Canton, Unity have six qualifiers at Class 1A Clinton Sectional

Canton continued its historic season, following up on its third regional title and its first since 2009, by getting a school-record six state qualifiers, with half of those being champions, at the Class 1A Clinton Sectional.

Illini Bluffs also had three champions and eight other schools had one title winner. Unity also finished with six qualifiers for this weekend’s IHSA State Finals in Champaign while Illini Bluffs and Tremont each had four state qualifiers and El Paso-Gridley, Farmington, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher, LeRoy/Tri-Valley, Macomb and Peoria Notre Dame had three apiece.

Winning championships for coach Zach Crawford’s Canton Little¬†Giants were Trevor Hedges (126), Joseph Norton (170) and Asa Reed (285) while John Davis (120) placed second and Maddux Steele (106) and Danny Murphy (160) both finished in fourth place.

“Joseph’s a three-year captain for our team, so his leadership in the room, and in the classroom and in the community, all of it has been excellent,” Crawford said. “It’s a group effort, it starts from our youth coaches all the way through our junior high and all the way to the high school. And it’s a family that’s needed to build it.We have a great group of seniors. We have a big senior class and they’ve been leaders in the room for four years. This is only the third time in program history that we’ve won regionals.”

Leading the way for coach Logan Patton’s Unity Rockets were champion Nick Nosler (195) and  runner-up Kyus Root (170). Third-place finishers were Kaden Inman (138) and Hunter Eastin (182) while Hunter Shike (126) and Ryan Rink (152) both finished in fourth place.

“We had nine guys qualify for sectional and only two seniors, who were both in the finals doing their thing,” Patton said. “We went 4-for-4 in the bloods with three sophomores and a freshman. They understood the game plan to get to the semis, since if you get to the semis you have two chances to get to the state tournament. We took some bad losses in the semis and some expected losses. But they all bounced back, they didn’t sulk, they didn’t pout. They all went out there and performed really well.”

Capturing first-place finishes for coach Shawn O’Connor’s Illini Bluffs Tigers were Hunter Robbins (106), Jackson Carroll (138) and Paul Ishikawa (145) while Ian O’Connor (132) took second place. State qualifiers for coach TJ Williams’ Tremont Turks were champion Payton Murphy (120), runner-up Bowden Delaney (126), third-place finisher Mason Mark (132) while TJ Conner (182) placed fourth.

Also winning sectional championships were Farmington’s Keygan Jennings (113), St. Joseph-Ogden’s Holden Brazelton (132), Kewanee’s Max Kelly (152), El Paso-Gridley’s Dax Gentes (160), PORTA’s Bryar Lane (182) and Beardstown’s Owen O’Hara (220).

Other second-place finishers were LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Brady Mouser (106), Lutheran Schools Association Decatur’s Clinton VerHeecke (113), Kewanee’s William Taylor (138), Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Carson Maxey (145), Monmouth United’s Jake McElwee (152), Deer Creek-Mackinaw’s Gage Sweckard (160), El Paso-Gridley’s Cody Langland (182), The High School of Saint Thomas More’s Brody Cuppernell (195), Macomb’s Ethan Ladd (220) and Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin’s Hunter Wilson (285).

There were three rematches of regional titles with the sectional champion once again prevailing. Those were at 152, where Kelly and McElwee had met at Kewanee, at 195, where Nosler and Cuppernell faced off and at LeRoy, and at 220, where O’Hara and Ladd squared off at Macomb.

Nine of the sectional finals matches featured two top-10 individuals competing while four others involved at least one finalist who was in the top 10, and all four of those also won titles. 

Additional third-place finishers were Peoria Notre Dame’s Ian Akers (106), Chase Daugherty (145) and Mike McLaughlin (285), Farmington’s Bradlee Ellis (126) and Rese Shymansky (170), Macomb’s Carter Hoge (152) and Max Ryner (195), Warrensburg-Latham’s Logan Roberts (113), Lutheran School Association Decatur’s Garrett VerHeecke (120), Hoopeston Area’s Angel Zamora (160) and LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Jacob Bischoff (220).

