CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It was hard to tell what was more impressive.
Orion sophomore Logan Lee’s 12-9 Class 1A state championship victory in the action-packed 220-pound bout, or his run into the stands after winning Saturday evening at the State Farm Center to hug about 12 family and friends.
This was no ordinary victory lap as Lee had to scale many steps and run about a full lap to do it. He clearly was on a mission after the bout, just as he had been during it.
“Just the support system I have,” Lee said of all the hugs. “It’s absolutely wonderful. And everybody here, there’s so many people that came to watch all of the Orion wrestlers. I am so thankful.”
Equally impressive was the Quad-City area’s 1A championship haul. Fulton’s Tyler Fleetwood (120 pounds) and Morrison's Joe Eads (138) joined Lee as state champions.
Down 2-1 after one period to fourth-ranked Cody Miller of Bismarck-Harding, the No. 3-ranked Lee started to exert his strength and nearly pinned Miller while taking a 6-4 lead in the second period.
He added five more points in the period in a lot of quick action, highlighting the 6-foot-5 Lee’s strength. Lee then survived some trouble later but was in control when the clock read 0:00 after three periods.
“I don’t know,” Lee said of the second period. “I don’t know what happened.”
His coach, Dan Diamond, was near tears as he watched the celebration unfold in the State Farm Center stands.
“He’s just a great kid,” Diamond said, his voice breaking up. “He works real hard and believes in himself. He’s just a special kid.”
It was clear Diamond was a little shocked to see the tables briefly turned on Lee after it appeared he was in total control up 11-4.
“He does some things that you don’t really teach,” Diamond said. “But he just believes in himself and is a good enough athlete that he can get away with it. He’s exciting to watch. You never know.”
Nerves never got to Lee, who finishes the season with a 41-3 record. And the wrestler who also plays football and looks the part, outmuscled his foe Saturday.
“Just tremendous strength and an internal drive that doesn’t want to lose,” praised Diamond of his champion.
Tyler Fleetwood (40-2) never seems to disappoint. It was clear the Fulton junior didn’t care that his opponent, Aurora Christian freshman Noah Villareal, was ranked No. 1 much of the season over him at No. 2, even though Fleetwood was a defending state champion at a lower weight last year.
He cared about what mattered — championship No. 2 — this time at 120 pounds. Fleetwood got a late takedown in the first period, forging a 2-1 lead and never looked back in an 11-5 victory where he seemed to be in control from the middle of the second period on. He called the first takedown one of the most important takedowns of his career.
“This feels a lot better than than the first one,” Fleetwood, who won at 106 a year ago, said afterward. “I went through a lot of adversity this season. But I came through. I pray to God. I am happy with my performance.
“It showed me I worked hard enough to defend my title, and that’s what I did.”
Even in control, Fleetwood made sure he did not lose control.
“I knew he was a little funky,” Fleetwood said of the wrestler he beat in the semifinals at the Byron Sectional 11-8. “I knew I had to stay tough and wrestle my match. I knew he would never be out of the match. That kid’s a stud.
“I hit that misdirection shot on him three or four times,” Fleetwood said of administering takedown after takedown.
Fulton coach Chris Grant agreed his wrestler seemed to dominate from the midway point on. “We talked about it all week,” he said. “We had to shoot, and we were going to score. If we let him shoot, he was going to score. We had to be on the offense.”
He had high praise for Fleetwood’s leadership ability, including with the younger kids in the overall program. “For him to find this success, after all these years," Grant said, "it’s amazing and it’s amazing for our community.”
Morrison's Eads had no trouble calling his 4-2 win one of the toughest he’s had in a 43-3 state championship season. But his neck-wrench move which he planned on using all along gave him control in the final period of what had been a scoreless match.
“I’ve been saying the whole year, it’s my go-to move,” Eads said. “It’s been a dream goal, all my life (to be a state champion). It felt awesome watching the clock go from 3-2-1-0 and knowing that I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish my whole life. Finally got it done as a senior.”
In the Class A 285-pound match, Fulton’s Taylor Fleetwood was pinned at the 1:09 mark, finishing in second place. At 145, Kewanee’s Lewis Robinson was pinned midway through the first period falling to undefeated and No. 1-ranked Nolan Baker of Byron.