By Curt Herron
CHAMPAIGN – Four champions who repeated, including one who won his fourth-straight title, five individuals who were second last year but took first place on Saturday, a champion from two years ago winning a title again, three other seniors closing out the careers with dramatic title wins and a freshman breaking through to capture a championship.
Those were some of the major stories that played out during the IHSA Class 1A Individual State Finals at State Farm Center in Champaign and as one might expect, there was plenty of drama as half of the title matches were decided by four points or less.
When the final match was completed at 170, Dakota had the most champions with three while the other 11 title winners were all from different schools.
Dakota senior Phoenix Blakely (42-1) won his third IHSA title and fourth overall after taking first at 132. Junior Noah Wenzel (42-3) won his second-straight title with a first at 220 and sophomore TJ Silva (38-2) bounced from taking second a year ago to claim first at 126.
“It was a great finals and all of the kids wrestled well all tournament, so we were really pleased with that,” Dakota coach Matt Jacobs said. “Going 3-0 in the finals was great. They started with the upperweights, so Noah was first and he had a really tough opponent. He wrestled a really smart match, that was methodical and he was always in control and didn’t get out of position.
“And then TJ was our second champion at 126 and he did a really nice job. I think he was a little tentative at first, maybe some nerves from getting second last year. But then in the third period, when he hit his big throw, he came alive there and he took care of business.
“We consider Phoenix to be a four-time state champion because of the IWCOA state championship his sophomore year. He’s one of the legends now for Dakota, our third four-time state champion. We’re going to miss Phoenix and he’s meant a lot for us the last four years. He’s really a legend for us and the kids are going to look up to his name for years and years.”
Others repeating as champions were Carlyle sophomore Tyson Waughtel (50-1) at 113 and Auburn junior Joey Ruzic (51-2) at 120 while Illini Bluffs senior Paul Ishikawa (51-0) at 145 is a state champion for the second time in three years.
The other 2022 second-place finishers who won state titles were IC Catholic Prep senior Isaiah Gonzalez (17-1) at 285, Unity senior Nick Nosler (52-2) at 195, Lena-Winslow/Stockton senior Griffin Luke (51-1) at 182 and Benton junior Mason Tieffel (52-2) at 138
Individuals who had medalled before at state but won their first championships were Canton senior Joseph Norton (51-1) at 170 and Peotone senior Marco Spinazzola (40-3) at 152. First-time medalists who were also champions were El Paso-Gridley senior Dax Gentes (52-1) at 160 and Riverdale freshman Dean Wainwright (49-1) at 106.
Champions from 2022 who finished in second place were Yorkville Christian senior Jackson Gillen (42-7) at 170 and Riverdale senior Collin Altensey (53-2) at 160. A title winner from last year who took third place was Lena-Winslow/Stockton senior Garrett Luke (53-3) at 152. And a champion from last season who finished fifth was Riverdale senior Brock Smith (53-3) at 138.
Claiming runner-up finishes for the second-straight year were Illini Bluffs junior Hunter Robbins (34-2) at 106, Richmond-Burton sophomore Emmett Nelson (46-3) at 126 and Nazareth Academy sophomore Gabriel Kaminski (30-1) at 220.
Other second-place finishers were Farmington junior Keygan Jennings (35-2) at 113, Yorkville Christian junior Ty Edwards (45-7) at 120, Marian Central Catholic sophomore Vance Williams (41-8) at 132, Newman Central Catholic junior Carter Rude (46-6) at 138, Oakwood/Salt Fork senior Reef Pacot (47-3) at 145, Bishop McNamara senior Luke Christie (35-5) at 152, PORTA senior Bryar Lane (51-4) at 182, High School of Saint Thomas More junior Brody Cuppernell (42-6) at 195 and Auburn senior Cole Edie (47-3) at 285.
IC Catholic Prep senior Saul Trejo, a 2020 and 2021 champion, placed third at 120. Also taking third place were Anna-Jonesboro sophomore Drew Sadler (51-3) at 106, Lutheran School Association Decatur freshman Clinton VerHeecke (48-2) at 113, Rockridge sophomore Jude Finch (44-5) at 126, St. Joseph-Ogden sophomore Holden Brazelton (49-3) at 132, Auburn senior Dresden Grimm (39-3) at 138 and Princeton senior Augie Christiansen (50-6) at 145.
Others who finished in third place were Yorkville Christian senior Tyler Martinez (45-6) at 160, Fulton senior Zane Pannell (52-2) at 170, Byron junior Kyle Jones (42-9) at 182, Coal City senior Joey Breneman (43-6) at 195, Reed-Custer senior Kody Marschner (40-3) at 220 and Cahokia sophomore Jason Dowell (42-10) at 285.
Here’s a breakdown of the 2023 IHSA Class 1A champions and their weight classes:
182 – Griffin Luke, Lena-Winslow/Stockton
The disappointment of coming up a bit short a year ago in the 170 title match when he was pinned in 6:47 by Jackson Gillen provided great motivation this season for Griffin Luke.
The Lena-Winslow/Stockton senior improved to 51-1 on the season after prevailing 4-3 over PORTA’s Bryar Lane in a clash of the top-two individuals in the 182 championship match. The match was tight throughout and Luke used a late takedown to get the lead for good and then held off Lane’s reversal attempt in the late stages. Top-ranked Luke also took fourth in the IWCOA finals in 2021. Luke won his other three matches by fall, pinning Red Bud junior Ty Carter (34-11) in 2:40 in his opener, winning by fall in 0:35 over IC Catholic Prep’s Foley Calcagno in the quarterfinals and had a pin in 3:38 over Byron’s Kyle Jones in the semifinals.
His brother Garrett, champion at 145 last year, lost in the semifinals at 152 and placed third. The 182 state champion and his PantherHawks teammates got to take part in the the Dual Team Finals for the first time in their careers and the team went 2-1 to claim third place. Griffin Luke added four more wins during the final week to finish with a 55-1 record and Lena-Winslow/Stockton won its fourth state trophy and finished with a 34-6 record.
“It feels great and to finally come out here and do it feels amazing,” Luke said. “I knew that I had to get it done and I wasn’t going to be satisfied if I didn’t. It’s great to have great partners and to have a great twin brother to help push me to become the person that I can possibly be.”
Lane (51-4), who won five tournament titles and had hoped to become the fourth individual from his school to be a state champion, fell just a bit short of achieving that goal one year after missing out on his junior season due to having heart surgery. The PORTA senior, who took sixth at the IWCOA finals in 2021 and will be continuing his education and wrestling career at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky, gave Luke all that he could handle in the finals and led 3-2 in the final period before Luke got a late takedown and prevented Lane from reversing him as time wound down. After opening with a fall in 4:34 over Northridge Prep junior Steven Kopecky (26-7) in his opener, Lane won a 12-5 decision over Stillman Valley’s Andrew Forcier and then captured a 10-6 victory over Coal City’s Braiden Young in the semifinals.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better match, it was very close and very action-packed,” Lane said. “Obviously, great job to Luke, he deserves it, he’s worked hard, I can tell. I’m proud of him and everyone who’s on the podium. I came into that match thinking that I was going to win, but also just thinking to let’s just go and have fun. I’m blessed to be here right now, so just go out there and wrestle and have fun, and that’s what I did.
“It was so close, but it’s just another thing to keep pushing for and it makes me want to work even harder. Now I have to go win the national championship at the college level. No matter what happens, always be ready to come back and fight. Every time you get knocked down, it’s not how you got knocked down, it’s about how you got up. That’s what makes you a champion. If you get up and work harder after you’ve been knocked down, people are going to see that.”
Jones (42-9), a junior who was an honorable mention selection in the rankings, claimed third place with a fall in 3:08 over Young. Jones, making his first tournament appearance, opened with a 3-0 decision over Westville senior Craig Johnson and then won a 7-3 decision over Unity sophomore Hunter Eastin (48-7) to reach the semifinals, where he got pinned by Luke. Jones, who also plays football and baseball, then edged Forcier 4-3 to advance to the third-place mat.
“I took fourth at sectional and didn’t wrestle very well and wrestled timid,” Jones said. “I really felt a lot of nerves and pressure at regionals and sectionals, but I really didn’t feel any pressure and had no nerves coming into this. Now I just want to keep the momentum up.”
Young (41-3), a senior, who was ranked seventh, was one of four placewinners for Coal City. He won a 5-4 decision in his opener over Tremont senior TJ Conner (42-10) and then by fall in 4:24 over Yorkville Christian senior Christian Durbin (29-16) in the quarterfinals before falling to Lane in the semifinals. Young won an 8-3 decision over Calcagno to reach the third-place match. Young and his teammates on the top-ranked Coalers won their program’s first state title over Yorkville Christian with the senior going 3-1 with a loss to Luke to finish with a 43-4 record.
Forcier (42-9), a senior who was ranked tenth, took fifth place with a 6-4 win by tiebreaker over Calcagno (15-6), a freshman who was ranked sixth. Both lost in the quarterfinals and then won two in the wrestlebacks with Forcer beating El Paso-Gridley senior Cody Langland (41-9) to assure him of a medal and Calcagno beating Eastin to guarantee him a medal in his first year.
195 – Nick Nosler, Unity
There were several individuals who were seeking state titles after falling just short of that accomplishment a year ago and Nick Nosler was one of those. Thanks to three falls and a major decision, he achieved his goal to become a state champion on the final weekend of his high school career and also ended a long title drought for his program in the process.
Nosler (52-2), a senior at Unity who was top-ranked, captured an 11-3 major decision over The High School of Saint Thomas More’s Brody Cuppernell, who was ranked fifth, in the 195 title match, the last of several recent postseason meetings between the pair that were all easily won by Noser. After opening with a fall in 0:24 over Clifton Central junior Joseph Maxwell, he followed with a pin in 1:17 over Taylorville senior William Blue (41-9) in the quarterfinals and won by fall in 4:17 over Coal City’s Joey Breneman, who was ranked sixth, in the semifinals.
A year ago, Nosler lost 8-6 by sudden victory in the finals at 195 to Dakota’s Noah Wenzel, who won the championship at 220 on Saturday. He was one of three Unity athletes who lost in state title matches last season. Nosler, who won all six of his tournaments and was unbeaten against Illinois competitors, is just the fifth individual champion for Unity, and the first one since 1991. And as Joey Wright reported in The News-Gazette, Nosler is also accomplished at crochet and has a business, Nick’s Knitting Service, where he makes hats, among other things.
“(Coach Logan) Patton said that you don’t feel it until tomorrow,” Nosler said. “I had to act like I was there before and just wrestle like it was any other match I was wrestling. It kind of just feels great, last year’s loss, this year’s, it was all just coming together before I go off to college and wrestle there. It’s pretty great, I’m happy for Patton because he helped me all through these four years. I didn’t make it out of regionals my first year and now becoming the state \champ just feels great.”
Cuppernell (42-6), a junior, earned his first medal in his second state trip after opening with a fall in 1:07 over Wilmington senior Hunter Hayes, then won by injury default in the quarterfinals over Sacred Heart-Griffin senior Cory West, (35-3) who was ranked third, and won a 13-6 decision in the semifinals over Seneca’s Chris Peura, who was ranked seventh. He becomes his program’s highest placewinner and just the third individual from his school to win a medal.
“It was a good year, I had a lot of wins,” Cuppernell said. “We’re all tough, but there’s only five of us. I think we need more people next year and hopefully have a full team.”
Breneman (43-6), a senior who was sixth-ranked and making his first appearance at state, used a fall and then a 9-6 decision over Marengo senior Eddie Solis (39-11), who was ranked ninth, to reach the semifinals, where he fell to Nosler. After capturing a 7-5 decision over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher junior Aiden Sancken, who was ranked eighth, Breneman recorded a fall in 5:26 over Macomb’s Max Ryner to finish third. Breneman’s third-place finish was the highest of all of the Coalers’ four medalists. The next week, he helped Coal City win the dual team title.
“Not in a million years,” Breneman said of his anticipation of a third-place finish at state. “It was awesome. I roll with those guys every day, so when you come down here, it’s just like practice. We’re excited for next week.”
Ryner (52-5), a senior who was ranked fourth and claimed fourth place, was a three-time qualifier who won his first medal. After getting pinned by Peura in his opener, Ryner won his next four matches, getting a pin, beating Blue 7-3, winning by fall in 5:24 over Solis and avenging his defeat to Peura with a 9-3 decision before falling against Breneman for third.
Sancken (35-6), a junior who is a first-time medalist, took fifth with an 8-6 decision over Peura (46-10), a junior who also won a medal for the first time. After losing his opener to Breneman, Sancken won three-straight matches in the wrestlebacks to reach the fifth-place match. Falling one win shy of medals were Genoa-Kingston senior Julian Torres (31-15) and Solis.
220 – Noah Wenzel, Dakota
Repeating as a state champion proved to be a lot easier said than done as two of the six who were in that position settled for second place and two others, with Noah Wenzel being the first, saw their quest for a second title remain in doubt throughout their entire match.
Dakota junior Wenzel (42-3), who took first at 195 a year ago, finally pulled ahead with a 2-1 lead in the third period over Nazareth Academy sophomore Gabriel Kaminski (30-1), who was top-ranked, and held on to win a 2-1 decision. Wenzel not only handed his opponent his first defeat of the season, but he also prevented him from taking first place after losing a one-point decision in the finals a year ago at the same weight. Wenzel, who was ranked third, advanced to the title match with a 3-2 semifinals decision over Reed-Custer’s Kody Marschner, who was ranked second. After opening with an 11-2 major decision over Eureka senior Landon Wierenga (35-13), Wenzel recorded a fall in 3:55 over East Alton-Wood River sophomore Drake Champlin (46-8), who was ranked eighth, in the quarterfinals.
Wenzel was the first of three champions for Dakota, with TJ Silva (126) and Phoenix Blakely (132) winning consecutive titles. Wenzel also placed fourth in the IWCOA as a freshman so all three of the Indians title winners have won medals in each season that they have competed and Wenzel joins Blakely and eight others from the program who have won two or more state titles.
“I really wanted to get the pace set in the first 30 seconds to a minute with a takedown, but sadly that’s not how it went down,” Wenzel said. “A win is a win, though, and that’s all that matters. I’ve got to fix myself on all fronts and all positions, that’s really what I have to thrive for next year. One thing that really took me off guard today was I saw J.J. Wolfe, someone that I came down to watch and support when I was a kid. And now he’s down here watching and supporting me.”
Kaminski, who won five tournament titles this season and suffered his first loss in 31 matches, also lost a one-point decision in the 220 title match a year ago to IC Catholic Prep’s Jadon Mims. Kaminski earned his spot in the finals with a fall in 3:26 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Jacob Bischoff, who was ranked ninth, after opening with a fall in 2:40 over Johnston City junior Jude Beers (30-9) and then winning a 7-2 decision in the quarterfinals over Macomb’s Ethan Ladd, who was ranked seventh. After finishing second twice to begin his career, the sophomore is his program’s first two-time medalist. Kaminski also was a top performer for the Roadrunners’ Class 5A state championship football team and is also a highly-regarded recruit as a defensive end.
Marschner (40-3), a senior who was a four-time state qualifier, fell a bit short of a title at 220 for the third time, placing second at the IWCOA in 2021 and third both last year and this season. After opening with a win by fall in 3:15 over Robinson senior Craig Markello (26-6), he won a 5-1 decision over Beardstown’s Owen O’Hara, who was ranked fourth. Following his narrow semifinals loss to Wenzel, Marschner beat Ladd by technical fall before pulling out another close decision over O’Hara by a 3-2 margin. Marschner is one of only five Comets who have won two or more medals at state.
“Deep down, I wanted the bracket,” Marschner said. “I worked all summer for it and I came up short. I’m proud of him (Gunnar Berg), nobody thought that he would be here. Trent Lyons is our technician coach and he’s done really good and is a heck of a coach.”
O’Hara (39-3), a senior who qualified for the IWCOA in 2021 and the IHSA in 2020, won his first medal by finishing in fourth place. After opening up with a fall, O’Hara got dispatched into the consolation bracket by Marschner but went on to win three-straight matches, clinching a medal with a 10-2 major decision over Champlin and then advancing to the third-place match following a 5-1 decision over Bischoff. O’Hara is just the fifth state medal winner for the Tigers.
Ladd (50-8), a senior who was a three-time state qualifier, bounced back from a quarterfinals loss to Kaminski to win three consolation matches, winning 3-0 over Markello to assure himself of a medal and claiming fifth with a 4-3 decision over Bischoff (42-11), a junior who also won his first medal. Bischoff used two falls to reach the semifinals, with one in the quarterfinals in 4:55 over Roxana junior James Herring (36-7), who was ranked sixth, before losing to Kaminski.