And others who finished in fourth place were Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Shawn Schlickman (120) and Aiden Sancken (195), Clinton’s Cayden Poole (132) and Will Winter (145), LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Kobe Brent (113), El Paso-Gridley’s Tyler Roth (138), Mercer County’s Bodie Salmon (170), Eureka’s Landon Wierenga (220) and Knoxville’s William Stowe (285).

Nine of the sectional champions also won regional titles at the Macomb Regional. They were Robbins, Jennings, Hedges, Carroll, Ishikawa, Norton, Lane, O’Hara and Reed. Two Macomb Regional champions took second at the sectional, Davis and O’Connor, while Hoge and Ryner took third after winning titles at Macomb and Murphy, the other Macomb champ, took fourth. One of the sectional finals was a rematch of the regional finals, with O’Hara again beating Ladd.

Top records for state qualifiers from the Clinton Sectional include Ishikawa (47-0, 1.000), Gentes (48-1, .980), Norton (47-1, .979), Clinton VerHeecke (44-1, .978), O’Hara (35-1, .972), Jennings (32-1, .970), Robbins (31-1, .969), Nosler (48-2, .960), Brazelton (45-2, .957), Hedges (44-2, .957), Murphy (36-2, .947), Lane (48-3, .941), Ryner (48-3, .941), Wilson (47-3, .940), Mouser (42-3, .933), Delaney (41-4, .911), Taylor (41-4, .911), Garrett VerHeecke (40-4, .909), Akers (39-4, .907), Davis (38-4, .905), Eastin (46-5, .902), Shymansky (37-4, .902), Cuppernell (39-5, .886), Sancken (31-4, .886), Ladd (46-6, .885), Carroll (45-6, .882) and Root (45-6, .882).

In a testament to just how competitive the sectional was, the average record of the 28 finalists prior to their title matches was 40.68-3.5. The title match featuring the fewest losses by both participants was at 113 where once-beaten Jennings handed unbeaten Clinton VerHeecke his first defeat of the season by recording a fall in 1:52.

Individuals in the top 10 in Rob Sherrill’s Illinois Matmen rankings who failed to advance (with rankings listed) include Tremont’s Konnor Martin (7th at 113), Mercer County’s Ethan Monson (7th at 120), Pontiac’s Aidan Scholwin (10th at 106), Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin’s Nathanael Gnaden (10th at 220) and PORTA’s Issak Espenschied (10th at 285).

Seniors who fell one win shy of qualifying for state included Illini Bluff’s Avery Speck (120), Beardstown’s Jonny Marquez (132) and Bryan Gil (138), Ridgeview/Lexington’s Caeden Lopshire (152), LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Ethan Conaty (160), Kewanee’s Jaxson Hicks (160), Knoxville’s Jaxin Johnson (170), Mercer County’s Gavin Minteer (182), Warrensburg-Latham’s Walker Allen (195), Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin’s Nathanael Gnaden (220) and University High’s Isaiah Im (220).

Several individuals fell one win shy of state trips on twice after losing consecutive matches in the semifinals and consolation semifinals. They included LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Brock Owens (126), Connor Lyons (145) and Conaty (160), Mercer County’s Kale Stirn (113), Monson (120) and Minteer (182), Bismark-Henning-Rossville-Alvin’s Gnaden (220), Kewanee’s Hicks (160), Knoxville’s Johnson (170) and The High School of Saint Thomas More’s Robert Vavrick (285).

Before the finals, Sharron Jones of Decatur, a long-time scorer at local tournaments as well as at the IHSA Finals, was recognized for being one of the inductees of the Class of 2023 for the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association’s Hall of Fame for her service to the sport. 

Class 1A Clinton Sectional championship matches

106: Hunter Robbins (31-1), Illini Bluffs D 3-2 Brady Mouser (42-3), LeRoy/Tri-Valley

113: Keygan Jennings (32-1), Farmington F 1:52 Clinton VerHeecke (44-1), Lutheran School Association Decatur

120: Payton Murphy (36-2), Tremont D 4-1 John Davis (38-4), Canton

126: Trevor Hedges (44-2), Canton MD 11-3 Bowden Delaney (41-4), Tremont

132: Holden Brazelton (45-2), St. Joseph-Ogden D 7-0 Ian O’Connor (44-7), Illini Bluffs

138: Jackson Carroll (45-6), Illini Bluffs TF 3:46 William Taylor (41-4), Kewanee

