend for a medal.
Brothers Crishon Tucker (106) and Christopher Tucker (113) of East St. Louis, Marlon Manuel (120) of Cahokia and Alex Crehan (182) of Triad are other top hopes.
While Czar is one of the top Class 2A hopefuls, so is Belleville West senior Ricky Nelson. A three-sport athlete but a relative unknown in the wrestling ranks before the season, Nelson put on a show last week in dominating at 285 during the Class 3A Normal Sectional.
“First of all, he pinned his way through the regional last week and then this week he pinned his way through the sectional. Ricky is just on a roll right now and we hope it continues for four more matches this weekend,” West coach Al Sears said. “I also think we’ve got a good chance to do well at 145 pounds with Nick Foster.
“He was sixth in state last year in the same class and so I know one of his goals is to finish higher this time.”
Other Class 3A hopes include Matt Striegel of Belleville East and Keajion Jennings of O’Fallon — both at 170. Striegel, a three-time state tournament qualifier, has been ranked in the top five at 170 all year.
Regional champion Edwardsville’s top hopes may be with Tanner Ambry at 120 and Chris Prosser at 160, Granite City’s hopes rely on Devon Simpson at 138.
Alton’s unbeaten brothers Phyllip Deloach (145) and Nicholas Deloach (152) are also good hopes to earn medals.
In Class A, the Althoff Crusaders have six wrestlers competing, including three Braunagel brothers.
Two-time medal winner Jarid Braunagel is considered one of the favorites at 132/, while younger brothers Daniel (138) and Zach (160) also could medal.
Freshman Chase Bittle is undefeated at 113, while senior Rodney Baker returns at 285, where he took sixth last season. Senior Jevon Hay rounds out the Crusaders state tournament entries.
Freeburg junior Cooper Secker could be a sleeper at 120.