285 – Isaiah Gonzalez, IC Catholic Prep
Isaiah Gonzalez wanted to be a state champion even more after losing in the 285 title match to Charles Jagusah a year ago and that desire only grew after he and his teammates were members of a football team that won the IHSA Class 3A championship for the Elmhurst school.
Even though IC Catholic Prep’s top-ranked Gonzalez (17-1) only got to compete in 18 matches in his senior season due in part to his team’s football success, that was ample time to prepare him for a title run in which he recorded three falls and won a close decision to win the 285 title. The third time was the charm for Gonzalez, who also took second in 2021 at the IWCOA finals, as he got a fall in 4:38 over Auburn’s Cole Edie, who was ranked second, in the 285 title match.
The four-time qualifier opened with a pin in 3:45 over Lena-Winslow/Stockton senior Henry Engel (44-9), who was ranked fifth, followed that with a fall in 1:30 over Fairfield’s Payton Allen in the quarterfinals and then won a 2-0 decision over Cahokia’s Jason Dowell in the semifinals to reach his third-straight state finals. He joins classmate Saul Trejo along with last year’s title winners Nick Renteria, Michael Calcagno and Jadon Mims as well the school’s first title winner, Joey Bianchini, as Knights who won state titles. Gonzalez added two more wins to his total, getting wins in ICCP’s sectional win over St. Laurence to advance to the dual team state, and in their quarterfinals dual meet in Bloomington, where they fell 39-31 to Oakwood/Salt Fork.
“This year my main driving factor was losing twice in the finals,” Gonzalez said. “During the COVID year, at the IWCOA state championships, I lost in the finals and last year I lost in the finals. So I had a lot of motivation from my teammates and from my coaches, basically saying that I had to get over that hump. You cannot make it to the finals two years in a row and lose two years in a row. I was a captain of the (football) team. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it slowed me down, it just felt it was like a little bit of a slower start.”
Edie (47-3), a senior who joined two-time champion Joey Ruzic (120) as a finalist and also classmate Dresden Grimm (138), who took third place, as medal winners for the Trojans, which equaled their record from 2020 when they had three all-staters. Edie’s third state trip featured three falls leading up to the championship match. He got a pin in 2:53 over Knoxville senior William Stowe (40-9) in his opener, followed with one in 0:55 over Plano senior Alex Diaz (39-8), who was ranked eighth, and then pinned Reed-Custer’s Gunnar Berg, who was ranked third, in 0:44, to join Ruzic as one of the program’s three state finalists. Edie claimed two more wins as his team won 48-32 over Cahokia in the Vandalia Sectional to qualify for state for the third time and then they fell to eventual runner-up Yorkville Christian 49-27 in the IHSA quarterfinals.
“He’s a helluva wrestler, through and through,” Edie said. “I wanted to wrestle him from the start of the season because I knew he was good. Seeing him in the rankings above me, I was like ‘I want to beat him and I want to wrestle him. So getting out here and getting a chance to wrestle him was awesome. I got beat, but you’ve got to face the best to become the best. So it’s going to help me in the postseason when I’m going up against someone that’s just as good as him. It’s really exciting to know that my season is not over here. I teared up a little bit in the tunnel, but it was like, ‘hey, I’ve still got a week left.If we get to Bloomington, I’ll have fun with my team and we’ll get to see the girls at team state. Our program is amazing from the coaching staff up.”
Dowell (42-10), one of two sophomores who qualified at the weight, took third place with a fall in 1:52 over Berg. After winning his opener over Peoria Notre Dame junior Mike McLaughlin (30-18) with a fall in 0:47, he won a 5-3 decision over St. Francis’ Jaylen Torres (21-3), who was ranked third, before getting edged by Gonzalez in the semifinals. Dowell, who just started wrestling last year and also plays football and baseball, recorded a pin in 1:30 over Cumberland’s Noah Carl to reach the third-place match as one of his program’s two medalists.
“I owe it to my teammates and my coaches for always being there and always pushing me,” Dowell said. “When I’m down, they pick me up and every time, he’s (coach Emanuel Brooks), right there. He’s an amazing man.”
Berg (41-7), a senior, captured his first state medal by taking fourth place. He advanced to the semifinals against Edie after recording a fall in 3:47 over Dixon senior Sean DeVries (35-10) and over Carl in 4:10 and later pinned Allen in 1:01 in the wrestlebacks.
Allen (51-3), a senior who earned his first medal, took fifth place with a fall in 2:41 over Carl, to become just the fourth medalist for Fairfield and its first since 2002. He won three matches in the consolation bracket, 4-2 in sudden victory over Coal City senior Michael Gonzalez (28-9) and denying freshman Torres of a medal with an 11-5 decision. Carl (25-9), also a senior who fell one win shy of winning a medal a year ago, beat Diaz 5-3 in sudden victory to secure his first medal and thus became the seventh Pirate to earn all-state honors.
106 – Dean Wainwright, Riverdale
With Riverdale having four individuals who were ranked fifth or higher, it was a good bet that one of those could end on the top of the awards stand at the IHSA State Finals, especially with senior defending champions Brock Smith and Collin Altensey top-ranked at their weights with 2022 placewinner senior Alex Watson fourth- and freshman Dean Wainwright fifth-ranked.
While the third state medals for Altensey and Smith and the second one for Watson were not what the trio was looking for as they completed their individual careers for the Rams, it was Wainwright who claimed top honors as he completed his debut season unbeaten against competitors from Illinois and wrapped up a 49-1 campaign by winning the championship at 106 with a fall in 3:40 over Illini Bluffs’ Hunter Robbins, who was ranked second. It was the first time that a freshman won a title for Riverdale. In the semifinals, Wainwright captured an 8-4 decision over Anna-Jonesboro’s Drew Sadler, who took third place at 106 a year ago and was top-ranked. Prior to that, he won a 4-1 decision in the quarterfinals over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Brady Mouser (44-5), who was ranked sixth, and he opened the competition with a fall in 3:15 over Auburn freshman Drayven Hamm (36-18).
Wainwright, who also won five tournament titles, also was a state champion last season, taking first at 95 in Class A in the IESA Finals. His lone defeat was in the semifinals of the Geneseo Invitational where he lost 5-2 to Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Dylan Munson, a placewinner in Class 3A in the Iowa state tournament, who won the 106 title there while Wainwright placed third. The freshman got a final win in his team’s 42-28 loss to Yorkville Christian in the Oregon Sectional.
“Yes, it’s super exciting,” Wainwright said. “It was pretty nervous at first, but I got used to it.. We have good teammates in the room and they all help everyone else out. He (Coach Myron Keppy) is a pretty legendary coach at Riverdale and he’s been doing it for a long time.”
Robbins (34-2), a junior who also placed second at 106 last season, had also only been beaten once before the title match, and that was by Polo/Milledgeville/Forreston/Eastland’s seventh-ranked Josiah Perez in the 113 title match at the Erie/Prophetstown Tournament. After opening with a fall in 1:07 over Nazareth Academy freshman Charlie Dvorak, he pinned freshman Perez (34-6) in 4:39 in the quarterfinals before earning his spot on the title mat with a 1-0 decision over Yorkville Christian’s Aiden Larsen, who was ranked third.
“He’s a good wrestler,” Robbins said. “I wish that I could have had a better match. Now it’s just about trying to get prepared for next year. I’m glad to see it because a lot of them are from around my area. So it’s good to see so many Central Illinois kids here. Our lower weights are tough and that does help because we have a good room. I like the fact that it’s not a very big school so I know everybody and everybody knows me.”
Sadler (51-3), a sophomore, took third place after capturing a 6-2 decision over Peoria Notre Dame’s Ian Akers. Before falling to Wainwright in the semifinals, Sadler won a 6-0 decision over Princeton freshman Augustus Swanson (43-10), who was ranked eighth, and then won a 5-3 decision over Akers in the quarterfinals. He reached the third-place mat with a win by technical fall in 4:16 over Canton’s Maddux Steele.
“It was a heartbreaker, but I still have two more years to come back here,” Sadler said. “To get better than third is what my dreams are and I hope that I accomplish them. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my coach and my family supporting me.”
Akers (43-6), a sophomore who was ranked fourth, won three matches in the consolation bracket after falling to Sadler in the quarterfinals. In the wrestlebacks, he got a fall in 3:08 over Litchfield freshman Vinny Moore (40-8) and then edged Mouser 4-3 to assure himself of a medal and advanced to the third-place mat after winning by injury default in 4:18 over Larsen.
Steele (43-10), a freshman, also won three times in the consolation bracket, following a win by technical fall with a 4-1 decision over Perez before falling to Sadler and then taking fifth place by medical forfeit over sophomore Larsen (18-11), who placed fifth at 106 a year ago to help his team win the state title. Larsen added two more wins to his total as the Mustangs advanced to their second-straight appearance in the 1A title match, where they fell 32-31 to Coal City.
113 – Tyson Waughtel, Carlyle
After becoming his school’s first state champion a year ago, Tyson Waughtel looked to build upon that accomplishment while also equalling the school’s previous total number for state medals won in Champaign, which was two, and those were claimed in 2019 and 2013.
Using two wins by technical fall and two decisions to win the 106 title last season to cap a 52-0 campaign, the Carlyle sophomore, who was top-ranked, opened with three wins by technical fall and looked like he might add another in the 113 finals before capturing a 12-1 major decision over Farmington’s Keygan Jennings, who was ranked third, to conclude a 50-1 season.
Waughtel, who also won championships at seven tournaments this season, also beat Lutheran School Association Decatur freshman Clinton VerHeecke, who was ranked second, in 3:21 in the semifinals, Warrensburg-Latham sophomore Logan Roberts in 4:30 in the quarterfinals and Harlan’s Kingston Sawyers in 2:33 in his opener as his opponents only combined to score only three points against him in the tournament and just one point in each of his last three matches.
“It’s the offseason that gets me better,” Waughtel said. “Last year I only tech’d two of my guys and this year I tech’d three of them. I was the number-one seed, so I had huge confidence and also was a returning state champ. The only setback that I really had was my one loss to a 126-pounder, (Shelbyville’s) Calvin Miller and he’s a great opponent. Sometimes when you lose, you learn. I was our first-ever champ and now I guess I’m one-upping myself each year. Two-time, hopefully next year, three-time, and the year after that, four-time.”
Jennings (35-2), who placed sixth at 113 a year ago, now has won one more medal than the program had claimed prior to the last two years, which was one. He also took fifth place at 106 in 2021 at the IWCOA finals. Jennings, whose only other loss came against the 120 champion, Auburn’s Joey Ruzic, won by fall in 2:18 in the semifinals over Marian Central Catholic’s Andrew Alvarado, who was tenth-ranked, recorded a fall in 3:35 in the quarterfinals over Litchfield senior Alex Powell, who was fifth-ranked, and opened with an 8-0 major decision over Riverdale junior Tharren Jacobs (39-11).
“He’s a stud,” Jennings said. “I’ve just got a few more things to work on and I made a couple of mistakes. It was super cool (the Grand March) given the atmosphere and there were tons of people here who were coming to watch you, your family and your friends. It’s huge for our school (placing twice). It helps, too, having all of these kids who are in our local area who are working together. We all used to go to the same club and it turns out that we’re all about the same level, so we get together and train and push each other to get better and better.”
VerHeecke (48-2), a freshman whose only other loss came against Jennings in the Clinton Sectional finals, took third place by capturing a 7-4 decision over Coal City’s Brody Widlowski, his second win of the tournament over the Coalers’ eighth-ranked freshman. Competing for a first-year program that was coached by Zach Whitsel, both he and his brother, freshman Garrett, who finished sixth at 120, reached the awards stand. Clinton VerHeecke pinned Dixon junior Ayden Rowley in 2:45 in his opener and won a 10-3 decision over Widlowski in the quarterfinals. He assured his spot on the third-place mat with a fall in 2:43 over Powell.
“It’s been a lot of fun and I have a lot of support from my coach and my family,” VerHeecke said. “My family has been there pushing me to take all of the opportunities that I’ve been given. The coaches took us from not having anything, not even having wrestling mats to being here on the big stage, so they really stepped up and are really leaders.”
Widlowski (39-3), whose only other loss came against Lena-Winslow/Stockton’s Arrison Bauer at ABE’s Rumble, was one of four medalists for coach Mark Masters’ Coalers. He opened with a 6-2 decision over Murphysboro sophomore Kaiden Richards (41-14) before being sent to the consolation bracket by VerHeecke. Following a 3-2 win over LeRoy/Tri-Valley sophomore Kobe Brent (39-12), who was ranked sixth, Widlowski pinned Wilmington junior Landon Dooley (39-11), who was ranked ninth, in 0:38 and won 6-3 over Alvarado to meet VerHeecke for third. He won all three of his matches last week, with his last victory being a fall in 1:36 over Yorkville Christian’s Eli Foster that secured his team’s first-ever state championship in a 32-31 win.
Alvarado (21-10), a sophomore, won a 3-1 decision over Powell to claim fifth place. Alvarado, who was one of four medalists for co-coaches Jordan Blanton and Ryan Prater’s Hurricanes, beat Brent 12-1 in his opener and Oakwood/Salt Fork freshman Tyler Huchel (36-11) 10-7 in the quarterfinals before falling to Jennings. Powell (44-8), a four-time state qualifier who placed sixth a year ago, became the fifth individual from Litchfield to win two or more state medals.
120 – Joey Ruzic, Auburn
Joey Ruzic realized that his quest for a second state championship might be a little more challenging than when he claimed top honors a year ago at 113 with three major decisions followed by an 8-2 decision over Emmett Nelson in the title match.
And that’s just how things played out for the Auburn junior, who was involved in close decisions in his final two matches in his pursuit of the 120 title. But Ruzic, who was top-ranked at his weight, was up to the challenge, winning 6-3 over IC Catholic Prep senior Saul Trejo, who was ranked third, in the semifinals and then 4-3 on a tiebreaker over Yorkville Christian junior Ty Edwards, who was second-ranked, in the title match. Ruzic (51-2) opened with a fall in 3:36 over Rickover Naval Academy senior Nathaniel Sales and then captured a 14-5 major decision over Rock Falls senior Aaron Meenen (39-9), who was ranked sixth, in the quarterfinals.
It was a big day for Auburn, which also got a second-place finish from Cole Edie at 285 and a third-place effort from Dresden Grimm at 138, equalling the best-previous medals count for coach Matt Grimm’s program, which was in 2020. The program had three individuals who’ve previously placed in the top three, with two of those coming last year when Ruzic went 26-0 to take first at 113 and Grimm finished third at 132. Ruzic, who also claimed a third-place finish at 106 in 2021 in the IWCOA finals, won seven tournaments this season. He added two more wins to his total, winning in his team’s Vandalia Sectional win over Cahokia and then again in their 49-27 loss in the quarterfinals in the Dual Team Finals to eventual runner-up Yorkville Christian.
“I knew this year coming into my weight bracket that it was going to be a little tougher than last year,” Ruzic said. “I knew that I was going to have some good matches so I made sure that I was prepared. It’s real exciting (Auburn with three in the top three). I give him (Cole Edie) an ear when I see him slacking. We were looking to go to state and possibly place. It feels amazing.”
Edwards (45-7), a junior who took second in the IWCOA finals at 106 in 2021, beat Harrisburg’s eighth-ranked Tony Keene with a fall in 2:47 to earn his spot on the title mat. He recorded a fall in 2:58 over Coal City freshman Aidan Kenney (30-16) in the quarterfinals and opened with an 8-1 decision over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher junior Shawn Schlickman (30-12). Edwards added four more wins to his total last week after getting a win in his team’s 42-28 victory in the over Riverdale in the Oregon Sectional and then three more at the state finals, where the defending champion Mustangs were edged by Coal City 32-31 in the championship dual meet.
“I definitely could have done better in that match, but in the end, it is what it is and I just have to come back stronger next year,” Edwards said. “In my mind, I was like, this is another match and I had to wrestle it my way. Our team is going at it, so I’m happy about that and I’m also happy that I’ll get to have that match again soon at team state.”
Trejo (12-3), a senior who won a state title at 106 in 2020 and took first place at 113 in 2021 in the IWCOA finals, wasn’t able to compete a year ago due to an injury that he suffered just before the 2021-22 season kicked off. He opened with a pair of wins by technical fall, winning in 2:25 over Shelbyville freshman Boodee Fathauer in his opener and in 5:02 over Lutheran School Association Decatur freshman Garrett VerHeecke (43-7) in the quarterfinals. Trejo captured a 10-6 decision over Tremont senior Payton Murphy, who was fourth-ranked, to reach the third-place match, where he got another win by technical fall, this one in 4:12 over Keene.