145: Paul Ishikawa (47-0), Illini Bluffs D 14-7 Carson Maxey (35-5), Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher

152: Max Kelly (40-8), Kewanee F 1:29 Jake McElwee (35-10), Monmouth United

160: Dax Gentes (48-1), El Paso-Gridley D 8-1 Gage Sweckard (40-11), Deer Creek-Mackinaw

170: Joseph Norton (47-1), Canton F 0:28 Kyus Root (45-6), Unity

182: Bryar Lane (48-3), PORTA MD 8-0 Cody Langland (39-7), El Paso-Gridley

195: Nick Nosler (48-2), Unity MD 13-2 Brody Cuppernell (39-5), The High School of Saint Thomas More

220: Owen O’Hara (35-1), Beardstown D 3-1 Ethan Ladd (46-6), Macomb

285: Asa Reed (31-6), Canton D 10-5 Hunter Wilson (47-3), Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin

Class 1A Clinton Sectional third-place matches

106: Ian Akers (39-4), Peoria Notre Dame D 6-4 Maddux Steele (39-8), Canton

113: Logan Roberts (37-6), Warrensburg-Latham D 5-1 Kobe Brent (38-10), LeRoy/Tri-Valley

120: Garrett VerHeecke (40-4), Lutheran School Association Decatur F 1:03 Shawn Schlickman (30-10), Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher

126: Bradlee Ellis (40-9), Farmington F 1:07 Hunter Shike (36-15), Unity

132: Mason Mark (43-6), Tremont D 3-2 Cayden Poole (41-8), Clinton

138: Kaden Inman (36-14), Unity MD 12-3 Tyler Roth (19-6), El Paso-Gridley

145: Chase Daugherty (31-6), Peoria Notre Dame M. For. Will Winter (27-5), Clinton

152: Carter Hoge (45-7), Macomb F 3:34 Ryan Rink (36-16), Unity

160: Angel Zamora (40-10), Hoopeston Area M. For. Danny Murphy (6-2), Canton

170: Rese Shymansky (37-4), Farmington F 3:19 Bodie Salmon (27-7), Mercer County

182: Hunter Eastin (46-5), Unity F 5:48 TJ Connor (41-8), Tremont

195: Max Ryner (48-3), Macomb F 2:00 Aiden Sancken (31-4), Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher

220: Jacob Bischoff (40-8) LeRoy/Tri-Valley D 2-0 Landon Wierenga (35-11), Eureka

285: Mike McLaughlin (29-16), Peoria Notre Dame M. For. William Stowe (40-7), Knoxville 106 – Hunter Robbins, Illini Bluffs

After settling for second place a year ago at 106, Hunter Robbins has definitely been focused on getting to the top of the podium this weekend in Champaign.

But the Illini Bluffs junior had a major setback in the latter part of the season when he was sidelined by an injury. But he was able to return for the postseason and Robbins (31-1), who’s ranked second, hopes that he’s ready to go in his third trip to state. He looked to be in good form after opening with a win by technical before capturing a 2-0 decision over Peoria Notre Dame’s Ian Akers in the semifinals and then prevailing 3-2 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Brady Mouser in the 106 title match to become the first of his team’s three champions.

“My first time back was for regionals,” Robbins said. “It definitely was hard because I only got a week of training in, but I have to believe in my training is. If it was five weeks off or five weeks where I wasn’t off, I would still come in as the same person. I’m just happy it happened then and not now. My practice room definitely helps out a lot. They keep me up and keep me going. I almost got it last year but I didn’t and I don’t settle for that.”

Mouser (42-3), a sophomore who’s ranked sixth, also opened with a win by technical fall before earning his spot in the finals with a 14-2 victory over Canton’s Maddux Steele. After winning four titles this season, he hopes to find a spot on the awards stand in his second trip to state.

Akers (39-4), a sophomore and returning qualifier who’s ranked fourth, was going after his sixth tournament title of the season. He bounced back from loss to Robbins with a decision over Pontiac’s Aidan Scholwin, who was ranked tenth, and then beat freshman Steele (39-8) 6-4 in the third-place match.

113 – Keygan Jennings, Farmington

In a showdown between two competitors who had only one loss between them, Keygan Jennings made a major statement about what he intends to do on the big stage at the State Farm Center this weekend.

The Farmington junior improved to 32-1 after recording a fall in 1:52 in the 113 title match over Lutheran School Association Decatur freshman Clinton VerHeecke, who entered the matchup with a 44-0 record. Jennings, ranked third and a two-time state placewinner after taking sixth last year and fifth at the IWCOA in 2021, opened with a fall before capturing an 8-4 win in the semifinals over Warrensburg-Latham’s Logan Roberts.

“This year I decided that we’re just going to go all in and I didn’t play football this season,” Jennings said. “Some times you have say that I’m going to stick to this one sport and just go all in. I decided to hit double practices a lot and training with some of my good buddies at Young Guns and the Compound, guys like Brock Smith and Gauge Shipp. We’re small town boys coming out of nowhere and showing them what we have.”

VerHeecke, who along with his brother Garrett (40-4), who also qualified by taking third place at 120, are members of the first-year program at the school that they decided to attend after being home-schooled. VerHeecke, who’s ranked second behind a returning state champion, Carlyle’s Tyson Waughtel, had won four tournament titles this season. He put himself into his fifth finals after capturing a quick fall in his opener and another in 2:38 over Mercer County’s Kale Stirn.

Roberts (37-6), a sophomore who’s ranked fourth, responded to his loss to Jennings with a fall over Canton’s Jack Jochums before winning 5-1 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Kobe Brent (38-10) for third place. Brent, a sophomore, who’s ranked sixth, got sent to the wrestlebacks after his

quarterfinals loss to Jennings, but he won his next three matches to earn his first state trip.

120 – Payton Murphy, Tremont

After experiencing a forgettable junior season, Payton Murphy was hoping to conclude his career with a bang in a new setting, competing for IWCOA Hall of Famer TJ Williams and his program at Tremont.

So far, so go for the Turks senior, who improved to 36-2 and led the way for his school’s four qualifiers after capturing a 4-1 victory over Canton’s John Davis in the 120 title match. Murphy, who’s ranked fourth and also qualified for state trips in 2021 at the IWCOA and in 2020 as a freshman, followed a quick fall in the quarterfinals with a wild 7-6 semifinals decision over Mercer County junior Ethan Monson, a two-time state qualifier who was ranked seventh, but missed out on a third trip after losing to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s Shawn Schlickman.

“It’s been a fun year,” Murphy said. “I’ve had some matches where I’ve learned a lot. Coach Williams pushes us every day to get better and better. And just with the mentality that he gives us, it feels like you’re going to succeed before you walk onto the mat. He has such a big impact on the sport for what he’s doing and for what he’s going to do in the future in this sport. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach, he’s like a father figure. I got injured last season and unfortunately couldn’t finish it off.”

Davis (38-4), a senior who’s ranked ninth, was one of four Little Giants who reached the title mat and one of their six state qualifiers, which establishes a new record for Canton. After winning 2-0 in the quarterfinals over El Paso-Gridley’s Logan Gibson, Norton earned his  spot in the finals with a fall in 5:07 over Lutheran School Association Decatur’s Garrett VerHeecke.

VerHeecke (40-4), a freshman like his brother Clinton (44-1), who took second place at 113, helped to start up the first-year program at the Decatur school. Just missing out on being the only ranked freshman in his weight class, he can take solace that he’s won 40 matches and is headed to the state finals in his debut season after winning 12-4 over Illini Bluffs senior Avery Speck and then getting a fall in 1:03 over junior Schlickman (30-10) in the third-place match. 

126 – Trevor Hedges, Canton

It’s fun to be part of a day where your program accomplishes something for the first time, and that’s what Trevor Hedges got to be a part of as Canton qualified six individuals for state.

As a bonus, he joined Joseph Norton and Asa Reed as champions for the Little Giants, who  hope to also make more history in the dual team tournament. Hedges (44-2), a senior who’s ranked seventh, won his fourth tournament of the season and is headed back to state for a third time and hopes to improve upon a fourth at the IWCOA finals in 2021. Hedges followed a fall in the quarterfinals with a 13-0 major decision over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Brock Owens before winning an 11-3 major decision over Tremont’s Bowden Delaney in the 126 title match. 

“I just want to first say, give all glory to God,” Hedges said. “Everything that I am is because of Him. This is a record, this is the first time that we’ve taken this many kids to state. My freshman year, I was a match away from going to state, then I got fourth and that was exciting, but it wasn’t good enough.”

Delaney (41-4), a sophomore who also qualified for state last season, is one of four qualifiers for Tremont. He earned his spot on the title mat with a quick pin in the quarterfinals and then he followed that with a fall in 2:43 over Unity freshman Hunter Shike (36-15) in the semifinals.

Farmington freshman Bradlee Ellis (40-9) joined champion Keygan Jennings and third-place Rese Shymansky as qualifiers for the Farmers after winning four-straight matches following a quarterfinals loss to Shike. After recording two falls, Ellis won 9-7 by sudden victory over Owens to reach the third-place match, where he turned the tables on Shike and won by fall in 1:07.

132 – Holden Brazelton, St. Joseph-Ogden

After taking sixth place a year ago as a freshman, Holden Brazelton is excited about what he can achieve in his second visit to the IHSA Finals at the State Farm Center in Champaign.

The St. Joseph-Ogden sophomore, who’s ranked seventh and owns a 45-2 record, should be excited about the possibilities after emerging as the champion at 132 at the Clinton Sectional, which featured four of the top 10 in the state in the weight class. After winning by technical fall in the quarterfinals, he recorded a fall in 3:14 in the semifinals over Quincy Notre Dame’s Bradi Lahr and then captured the title with a 7-0 decision over Illini Bluffs’ Ian O’Connor.

“I have higher expectations from here,” Brazelton said. “Last year, it was just a goal to be there and quite an experience and an atmosphere. Last year, it was just nerves and I didn’t eat the right foods. But this year as a sophomore, I’ve been learning to eat better food. We have new coaches this year, and coach (Bill) Gallo has come in. It’s a really good coaching staff with a lot of experience behind them and I really like the coaches because they train me hard and have people come in.”

O’Connor (44-7), a junior who’s a three-time state qualifier that’s ranked ninth, was hoping to win his fifth tournament title of the season and join teammates Hunter Robbins, Jackson Carroll and Paul Ishikawa as Clinton Sectional champions. O’Connor opened with a 7-2 win over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Colton Prosser in the quarterfinals before claiming a 6-3 decision over Clinton’s Cayden Poole in the semifinals to earn his spot on the title mat.

The third-place match was a rematch of a quarterfinals meeting that featured the other two ranked individuals at the sectional, Tremont junior Mason Mark (43-6) and sophomore Poole (41-8), with Mark, a 2021 IWCOA qualifier, ranked sixth and Poole ranked eighth. Poole won a 7-3 decision over Mark in the first matchup and after Mark bounced back with three-straight wins and then was able to avenge the earlier loss by capturing a 3-2 decision over Poole.

138 – Jackson Carroll, Illini Bluffs

Any time an athlete can win a sectional title by technical fall, it’s an encouraging sign and being joined at state by three teammates who were also finalists, including two who were champions, it’s easy to see why Jackson Carroll should be excited about how he’ll fare at the state finals, 

where he hopes to enjoy the same type of success that some of his teammates have had.

Carroll (45-6), a sophomore who’s ranked ninth, joins Hunter Robbins and Paul Ishikawa as champions for Illini Bluffs while Ian O’Connor took second in the competition. Carroll won by technical fall in 3:46 over Kewanee’s William Taylor in the 138 finals. He won a pair of major decisions to reach the title match, beating El Paso-Gridley’s Tyler Roth in the semifinals.

“I have great practice partners and a great coaching staff,” Carroll said. “It’s great when your practice partners are a state runner-up and a state champ. Our room is awesome. They work hard and they push me, especially my teammate, Paul (Ishikawa), who coaches me every day, he’s awesome. We have really good wrestling down here and I’m right there with all of them. I’m feeling really confident.”

Taylor (41-4), a senior and one of two finalists and state qualifiers for the Boilermakers, hoped to win his fourth tournament title of the season. After winning his opener by fall, he prevailed 11-9 over Unity’s Kaden Inman in the semifinals.

Inman (36-14), a sophomore, was one of six qualifiers for Unity and one of four who’s just a sophomore or freshman. After losing the close decision to Taylor in the semifinals, he had few troubles in his next two matches as he followed a win by technical fall with a 12-3 major decision over Roth (19-6), a senior, to claim third place.

145 – Paul Ishikawa, Illini Bluffs

As the top-ranked individual at 145 and unbeaten with a 47-0 record after capturing a seventh tournament title, Paul Ishikawa has good reason to be upbeat about having a special weekend at the state finals, as he had in 2021 when the IWCOA held a state finals.

The four-time state qualifier who won a title in 2021 and then placed fourth last season, joins three of his teammates in Champaign who are all seeking to become the fourth individual to win a state for the school that’s located in Glasford. After opening with a win by technical fall, Ishikawa won 18-7 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Connor Lyons in the semifinals and then captured a 14-7 decision over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Carson Maxey in the 145 title match.

“Our team puts so much effort into the state tournament, because that’s where it counts,” Ishikawa said. “Our bottom half of the lineup is pretty stacked. Me, Ian and Jackson are all close to weight, we go at it, for sure. I came from one of the best coaches ever, TJ Williams, and now I’m with another great coach. The IWCOA was a state championship. Hopefully this year, I can prove to everyone that I am a state champ.”

Maxey (35-5), a junior who was an honorable mention selection and one of three state qualifiers for his team, won a 3-1 decision in the quarterfinals over Clinton’s Will Winter before claiming a 9-3 decision over Peoria Notre Dame’s Chase Daugherty in the semifinals. As a result, Maxey competed against each of the other three state qualifiers at his weight class.

Daugherty (31-6), a sophomore who is one of three Notre Dame qualifiers who also all took third place, bounced back from his semifinals loss to Maxey with an 8-5 decision over El Paso-Gridley’s Waylon Melick before winning third place by medical forfeit over senior Winter (27-5) who was one of two qualifiers for the host Maroons.

152 – Max Kelly, Kewanee

While the title matchup at 152 between Max Kelly and Jake McElwee was unique among finals in the event since it was the only one that didn’t feature a top-10 individual, considering who was involved, it was extremely important to the two programs that were involved.

Kelly (40-8), a senior who earned his first trip to state, was one of two qualifiers and the only champion for Kewanee while McElwee (35-10), a junior making his state debut, was the lone qualifier for Monmouth United. In a rematch of the Kewanee Regional finals, Kelly won by fall over McElwee for the second week in a row, this time in 1:29. Kelly won all three of his matches by fall, with the quickest coming in the semifinals in 0:40 over Unity sophomore Ryan Rink.

McElwee, who claimed a second-place finish for the third time this season, was the lone sectional qualifier for his program. After opening with a quick pin, McElwee captured a 6-4 decision over Eureka’s Derrick Wiles in the quarterfinals and then won another close decision, by an 11-8 margin, over Macomb’s Carter Hoge in the semifinals.

Hoge (45-7), a senior that was ranked 10th after winning three titles, including his own regional, became one of the Bombers’ three qualifiers after winning 11-7 over Ridgeview/Lexington’s Caeden Lopshire (27-11) in the consolation semifinals and then claimed third place with a fall in 3:34 over Rink (36-16). 

160 – Dax Gentes, El Paso-Gridley

After not being able to place in his first two trips to the state tournament, Dax Gentes was focused on finally getting on the awards stand and a 48-1 record with seven tournament titles suggests that he will likely achieve his goal in Champaign.

The El Paso-Gridley senior, who’s ranked fifth at 160 and was one of three qualifiers for his team, opened with a quick and then claimed a 16-6 major decision over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Ethan Conaty in the semifinals before capturing an 8-1 decision over Deer Creek-Mackinaw’s Gage Sweckard in the title match.

“It’s been a good season,” Gentes said. “Obviously with it being my senior year, I’m working hard in the room and just trying to have fun, too. I just try to keep it as a positive experience all of the time and not let it get into my head too much. Coach (Zachary) Zvonar was an assistant my sophomore year and this year is his first year as head coach. It has definitely helped me to have some around who has wrestled at the college level. And just the energy that he brings and he’s always super excited. And coach (Joe) Cliffe always has input and it helps to have someone who’s been around the sport for so long.”

