Bitterly disappointed with a title match loss a year ago, Althoff sophomore Chase Bittle wasn’t about to fall short in his quest on Saturday at State Farm Center.
Bittle jumped out to a lead with a takedown and two-point near fall in the opening 20 seconds and never looked back, eventually scoring a 3 minute, 33 second fall over Anthony Rink of Herscher in the Class 1A 120-pound title match to become the Crusaders’ first state wrestling champion in nearly 20 years.
Putting a perfect finish on a perfect season, Bittle (45-0) built a commanding 8-0 lead and then caught Rink for the second time in the match early in the second period and then raised his hands in triumph after the match officially came to an end with Rink on his back to make his dream come true.
“I can’t describe the feeling I have right now. Ever since what happened last year in the (113 pound) final, I wanted to get back here and have another chance. I went right after him early and I was able to catch him,” Bittle said. “Getting here last year was a big help because I knew what to expect. I was ready this year.”
Bittle’s title is the first for an Althoff wrestler since Mike Weber won the Class A 171-pound title in 1997.
Bittle wasn’t the only Althoff wrestler to shine on Saturday as the Crusaders took home five state medals from the state finals.
Senior Jarrid Braunagel came up a point short as he lost the 138-pound final to Will Lucie, of Warsaw, 6-5, while Greg Kulas, of Dakota, defeated Danny Braunagel 6-2 in the 145-pound final.
Freshman Max Kristoff and sophomore Zac Braunagel also earned medals for the Crusaders, who went a perfect 5-for-5 in possible medals on the weekend.
But Bittle’s title was the highlight.
“That’s the way he wrestles. Chase is aggressive and he really goes after his opponent. He did that all year, he did it this weekend and he did it tonight,” Althoff coach Josh Harper said. “It was so much fun to watch. Mike (Weber) isn’t the last state champion from Althoff any longer.”
While Bittle and the Braunagel brothers earned title bids at the state finals, freshman Max Kristoff and sophomore Zac Braunagle made it a perfect five for five this weekend in the medal hunt for Althoff.
Max Kristoff finished his freshman season with a record of 37-15 and a fifth-place medal in the 126-pound weight class.
“I came up here wanting to show that I am the best. I fell short of reaching my goal of being a state champion but to come away with a medal in my first trip, I am happy but not satisfied,” Kristoff said. “I just have to work harder next year.”
Zac Braunagle should also be proud after putting the finishing touch on a sensational sophomore season by earning the fifth-place medal in the 170-pound weight class. Braunagle ends his season at 43-6.
“Danny (Braunagel) did a good job. Kulas is a two-time state champion. He’s tough kid,” Harper said. “Jarrid got behind and to his credit he fought his way back. I thought he might win it in the end. It’s tough to come so close and come up short. But for Jarrid to end his high school career with three third-place finishes and now a second, is just a remarkable achievement. There aren’t many two-time medal winners.
“I said the other day that our goal was to bring home five medals from the state tournament and we did that. Still, I think we still think that we could have done better.”
Also finishing second was Wood River senior Zac Blosioli in the 152-pound weight class
Other local medals
Belleville West senior Nick Foster ended his career with a third straight medal-winning effort. Foster placed third in the Class 3A 152-pound weight class with a 45-3 record.
Highland junior Trent Rakers joined former teammates Tanner Farmer and Nick Czar as Bulldogs to win Class 2A state finals medals. Rakers finished his season with a 44-2 mark after placing fourth in the Class 2A 160-pound class.
Sparta senior Will Monroe was third in the Class 1A 285-pound class and finished with a mark of 37-1. Wood River’s Drew Sobol was fourth in the Class 1A 106-pound class, while Roxana’s Jarod Foiles was sixth in the 132-pound class.