“Last year I had a torn meniscus two weeks into the season, so I couldn’t come back and was out for the rest of the year,” Trejo said. “It was a bummer because it was a big season for me. My wrestling partner, Nick Renteria took my place at 120 and he won state there. We had three good people in our bracket and I think the thing is that it was just mat experience time because I had less than 10 matches before the state series started.”
Keene (45-4), a junior who won five titles this season and took fourth place at 113 a year ago and was making his third state appearance, opened with an 8-2 decision over Dwight sophomore Dylan Crouch (33-10) and then claimed an 8-6 win by sudden victory in the quarterfinals over Murphy. After getting pinned by Edwards, Keene won a 13-4 major decision over VerHeecke to advance to the third-place match against Trejo. With two state medals, Keene now has one more than the program had when he began competing for the Bulldogs.
Murphy (40-4), a senior and three-time qualifier, won his first medal and took fifth with an 8-1 victory over VerHeecke (43-7), whose brother Clinton took third at 113 to make history for the first-year program. Canton senior John Davis (40-6) and Meenen fell one win shy of medals.
126 – TJ Silva, Dakota
After losing to Brock Smith 2-1 on a tiebreaker a year ago in the 132 championship match, TJ Silva has been focused on not falling short again when he made his second state finals appearance on Saturday in the 126 title match at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
Dakota sophomore Silva (38-2), who was top-ranked at his weight, pulled away in the third period from Richmond-Burton sophomore Emmett Nelson, who was second-ranked and also a state runner-up at 113 a year ago, and captured a 6-1 decision to make him one of the three champions for coach Matt Jacobs’ Indians, along with four-time title winner Phoenix Blakely, who followed with first place at 132, and two-time champion, Noah Wenzel, who took top honors at 220 earlier in the finals. Silva advanced to the championship match at 126 with an 8-2 decision over Newman Central Catholic junior Brady Grennan, who was sixth-ranked, after recording a fall in 2:37 in the quarterfinals over Farmington freshman Bradlee Ellis (41-11). In his opening match, Silva won by fall in 1:36 over Anna-Jonesboro junior Daniel Dover (42-10).
Silva, who won four tournament titles and also took second place at the Dvorak to St. Charles East junior Ben Davino, who won the Class 3A title at 126 and his other loss came against Washington sophomore Peyton Cox (44-3), who claimed second place at 132 in Class 2A.
“It feels awesome,” Silva said. “I knew before the match that it was going to be a tough one. So I just had to keep putting pressure on him and just keep wrestling my style, and I did and I got a good outcome and just dominated the match.
“(The three titles) It’s definitely a good feeling because we have one of the toughest sectionals, hands down, in my opinion. We just know how to just grind it out and come up on top. Noah’s win was the spark. And it was just good to keep the momentum going. And Phoenix is one of the best partners that could have ever asked for. He just pushed me in the room all of the time. He’s awesome. Now I just have to keep the momentum going and try to get three titles, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Nelson (46-3), who had won five tournament titles, suffered his second defeat one week earlier when he lost 11-5 to Silva in the Oregon Sectional semifinals, where he took third place. His other loss was in the finals at Palatine to York senior Sean Berger (39-4), who took fourth place in 3A at 132. After opening with a 7-2 decision over Oakwood/Salt Fork sophomore Pedro Rangel, Nelson prevailed in sudden victory in the next two rounds, winning 14-9 over Canton senior Trevor Hedges, who was ranked seventh, in the quarterfinals and then 3-1 over Rockridge sophomore Jude Finch, who was fifth-ranked, in the semifinals. He became just the sixth individual from his program to advance to the title match at consecutive state finals.
“It’s crazy since I was right there,” Nelson said. “I wrestled him last week so I kind of had a game plan going. And that sectional was just loaded, it was brutal.”
Finch (44-5) earned his first medal, which was for third place, after beating Hedges by a 6-5 score. Finch prevailed 9-7 in an overtime tiebreaker in his opener against Shelbyville senior Calvin Miller, who was ranked ninth, and then beat IC Catholic Prep junior Omar Samayoa (12-2), who was ranked tenth, in the quarterfinals before being edged by Nelson. He defeated Miller again, this time by a 7-3 score, before capturing a one-point win over Hedges for third place.
“I feel like I could have done better in the semis and won it in overtime but it was a matter of one takdown to win a match or lose a match,” Finch said. “I was in on a lot of shots, I just could never finish and I have to work on that. I have two more years to get to the top of the podium. My brother Reese, a senior, was a great partner and he helped me out a lot and taught me a lot about the sport. He’s a little bigger than me, so he could push me.”
Hedges (48-4), who took fourth at the IWCOA finals in 2021, joined champion Joseph Norton (170) and fifth-place Maddux Steele (106) as medalists for the Little Giants, who tied a school mark set in 2009 for most state placers with three. Hedges beat Coal City freshman Brock Smith (35-16) 10-0 in his opener before losing by sudden victory to Nelson in the quarterfinals. He won by technical fall and then a 12-0 major decision over Roxana freshman Brandon Green, Jr. before pinning Grennan in 1:15. Despite battling throughout a third-place match that featured numerous delays for his injuries, he only lost by a 6-5 score to Jude Finch. Hedges got a victory in the El Paso-Gridley Sectional 57-24 win over Kewanee and claimed his 50th win in his team’s 42-23 loss to Lena-Winslow/Stockton in their initial appearance in the IHSA Dual Team Finals.
Grennan (13-5), a junior who took third at 120 last season and third at 113 in the IWCOA finals in 2021, claimed fifth place with a 3-1 decision over Miller (46-7), a senior who fell one win shy of placing last year, bounced back from his opening loss to Jude Finch to win three-straight matches in the consolation bracket, including a 2-0 tiebreaker over Tremont sophomore Bowden Delaney (42-6), to become his program’s first medal winner since 2016. Roxana freshman Green, Jr. (35-5) and Oakwood/Salt Fork sophomore Rangel (32-9) both lost in consolation round three to fall one win shy of a state medal.
132 – Phoenix Blakely, Dakota
While Phoenix Blakely wasn’t acknowledged as being a four-time state champion, the three-time IHSA title winner and 2021 IWCOA champion considers himself to be in the same class as his uncle, Josh Alber, and also Seth Milks, who both won four titles at Dakota. Blakely, who took first place at 126 last year and won titles at 120 in both 2021 and 2020, took top honors at 132 when he captured an 11-4 decision over Marian Central Catholic sophomore Vance Williams.
Although the IHSA held state finals in some sports in 2020-21, it did not have a state finals for wrestling, so the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association hosted its own competition which has been accepted by many in the sport as having been a legitimate state championship.
Blakely, top-ranked at 132, finished with a 42-1 record with his lone loss coming against Rich Township’s Nasir Bailey (43-1), the Class 3A champion at 138 who also won a third IHSA title to go with one from Texas in 2021, in the Dvorak finals. Blakely also won five tournament titles.
After opening with a fall in 3:09 over Oakwood/Salt Fork sophomore Carter Chambliss, Blakely captured a victory by technical fall in 4:00 over Coal City senior Jake Piatak in the quarterfinals and followed that with another win by technical fall in 4:27 over Vandalia’s Dillon Hinton, who was ranked fifth, in the semifinals. That set up the championship match with Williams, who was ranked third. The victory was the third in three title matches for the Indians, who had earlier received first-place finishes from Noah Wenzel at 220 and from TJ Silva at 126.
“This is my biggest accomplishment,” Blakely said. “It’s been my main goal since I was a little kid, so this is huge. It’s something that’s tough to do, it’s not easy. Dakota is the greatest 1A program that there ever was. I don’t know yet (about the future), it’s whatever comes my way. It was a perfect career for me. It would have been a little better if I didn’t lose as much, but I’ll settle for it.”
Williams (41-8), a sophomore who placed fourth last year at 132, was one of four medalists for the program that’s co-coached by Ryan Prater and Jordan Blanton and he is just the eighth Hurricane who has competed in a state championship match. The pair also met a week ago in the title match at the Oregon Sectional, where Blakely was a winner by technical fall. Williams got to the title mat following a 7-0 decision in the semifinals over St. Joseph-Ogden sophomore Holden Brazelton, who was ranked seventh. After recording a fall in 1:12 in his opener over Murphysboro sophomore Bryce Edwards (43-11), he won 12-6 in the quarterfinals over Clinton sophomore Cayden Poole, who was ranked eighth.
“I didn’t know what it was going to be like,” Williams said of the Grand March. “They hadn’t done anything like that in IKWF, it was awesome. It’s super fun learning from them (Blanton and Prater), especially with what they’ve learned and what they know works, it’s really paying off. Our team really seemed to flourish and blend together, especially with the help of them. Having them really bond with us and really show us how it all works.”
Brazelton (49-3), who finished sixth last season at 120, captured third place with an 8-3 decision over Polo/Milledgeville/Forreston/Eastland senior Wyatt Doty, who was ranked second. With the two medals in his first two seasons, Brazelton already is just the fifth Spartan to be All-State two or more times and none had gotten two medals in their first two seasons. After claiming a 15-1 major decision in his opener over Reed-Custer junior Sam Begler, Brazelton edged Doty 4-3 in the quarterfinals and then fell to Williams. Brazelton won a 6-2 decision over Piatak to advance to the third-place match.
“It was a tough match,” Brazelton said of Doty. “He’s a tough kid and he’s really strong. I just came out sharp in this match since I had to get the job done. I feel like I wrestled great and I wrestled smart. Last year as a freshman, I was just happy to be here and I got into a position where I could place. I came back this year with higher expectations and I wanted to do better as a sophomore, and that’s what I did.”
Doty (44-6), who was making his third-straight state appearance and placed third at 126 last season, recorded a fall in 0:42 in his opener over Roxana freshman Logan Riggs (32-15) before getting bumped into the consolation bracket by Brazelton. In the wrestlebacks, he got a pin in 4:32 over Tremont junior Mason Mark (44-8), who was ranked sixth, and then won by fall in 1:06 over Poole before capturing a 9-2 decision over Hinton. He’s just the fourth Marco to be a two-time All-Starter and the athlete from Eastland is the first to pull off that feat since 2006.
Hinton (46-7), a freshman, was one of three medal winners for coach Jason Clay’s Vandals. He took fifth place with a 10-2 major decision over Piatak. Hinton captured an 11-6 decision over Harvard senior Marques Merida (39-9) in his opener and then won 8-2 over Illini Bluffs junior Ian O’Connor (45-9), who was ranked ninth, in the quarterfinals. Piatak (9-4), who suffered a dislocated elbow in the first week of the season, defeated Mark 6-0 in his first match and then won twice in the wrestlebacks, pinning Edwards in 1:22 to assure himself of a medal, becoming one of the four all-staters for coach Mark Masters’ Coalers, who went on to capture their first state championship one week later at the IHSA Dual Team Finals in Bloomington.
138 – Mason Tieffel, Benton
A year ago, Mason Tieffel didn’t feel like he performed very well in the 126 title match, where he lost by technical fall to Phoenix Blakely. Motivated by that performance, on Saturday, the Benton junior capped a 52-2 season by winning the championship at 138 with a 6-2 decision over Newman Central Catholic junior Carter Rude.
Tieffel joins one of his coaches, Zach Wilson, as the Rangers’ second IHSA champion, with Wilson’s title win coming at a similar weight class, 140, in 2008. Benton also recognizes Gabe Craig as a state champion since he claimed first place in 2021 at 285 in the IWCOA finals. Also in the IWCOA finals, Tieffel claimed third place at 120 as a freshman in a weight class that was won by Phoenix Blakely. He joins Peyton Smith and Wilson as the school’s only two-time IHSA placewinners and he is now their initial two-time finalist. His lone losses came against Auburn senior Dresden Grimm, who took third place, in the Carterville Sectional semifinals, and to Mascoutah senior Santino Robinson, who capped a 41-0 season with the Class 2A 132 title.
It was the second time in two years that Tieffel, who was ranked second, and Rude, who was fourth-ranked, met at state, with Tieffel claiming a 5-3 decision over Rude in the quarterfinals in 2022. He earned his spot in Saturday’s finals for another marchup with Rude with a fall in 2:29 over Vandalia senior Owen Miller. The quarterfinals once again proved to be a very critical win for Tieffel as he won 9-7 in sudden victory over Riverdale senior Brock Smith, who was top-ranked and last year’s champion at 132. He kicked off his third state appearance with a 9-1 major decision over IC Catholic Prep junior Bryson Spaulding (11-6).
“That loss last year really motivated me in every practice this year,” Tieffel said. “Coming that close and losing, it’s really tough. One of our coaches, Zach Wilson, also won a title. Being the champ is what I’ve wanted since I was at the beginning of middle school. I’ve wanted it for such a long time and I’ve been close multiple times and I’ve finally been able to do it. People don’t really know wrestling from the south very much, but I’m still going to come in and wrestle as hard as I can.”
Rude (46-6), a junior, also recalls the 2021 IWCOA finals well since that’s where his brother Will captured the title at 138 while he also qualified. Carter Rude took sixth last season at 126. He earned his spot in the championship match with a 10-2 major decision over Grimm, who was third-ranked, after beating Coal City junior Brant Widlowski (22-3), who was ranked seventh, by a 5-0 decision in the quarterfinals and he opened his tournament with a fall in 5:53 over Unity sophomore Kaden Inman (37-16), who was ranked tenth.
“It was fun and I’m proud of how far I came, but I’m not satisfied,” Rude said. “As siblings, we always had that competition and wanted to go against each other. I always wanted to be better than him and he wanted to be better than me.”
Grimm (39-3), a four-time qualifier who was third last year at 132 and took sixth in the IWCOA finals, finished in third place again. Before falling to Rude in the semifinals, he had only lost close matches to Smith and Tieffel. In the wrestlebacks, he won 6-2 over Smith and then recorded a fall in 4:24 over Miller. He opened his tournament with a fall over DePaul College Prep’s Alex Johnson and won a 6-0 decision in the quarterfinals over Dakota junior Jason Bowers, who was ranked fifth. He joined state champion Joey Ruzic (120) and runner-up Cole Edie (285) as medalists for Auburn, who advanced to the dual team finals for the third time after beating Cahokia 48-32 in the Vandalia Sectional. The Trojans lost 49-27 to eventual runner-up Yorkville Christian in the quarterfinals and Grimm claimed wins in his team’s final duals.
“It would have been nice if we had three guys (in the finals), but you kind of have to wrestle with the hand that you’re dealt,” Grimm said. “I came back and got third, but that’s not what I wanted. I was crushed last night and with my dad just talking. Looking back on this in a couple of years, I can at least be happy that I got third and not sixth.”
Miller (43-11), who took fourth place, won a 5-3 decision over Reed-Custer sophomore Jeremy Eggleston (38-11) in his opener and then prevailed 3-1 by sudden victory over Illini Bluffs sophomore Jackson Carroll (47-8), who was ranked ninth, in the quarterfinals.
Smith (53-3) took fifth place with a a 7-2 decision over Bowers, equalling his finish in 2020 at 113, to close his career as one of the six individuals from Riverdale who won three state medals, joining senior teammate Collin Altensey, another returning state champion, who placed second at 160. His lone loss before the weekend came against Rich Township’s Nasir Bailey, the Class 3A champion at 138, in the finals at Geneseo. Bowers (37-13) was one of four medal winners for Dakota with Noah Wenzel, TJ Silva and Phoenix Blakely winning state titles.
145 – Paul Ishikawa, Illini Bluffs
After winning an IWCOA title at 126 in 20221 and then being disappointed with a fourth-place finish at 138 a year ago, Paul Ishikawa has been focused all season to get back to top of the awards stand, this time at 145 pounds at the IHSA State Finals, and he got the job done.
The Illini Bluffs senior who was a four-time qualifier and top ranked at his weight, capped a perfect 51-0 season by beating Oakwood/Salt Fork senior Reef Pacot, who was ranked second, in the 145 title match by a 3-1 score in sudden victory after getting a takedown with 22 seconds remaining. Ishikawa, who won eight tournament titles this season, advanced to the finals with a 4-2 decision over Herrin’s Blue Bishop, who was ranked eighth, in the semifinals.