Sweckard (40-11), a senior who also qualified for state a year ago, was the lone representative of his program at the sectional. He won three-straight decisions to reach the title mat, capturing a 3-0 decision over Canton’s Danny Murphy in the quarterfinals and then prevailing 8-5 in the semifinals over Kewanee’s Jaxson Hicks.

In the third-place match, Hoopeston Area sophomore Angel Zamora (40-10) won by medical forfeit over Murphy, a junior who has competed in just eight matches, winning six of those. After falling in his first match, Zamora won four in a row, clinching his spot as the Cornjerkers’ lone qualifier with a fall in 4:54 over Hicks (39-9). Murphy, one of six qualifiers for the Little Giants, won three in a row following his loss to Sweckard and edged Conaty (34-15) with a 5-4 decision to secure his trip to state.

170 – Joseph Norton, Canton

After finishing third at 170 a year and also third at the IWCOA finals in 2021, Joseph Norton not only has been focused on reaching the title mat but also becoming just the third individual from Canton to win a state championship. 

The Little Giants senior, who was ranked second, assured his spot as one of the favorites to win the state title at 170 after claiming top honors at the Clinton Sectional for his fourth tournament this season. Norton (47-1) won the championship with a fall in 0:28 over Unity’s Kyus Root. After opening with a win by technical fall, he claimed a 16-3 win over Knoxville’s Jaxin Johnson. He was one of Canton’s three champions and helped lead the team to a record six qualifiers.

“I’m doing really good this year, and going to state this year just tops it off,” Norton said. “We had a record-setting number of qualifiers and the first time qualifying for the team sectional. I’ve mainly been working on perfecting what I do and do whatever I can do to the best that I can be. And I have good practice teammates and good coaches. Coach Crawford is basically a father to all of us. And we have three other assistants who help wrestle with the kids.”

Root (45-6), a senior who was ranked sixth and a two-time state qualifier, was one of six Unity athletes to advance to state. He followed up a fall in the quarterfinals with a pin in 3:41 over Farmington’s Rese Shymansky in the semifinals.

Shymansky (37-4), a junior honorable mention selection who had won three titles this season, bounced back from his semifinals defeat to Norton with a fall in 3:19 over Mercer County sophomore Bodie Salmon (27-7). Shymansky became one of the Farmers’ three qualifiers after recording a fall in 1:17 over Illini West’s Shawn Watkins (26-9) in the consolation semifinals.

182 – Bryar Lane, PORTA

The fascinating story of the emergence of Bryar Lane  as a state title contender at 182 one year after missing his junior season due to heart surgery got an extra chapter added to it when the second-ranked PORTA senior improved to 48-3 after capturing top honors at 182 in the Clinton Sectional after defeating the third-, fourth- and fifth-ranked individuals at his weight class.

Lane, ranked second and a sixth-place finisher in the IWCOA in 2021 who has committed to Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky to continue his education and career, won his fifth title of the season with an 8-0 major decision over El :Paso-Gridley’s Cody Langland in the 182 finals. After capturing a 3-1 decision over Tremont’s TJ Conner in the quarterfinals, he earned his spot on the title mat with a 5-0 victory over Unity’s Hunter Eastin.

“I’m so lucky that I’ve gotten all of these opportunities, it’s just everybody and everything,” Lane said. “It was a big blessing to be able to come out of the hospital happy and healthy. I think it was like the first big news of my life. It’s hard to be told that you should probably be dead, it’s crazy. You just have to be positive through it all and you have to do the things that make you happy. If you think you’re not going to make it, then you’re not going to do it. It’s 100 percent a mind game. Coach (Jeff) Hill has been great. We took six to the sectionals, but he made sure that there were people in the room for everybody. He has those connections that it seems like no one else does, so that’s nice.”

Langland (39-7), a senior who was ranked fourth and winner of three tournament titles, followed a quick fall with a 3-0 decision over Mercer County’s Gavin Minteer (22-12) in the semifinals to square off against Lane for the sectional championship.

Eastin (46-5), a sophomore who was ranked third, bounced back from his semifinals loss to Lane with a fall in 2:20 over Kewanee’s Alejandro Duarte (34-10) to assure that he would advance to state and then recorded another pin, this time in 5:48 over Conner (41-8), a senior who was a state qualifier a year ago who was ranked fifth, Following his quarterfinal loss to Lane, Conner got two pins before edging Minteer 6-5 to guarantee his state trip.

