By Friday night at the State Farm Center in Champaign, 21 Quad-City area wrestlers will have a good idea of what type of medal they will be bringing home from the Illinois state wrestling tournament, if any at all.
The first round takes place tonight with the quarterfinals and semifinals set for Friday.
Championship bouts take place Saturday evening, with third through sixth place medals being decided Saturday afternoon.
Five storylines to watch:
Morrison buddies state-bound
Joe Eads (39-3) has been wrestling his best friend, Dylan Keller, in Eads’ basement since they were kids.
Now the senior buddies will represent Morrison in the Class 1A state tournament.
“It’s awesome having my best friend and practice partner there because I will get someone to warm up with and push each other in the room,” said Eads, who placed third at 132 pounds a year ago but is the top seed at 138 this year. “So we will be able to have each other’s backs down there.”
Keller (36-4), who claimed a sectional title Saturday at Byron at 160, is a No. 2 seed.
Eads will enter with 113 pins for his four-year career. But his only goal at state is to take the title in his senior year.
“It would mean a lot because that’s all I have been working for my whole life,” he said. “All the records I’ve broken and everything don’t mean much right now.”
Andrews lonely at the top
Rock Island 220-pounder Alex Andrews, ranked ninth in the state in 3A, wishes he had some teammates with him this weekend in Champaign. In fact, he is the lone Western Big Six representative.
“When we go, I am going to be the only one in the hotel room for three or four days,” he said, noting it was sad to see his teammates get eliminated last weekend at the Class 3A Normal Sectional. “The big thing is I wanted to go to state with my friends.”
After years of working together, he and his teammates are like brothers, he said.
Making his first trip to state in his senior year, Andrews is concerned about his nerves, which he believes hurt him in the sectional where he finished second. His plan is to “not think” and try to go on muscle memory as his coaches have prepared him for the type of wrestlers he will face.
“This is my last year so I am trying to go as hard as possible,” he said. “I know each match, this could be it.”
Banner year for Orion
It’s been some season out at Orion.
Coach Dan Diamond’s wrestlers finished 19-2 in duals, won their first Three Rivers Conference title in 10 years, their first Bob Mitton Orion Invite ever (in 34 years) and took second in two other tournaments.
What’s left now is for one or more of the Chargers' four state qualifiers to bring home a medal. There's sophomore 220-pounder Logan Lee, freshman 106-pounder Ethan Meisenburg, junior 145-pounder James Schnerre and senior 152-pounder Wilson Ferry (39-9).
“We’ve had a great season,” Diamond said. “This is just the icing on the cake. It would be something good (to bring home a medal or two). And it would show the younger kids in the program that with hard work things can be accomplished.
“Saying you are in the top six in the state of Illinois is is a pretty good accomplishment.”
Schnerre and Lee already have beaten their first-round foes this season while Ferry lost to his 3-0. Meisenburg has not wrestled his initial opponent, who is a senior. A senior’s strength compared to a freshman concerns Diamond.
“He’s got kind of an uphill battle,” Diamond said.
Geneseo has eyes on prize
Geneseo coach Jon Murray likes to keep things simple. And with two wrestlers — No. 7-ranked Sam Thomas at 285 and No. 12 Zach Humphrey at 220 — headed to state, he believes both have a chance to win Class 2A crowns.
“Respect all, fear none,” he said of his philosophy. “You are down at the state tournament. You are on a mission to win a state title. The only way to do that, you got to win the next match so that’s our objective. Whatever the next match is get through that one. And do that all the way through the weekend.”
Thomas is a No. 3 seed and Humphrey, a returning sectional champ, is No. 4.
“They’re coming on at the right time,” Murray said. “Both of these guys are ahead of where they have been.”
Fulton has high hopes
With a returning state champion in junior Tyler Fleetwood (36-2), who won the Class 1A title at 106 pounds a year ago, plus three other wrestlers returning to Champaign, Fulton coach Chris Grant has high hopes.
“Our goal is to bring home some hardware for all four boys,” said Grant, who also has Taylor Fleetwood at 285, Cole Grant at 152 and Tony Heinitz at 138. “I really think all four of them have a legitimate shot to bring home medals and possibly make it to that final round.”
Grant says after studying the brackets “all of us are sitting pretty darn good.”
None better than Tyler Fleetwood. He is a No. 1 seed.
It’s nothing new for Fulton to be taking four as the school sent the same four wrestlers a year ago.
“It’s a pretty good deal,” Grant said.
The success reflects efforts Grant made with the Riverbend Wrestling Club as well as the efforts made by the Fleetwoods, Heinitz and his own sons for about 10 years traveling all over to wrestle in the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation.
“We’ve got a great feeder program still because of what these boys are doing, and they understand mat time, mat time, mat time,” Grant said.
In other words, experience pays.