Ishikawa opened with a win by technical fall in 4:47 over Nazareth Academy junior Andrew Fowler and then recorded a fall in 3:16 in the quarterfinals over Murphysboro junior Liam Fox (41-13). He was one of two finalists and medalists for his program, with Hunter Robbins taking second at 106 while Jackson Carroll fell one win shy of getting a medal at 138. Ishikawa and Robbins become the fourth and fifth individuals to be two-time IHSA medalists for their school.
“The state tournament is an upset tournament and I wasn’t trying to get upset, so I wrestled my butt off,” Ishikawa said. “51-0. The State Farm Center goes crazy and it’s amazing. Reef is a great kid and I hope that one day he gets to win a state title. We’re both seniors and hopefully we’ll be national champs some day. I’ll say this, they didn’t want to put on a show, you had to wrestle where you wanted to wrestle and most kids wanted to wrestle somewhere. The IWCOA was a tough tournament, it was a state tournament.”
Pacot (47-3) placed at a state finals for the fourth-straight year with this being his highest finish. He was fifth at 132 a year ago and sixth at 106 in 2020 while taking fourth at 120 in the IWCOA finals in 2021, to become the first individual in his program to win three IHSA medals. Two of his defeats came against Ishikawa. He earned his spot on the title mat with a 6-2 semifinals win over Stillman Valley’s Aiden Livingston, who was ranked ninth. After opening with a 10-4 decision over Princeton’s Augie Christiansen, who was ranked third, in his opener, he won by technical fall in 5:38 in the quarterfinals over Peotone junior Ian Kreske (37-18). In the next week, Pacot closed his career competing in the Dual Team Finals, as his program qualified for the first time with a 46-31 win over Anna-Jonesboro in the sectional. A 39-31 win over IC Catholic Prep assured the Comets of a trophy and they took fourth place after falling to Yorkville Christian and Lena-Winslow/Stockton as Pacot added four wins to reach 51 for the season.
“I came out with second, my best place yet, but I was a little short and what can you do about it? You’ve just got to keep moving on,” Pacot said. “We’ve wrestled against each other and we’ve wrestled on state teams against each other. But he has got such a weird style that I have to wrestle against and it’s only him. You just have to go out and wrestle your match, that’s all that you can do. Our program has grown a lot and hopefully we can go to team state.”
Christiansen (50-6), a senior who not only finally qualified for state but also placed, took third with an 8-4 decision over Bishop in his final match, his fourth-straight win in the consolation bracket after losing his opener to Pacot. He got a fall in 1:09 over Coal City senior Mataeo Blessing (43-5), who was ranked fourth, before pinning Livingston in 2:36. Bishop (47-4), a junior who took sixth last year at 132, won 6-5 by ultimate tiebreaker in the quarterfinals over Blessing. He also won 5-3 over Yorkville Christian senior Drew Torza (38-18) to reach the third-place mat. Bishop is the fourth individual from Herrin to win two or more state medals.
” You have to go one match at a time, especially here, where you have multiple days that you have to worry about,” Christiansen said. “You just have to keep going and have no quit. I didn’t make it out of regionals last year”
Livingston (31-8), a senior, claimed fifth place with a fall in 5:22 over Torza. In his third state trip, Livingston got his first medal after winning a 3-0 decision over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher junior Carson Maxey (36-7) to reach the semifinals. Torza, who placed fourth at the IWCOA in 2021, won two decisions in the wrestlebacks to capture his initial IHSA medal. Richmond-Burton junior Brody Rudkin (39-10) and Blessing both fell one win shy of getting medals.
152 – Marco Spinazzola, Peotone
As the 152 pound title match concluded, Marco Spinazzola stood around for a few seconds wondering whether or not he was a state champion. After some consultations with the officials and timers, it was finally determined that he should be the one that was getting his hand raised following another exciting match with a frequent opponent from his area, Luke Christie.
Spinazzola (40-3), a senior at Peotone who was ranked fifth, and Christie (35-5), a senior at Bishop McNamara, who was ranked fourth, went all the way to the ultimate tiebreaker before Spinazzola was awarded a last-second escape to claim a 2-1 victory. The Blue Devils’ four-time qualifier placed sixth at 138 last year for his first medal. He joins Joey Izzi and Paul Keene as Peotone champions and became the sixth individual from the school to win two or more medals.
Spinazzola had another dramatic match in the semifinals, winning 2-1 by sudden victory over Lena-Winslow/Stockton senior Garrett Luke, who was ranked second and was last year’s champion at 145 and a winner of three other state medals. In the quarterfinals, Spinazzola won a 6-3 decision over Erie/Prophetstown senior Jase Grunder, who was top-ranked. In his opening match, he won by technical fall in 4:45 over Roxana junior Braden Johnson.
“I’d never really been that deep into a match before, so I didn’t know what happened,” Spinazzola said. “I looked over at my coach and he started celebrating and I’m like, ‘does this mean I won?’ I said wait a minute, don’t start cheering yet, we don’t know for sure. Honestly, overtime is one thing, but that was deep into the match that I didn’t know where I was. He was 100 percent the best opponent that I’ve ever had in my entire life. We’d been wrestling almost consecutively every other weekend. He’s been the guy who’s given me the most run for my money. At sectional, he beat me 13-6 and the week before I beat him 3-2 and the first time we wrestled he beat me 11-3. He deserves everything that he’s gotten. He’s one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever talked to.”
Christie (35-5), who placed fourth last season at 152 and also a four-time qualifier, hoped to be a champion like his brother Blain, who won the IWCOA title in 2021. The finalists split their four matches with Christie winning the first matchup and the sectional with Spinazzola prevailing in the regional and state finals. Christie reached the finals with a 5-3 decision over Marian Central Catholic’s Ethan Struck, who was ranked sixth. After winning by technical fall in 5:44 over Westville’s Houston Bryant in his opener, Christie won a 15-4 major decision over Stillman Valley’s Jack Seacrist, who was ranked third.
“I never want to lose, obviously, and especially to a guy that’s local,” Christie said. “I want to be the best in my area and the best in my state, right? So it sucks, but at the same time, props to him. I would say that people in the crowd thought it was intense because it was state finals. But there were a lot of things going through my head. I’ve been wrestling since I was six years old and have been in overtime a million times. No excuses, he beat me. You never want to lose on a controversial call but I should have held on a second longer, I should have scored earlier in the match, there were a lot of things that I should have done.”
Luke (53-3) bounced back from his tough semifinals loss to Spinazzola to place third with a 7-3 decision over Struck. Luke, a returning state champion, took second in the IWCOA finals and also was third as a freshman. He followed a win by technical fall with a 16-2 major decision over IC Catholic Prep’s Joseph Gliatta before getting edged by Spinazzola. But he closed strong with a 5-2 decision over Seacrist to reach the third-place mat. Only one other athlete from his program, Rahveon Valentine, from 2015-18, has won four medals in state competition. Luke went 3-0 in his final week and helped his program to claim their fourth trophy after they beat Marian Central to qualify for the dual team finals and they won 42-23 over Canton, lost 46-14 to eventual champion Coal City and beat Oakwood/Salt Fork 46-23 to claim third place.
“Last year I was a state champ and had a tough semifinal match,” Luke said. “Coming back and losing in the semis was obviously tough, but I wrestled back and took third. I’ve been really fortunate. My freshman year, I didn’t expect much and came out with third place and that kind of opened my eyes to a brand new horizon. And obviously, the last three years I’ve been pushing it, and it’s paid off.”
Struck (37-15), a senior who last qualified in his freshman year, used two decisions to reach the semifinals, winning 9-2 over Macomb senior Carter Hoge (45-9) and 5-0 over Oakwood/Salt Fork junior Bryson Capansky (41-10) in the quarterfinals before being edged by Christie. He won 2-1 by ultimate tiebreaker over Grunder to reach the third place mat.
Grunder (50-6), a senior who placed fourth at 145 last year and was making his third state trip, overcame his quarterfinals loss to the eventual champion by winning two close matches in the wrestlebacks, winning 2-1 over Coal City sophomore Landin Benson (23-7) in a tiebreaker and then winning 3-1 over Gliatta to assure that he would get another medal. Only six other athletes from Erie or Prophetstown have won two or more state medals. Seacrist (36-7), a senior who took second place at 152 a year ago, bounced back from his quarterfinals loss to Christie by recording falls in the consolation bracket over Unity sophomore Ryan Rink (37-18) and Johnson to assure himself of a second medal. Gliatta and Johnson both fell one win shy of getting to the awards stand.
160 – Dax Gentes, El Paso-Gridley
While Dax Gentes wasn’t one of the favorites to capture top honors at 160, that didn’t discourage him from putting together an impressive tournament run where he beat three-straight opponents that were ranked ahead of him in his quest to be a state champion.
The El Paso-Gridley senior improved to 52-1 on the season after defeating a returning state champion, Riverdale senior Collin Altensey, who also was top-ranked, with an 11-3 decision in the 160 championship match. Gentes, who was ranked fifth and won his first state medal, jumped out to an early 5-0 lead over the 2022 champion at 152 and 2020 state placewinner, Altensey, who was unable to recover from the early deficit as he suffered his second defeat,
Gentes, who won eight tournament titles this season, earned his spot in the finals with a 7-4 decision over Marian Central Catholic’s Max Astacio, who was ranked third, and he also claimed a 6-3 win in the quarterfinals over Vandalia’s Eric McKinney, who was ranked fourth, avenging his only defeat of the season. He opened the competition with a fall in 1:15 over St. Laurence senior Henry Coughlin. As a result, Gentes, who fell one win shy of winning a medal last season and was making his third state appearance, becomes one of six athletes from El Paso or El Paso-Gridley to win an IHSA title. He got a forfeit win in his final match at his school when his team faced LeRoy/Tri-Valley in the sectional.
“I knew that he was the defending state champ and obviously people expected me to be the underdog coming into this match, but I knew that we both deserved to be here and I had a tough ride to the finals,” Gentes said. “I knew that I was going to have to push the pace and give it my all for six minutes hard to win.
“I figured I might try a flip or something scrambly and he ended up on his back and I knew from having been in that position, so I was just comfortable there, stay in bounds, keep him on his back and hold him there. Getting that point lead was a huge advantage for me and I knew at that point I had just had to keep dominating and scoring more points.
“This has been awesome. I was telling everyone, all of my family and friends that no matter what, I was just going to have fun. This is a tough sport and people get beat up all day and you see people ending their seasons. But at the end of the day, you just have to have fun and live with it. I love the sport and obviously I hate losing, but win or lose, I was going to have fun. I’d love to continue my athletics career in wrestling in college.”
Altensey (53-2), who along with classmate Brock Smith, were hoping to join two others from Riverdale who won two or more titles, but instead, the program got a title from a freshman Dean Wainwright, who took top honors at 106. Altensey, who also placed fifth in 2020 and won five titles this season, got wins by technical fall in his first three matches, needing 3:40 to beat Lawrenceville senior Brian Seed (43-9), going 3:11 to win over Hoopeston Area sophomore Angel Zamora (41-12) and then needing 1:58 to defeat Shelbyville’s Will Fox (35-9). He picked up one final win on Tuesday when his team met eventual runner-up Yorkville Christian in the Oregon Sectional.
Yorkville Christian senior Tyler Martinez (45-6), who was ranked second, took third place for the third-straight year after bouncing back from a first-round loss to McKinney with five-straight wins in the wrestlebacks. He assured himself of another medal with a 5-1 decision over Carlinville senior Jake Schwartz (42-6), who was ranked seventh, and claimed a 3-1 victory over Astacio to again face McKinney, and he avenged his earlier defeat with a 3-1 win by sudden victory.
“This was my third year doing this and I had a tough loss on the front side of the bracket,” Martinez said. “But I think I’m like 15-0 on the backside of the bracket. We’re looking to repeat down in Bloomington as a team and bring home another state championship for the school. I might not win one by myself, but as a team, I know that we have more than enough.”
McKinney (50-5), a senior who was making his third state appearance and won his first medal, bounced back from his quarterfinals loss to Gentes with decisions over Coal City senior Jack Poyner (36-14), who was ranked tenth, Manteno junior Carter Watkins (32-8), who was ranked ninth, and Fox, who was ranked sixth, to reach the third-place mat.
Astacio (42-10), a junior who earned his first state medal, took fifth place with a fall in 4:44 over Fox (35-9), a senior who also was a first-time all-stater. Astacio used a fall and a 7-1 decision over Watkins to reach the semifinals, where he lost a close match to Gentes. Fox won 5-4 in sudden victory over Lena-Winslow/Stocton junior Jared Dvorak (45-9) and was an 8-4 winner over Deer Creek-Mackinaw senior Gage Sweckard (41-13) before falling to Altensey. Schwartz and Watkins both fell one shy of receiving a medal.
170 – Joseph Norton, Canton
After finishing in third place a year ago at 170 and also placing third at the IWCOA finals, Joseph Norton was determined that he was going to be a state champion in his final season, but there was just one problem, a returning state champion stood in his way.
Undeterred, the Canton senior capped a 51-1 individual season by capturing a 10-6 decision over Yorkville Christian senior Jackson Gillen in the 170 title match to become his program’s third state champion. Gillen, who was top-ranked, won the 170 title a year ago, but second-ranked Norton got off to an early lead in the finals and went on to claim his fifth tournament title. After opening with a fall in 2:26 over Northridge Prep senior Michael Kopecky (24-6), he won a 9-2 decision over Riverdale’s Alex Watson, who was ranked fourth, and then he captured a 12-2 major decision over Cahokia’s Nick Deloach, Jr., who was ranked ninth, to advance to the title mat.
Additional good news for Norton was that his special season was not over yet. On Tuesday, the Little Giants defeated Kewanee 57-24 to advance to the IHSA Dual Team finals in Bloomington. Norton, who added two more victories in the dual meets, has been a leader for coach Zach Crawford’s program and helping his program to their first dual team finals is a fitting ending to his career. Canton fell to Lena-Winslow/Stockton 42-23 on Friday, capping a special season when they won their first regional since 2009 and third ever, had three sectional champions and a record six state qualifiers and had three placewinners and nearly a fourth.
“Last year I was in the three spot because of a loss in that match and this year I came out on top,” Norton said. “I wrestled like I wanted to win, and that’s what I did. (The Grand March) It was so exciting and when I was out there, I felt like my legs were all jelly. I was ready for that match and it just showed out on the mat. We had a great team with great teammates, it was a whole family. As of right now, I don’t know if I’ll keep wrestling, but whatever happens happens.”
Gillen (42-7), who was vying for his fifth tournament title of the season, reached the finals with a fall in 3:20 over Unity’s Kyle Root, who was sixth-ranked. He opened with a pin in 1:15 over
Murphysboro senior Dayton Hoffman (37-3), who was ranked eighth, and then won 12-4 over Coal City senior Derek Carlson, who was fifth-ranked, in the quarterfinals. He suffered his first loss to an Illinois competitor in the Oregon Sectional semifinals to Fulton’s Zane Pannell and then couldn’t compete in the third-place match there. But Gillen continued his season as his team looked to repeat as state champions. He added four more wins to his total as the Mustangs beat Riverdale 42-28 in the Oregon Sectional, Auburn 49-27 in the quarterfinals and Oakwood/Salt Fork 47-24 in the semifinals before falling 32-31 to Coal City in the state championship dual meet.
Panell (52-2), a senior who was ranked third, improved on last year’s fifth-place finish at 170 by taking third place with a fall in 3:46 over Root. Pannell, who won seven tournaments this season, opened with a fall in 2:30 over Robinson senior Jared Hermann (40-6) but then lost an 8-4 decision to Root in the quarterfinals. He bounced back with four-straight wins in the consolation bracket, capped by a 7-3 decision over Carlson and a fall in 5:39 over Deloach Jr. before avenging his earlier loss to Root. While Pannell fell short of winning a title like his brother Eli did in 2019, he joins him and three others as Steamers who won two or more state medals.
“Wrestling the same guys again makes me feel better because I have another shot at winning,” Pannell said. “I would have rather got first like my brother (Eli), who got first in his senior year. My goal was to always beat him.”
In his third state appearance, Root (48-8), a senior, was able to get a medal, which was for fourth place. After opening with a fall in 2:37 over Seneca senior Colin Wright (41-14), Root won 8-4 over Pannell before getting pinned by Gillen in the semifinals.Then he beat Watson with a 7-2 decision to reach the third-place mat.
Deloach Jr. (42-10), who’s a senior, earned his first medal and took fifth place with a 4-3 decision over Watson (50-8), a senior who took fifth at 160 a year ago and was one of Riverdale’s four medalists. Falling one win shy of state medals were Reed-Custer junior Rex Pfeifer (45-7) and Coal City senior Derek Carlson (36-8).