195 – Nick Nosler, Unity

Focused on being a state champion this season after just missing out on achieving that accomplishment a year ago, Nick Nosler didn’t have many difficulties in becoming Unity’s lone champion to lead the way among its six state qualifiers.

Nosler (48-2), a senior who was top-ranked at 195, won his fifth tournament of the season when he claimed a 13-2 major decision over The High School of Saint Thomas More’s Brody Cuppernell in the 195 finals. After opening with a fall, Nosler captured an 8-0 major decision over Macomb’s Max Ryner in the semifinals.

Cuppernell (39-5), a junior that was a state qualifier a year ago who was ranked fifth, was the only state qualifier for his team, who just missed getting another qualifier, Robert Vavrick at 285. After recording a nine-second fall in his opener, Cuppernell followed with two more pins, recording one in 4:21 in the semifinals over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Aiden Sancken.

Ryner (48-3), a senior ranked fourth who won four tournaments and qualified for state in 2022 and 2021, beat Warrensburg-Latham’s Walker Allen (33-12) by fall in 1:23 to reach the third-place match where he faced junior Sancken (31-4), who was ranked eighth, and Ryner claimed third place with a fall in 2:00.

220- Owen O’Hara, Beardstown

While two of his teammates, Jonny Marquez and Bryan Gill, fell one win shy of earning a state trip, Owen O’Hara assured Beardstown that it would get a state qualifier after he stayed out of the consolation bracket by pinning his way to the finals at 220 and then winning a decision.

O’Hara (35-1), a senior who was ranked fourth and an IWCOA qualifier in 2021 and an IHSA qualifier in 2020, used a pair of first-period falls, including one in 1:44 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Jacob Bischoff in the semifinals before capturing a 3-1 decision over Macomb’s Ethan Ladd in the 220 title match.

“It’s been really great back wrestling this year, O’Hara said. “Last year, I didn’t end up making it to regionals or anything since I was hurt. I had to put in a lot of hard work and a lot of time and a lot of dedication. I’m real happy with how I placed here, but there’s more hard work to be done.”

Ladd (46-6), a senior who was ranked sixth and a state qualifier in 2022 and 2021, followed a 3-0 quarterfinals win over University High’s Isaiah Im (36-13) with another 3-0 decision in the semifinals over Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin’s Nathanael Gnaden (39-10).

Bischoff (40-8), a junior who was ranked ninth that had won four tournament titles, responded to his semifinals loss to O’Hara by claiming a 6-4 win by sudden victory over Im to secure a state trip and then beat Eureka senior Landon Wierenga 2-0 in the third-place match. Wierenga (35-11), who lost 4-2 to Bischoff in the quarterfinals, won 4-0 over Gnaden to assure his state trip.

285 – Asa Reed, Canton

Asa Reed capped a memorable sectional showing for Canton when he captured the championship at 285 to give the Little Giants three champions, joining Trevor Hedges and Joseph Norton, on a day where coach Zach Crawford’s team had a record six state qualifiers.

Reed (31-6), a senior who was ranked sixth, claimed a 10-5 decision over Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin’s Hunter Wilson in the title match. Following a quick fall in his opener, Reed punched his ticket to the finals with a fall in 5:02 over The High School of Saint Thomas More’s Robert Vavrick in the semifinals.

“This is my first time that I’m going to state,” Reed said. “I’ve gone to sectionals and lost in blood rounds every time. Everyone on the team performed really well. All of them are pushing and they’re all supportive of everything. This has really put us on the map for a sport.”

Wilson (47-3), a senior who also qualified for state last year, collected an 8-1 win in his opening match before recording a fall in 2:26 in the semifinals over Knoxville senior William Stowe.

Peoria Notre Dame junior Mike McLaughlin (29-16) became the third member of his team to qualify, all placing third, when he won by medical forfeit over Stowe in the third-place match. McLaughlin had to take the long route to qualify after falling to Vavrick (28-8) in his first match. He won his next four matches, with the key one being in the consolation semifinals when he avenged his earlier defeat to Vavrik with a 3-1 win by sudden victory. Stowe (40-7), the lone qualifier for Knoxville, pinned Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Aydin Cornell (17-9) in 2:29 to assure himself of a state trip.

Leave a Comment