High School Sports

What’s left for state wrestling champion Chase Bittle to prove?

Atlhoff sophomore Chase Bittle has Anthony Rink, of Herscher, in a predicament in the Class 1A 120-pound title match in Champaign.
Atlhoff sophomore Chase Bittle has Anthony Rink, of Herscher, in a predicament in the Class 1A 120-pound title match in Champaign. Special to the News-Democrat

What’s left for Althoff wrestler Chase Bittle to prove?

It took him just a year to fight past the disappointment of his 2015 state-title loss and become the Crusaders’ first champion since Mike Weber won the 171-pound crown in 1997.

It was a no-doubt win, too. Bittle scored a two-point takedown and near fall 20 seconds into the 120-pound title tilt with Herscher High School’s Anthony Rink Saturday in Champaign. The victory ran his season record to 45-0 and earned him Belleville News-Democrat’s Athlete of the Week honors.

But Bittle is still just a sophomore. Where does a state champion with two seasons left in a Crusaders’ blue-and-gold singlet go from here?

“He’s 93-1 in high school and has a state championship. It doesn’t get much better, I’ll tell you that,” said Althoff wrestling coach Josh Harper.

Bittle admitts the pinnacle of every high school wrestler’s career is an Illinois state championship. But there is still something better, he says —three Illinois state championships.

“I want to finish the next two years just like I did this year,” he said.

Bittle will take this week off to savor his championship, but get back to work on a repeat next week. He and Althoff twin teammates Danny and Zac Braunagel — both sophomores and state qualifiers – will begin training for a sophomore national meet in Virginia Beach, Va., to be held in early April.

That will be the first of many off-season tournaments that will take Bittle and his family to cities across the United States. Last summer alone, Bittle spent a week training at the University of Illinois and participated in meets in Pennsylvania, Nevada and North Dakota. He won a national title at his age and weight class in Colorado.

He started wrestling at age 4 with the encouragement of his father — “He thought it would be a good idea because I was a hyper kid,” Bittle said.

The sport very quickly became his passion.

“If you want to be great at this sport, it has to be a passion,” he said. “It’s a big part of my whole family’s lives, too, because they have to travel with me and get me places. All these trips are geared toward putting me against tough competition and preparing me for the state meet in the winter. I couldn’t do this without my family.”

Bittle anticipates advancing a weight class next year and maybe the year after, but would like to stay at a lower weight.

“I need to hit the weights harder than I did this year, so I’ll probably put on some weight,” he said. “If I can stay at 120, that would be great, but I’m thinking 126 is more like it. Definitely, though, I’d like to stay in the lower weight classes.”

Either way, Harper says Bittle will contend for additional medals his final two seasons in high school. His current pace of 46 wins per season also would place Bittle in the top 10 all-time career match wins by the time he graduates. The current record of 201 wins is held by Garrett Goebel, who wrestled for Lombard Montini from 2004 to 2008.

“He’s dedicated and he’ll keep working like he always does,” Harper said. “We’ll take things by the year with Chase. He wrestles a lot in the off-season so there’s a good chance he could stay at 120. It’s tough to tell right now, but once we see where he’s at, we’ll start to scout again for next season.”

Bittle says his ultimate goal is to wrestle at an NCAA Division I university, become a D-I All-American and “hopefully an NCAA D-I champion.”

Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman