By Curt Herron
PRINCETON – One week after claiming top honors as Illinois’ top Class 1A dual meet team at the ABE’s Rumble in Springfield, Coal City wanted to make it clear that it was also the best tournament team in Class 1A when it competed against a quality field at the 59th annual Lyle King Princeton Invitational Tournament (PIT).
Coach Mark Masters’ Coalers had two champions, two runners-up, two third-place finishers and six others who placed seventh or better to score 245.5 points, which was 57 points ahead of second-place Dakota/Orangeville, who had 188 points, Riverdale (176), LeRoy/Tri-Valley (155), Auburn/Franklin/New Berlin (152), Vandalia (133.5), Tremont (114.5), PORTA/A-C Central/ Greenview (96), Clifton Central/Iroquois West (91) and Princeton (90) filled out the top 10.
Thirteen of the state’s top 25 teams in Class 1A took part in the event, which includes eight of the top 13 in the latest rankings on Illinois Matmen. Coal City is top-ranked, Dakota is third, Riverdale is ranked fourth, Dixon is eighth while PORTA , Auburn , Vandalia and Roxana are ranked 10th through 13th. LeRoy/Tri-Valley (16th), Tremont (19th), Clifton Central (21st), Princeton (23rd) and Reed-Custer (25th) were the other ranked teams.
Leading the way for the champion Coalers were title winners Landin Benson (152) and Braiden Young (195), runners-up Mataeo Blessing (145) and Derek Carlson (170) as well as Drake Dearth (220) and Michael Gonzalez (285), who both finished third. Brock Finch (126) was fourth, Culan Lindemuth (106), Jack Poyner (160) and Joey Breneman (182) placed fifth while Luke Munsterman (113) and Noah Houston (126) were seventh.
Top performers for coach Matt Jacobs’ runner-up Indians were champions TJ Silva (126) and Phoenix Blakely (132) and second-place finisher Noah Wenzel (220). Garrett Vincent (160) and Case Rockey (170) were fourth, Jason Bowers (138) placed fifth while Adrian Arellano (152) and Thomas Bowman (195) were seventh.
Coach Myron Keppy’s third-place Rams had the most champions with four and had five finalists. Winning titles were Dean Wainwright (106), Brock Smith (138), Collin Altensey (160) and Alex Watson (170) while Eli Hinde (152) took second place. Zac Bradley (182) was sixth and Kolton Kruse (132) finished eighth.
“It was an excellent tournament,” Keppy said. “We’ve put back-to-back weekends in with real tough tournaments. We’re close, we’re knocking on the door and we had some matches that didn’t go our way. I’m proud of our kids. We put in a lot of time in the offseason and it’s paying off now, and that’s good to see.”
Auburn co-op’s also had two champions, Joey Ruzic (120) and Cole Edie (285), Other title winners were Litchfield/Mt. Olive’s Alex Powell (113), Illini Bluffs’ Paul Ishikawa (145), PORTA’s Bryar Lane (182) and Reed-Custer’s Kody Marschner (220).
Among the title winners, six are top-ranked in the state and four are returning state champions. Ruzic, Blakely, Smith and Altensey all won state championships last year and are top-ranked. Silva took second last season and Ishikawa placed fourth and they are also top-ranked.
Marschner, who’s ranked second, was third at state last year. Watson, who’s ranked fourth, took fifth at state and Powell, who’s ranked fifth, placed sixth at state. Lane is also ranked second, Wainwright is fourth, Edie is fifth-ranked, Benson ranks eighth and Young is ninth-ranked.
Tremont had three second-place finishers, Konnor Martin (113), Payton Murphy (120) and TJ Connor (182). Also taking second place were Vandalia’s Dillon Hinton (132) and Eric McKinney (160), Ottawa Township’s Ivan Munoz (106), Rockridge’s Jude Finch (126), Auburn’s Dresden Grimm (138), Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Aiden Sancken (195), Dakota’s Noah Wenzel (220) and Clifton Central’s Noah Gomez (285). Wenzel is top-ranked at 195 and also was a state champion last season.
In the closest title matches, Wainwright edged Munoz 6-4 by sudden victory at 106, Smith got past Grimm 2-0 in sudden victory at 138, Ruzic beat Murphy 4-2 at 120, Marschner edged Wenzel 3-1 at 220, Silva was a 5-2 winner over Finch at 126, Ishikawa won 5-2 over Blessing at 145, Benson captured a 7-4 decision over Hinde at 152 and Watson beat Carlson 5-2 at 170.
Winning titles by fall were Powell (113) and Edie (285) while Blakely (132) won his title by technical fall. Altensey (160) captured a 6-0 decision over McKinney, Lane (182) won 10-4 over Connor and Young (195) was a 12-6 winner over Sancken.
Champions who also won PIT titles last year were Ruzic, Blakely, Smith, Altensey, Watson and Marschner while Powell and Braiden Young were second a year ago and took first this season.
Top records for finalists are Ishikawa (30-0, 1.000), Altensey (25-0, 1.000), Smith (23-0, 1.000), Wainwright (22-0, 1.000), Marschner (16-0, 1.000), Watson (25-1, .962), Finch (23-1, .958), Young (23-1, .958), Blakely (22-1, .957), Sancken (16-1, .941), Benson (15-1, .938), Grimm (15-1, .938), Blessing (27-2, .931), Ruzic (27-2, .931), Murphy (26-2, .929), McKinney (25-2, .926), Edie (24-2, .923), Munoz (12-1, .923), Silva (22-2, .917), Lane (32-3, .914), Connor (31-3, .912), Powell (26-3, .897), Wenzel (21-3, .875), Hinde (20-3, .870) and Martin (19-3, .864).
Edie led all competitors with 32 team points while Blakely had 31.5. Altensey, Powell and Silva all had 30 team points, Marschner, Ruzic and Young finished with 29.5 points and LeRoy’s Kobe Brent, Benson, Lane and Wainwright all finished with 28 team points.
Beside being arguably the top Class 1A individual in the state, the PIT is also one of the most-historic with this being the 59th year of competition. Princeton coach Steve Amy, a 2020 IWCOA Hall of Fame inductee, is thrilled to be the host coach of a long-running quality competition that has been loyally supported by individuals from throughout Bureau County for six decades.
Amy was a three-time champion and four-time finalist for his father, Rick, who’s also an IWCOA Hall of Famer, at Rockridge. He assisted IWCOA Hall of Famer Dave Klemm at Lincoln College before taking over the Tigers’ program in 2008. One of the interesting aspects that Amy has brought to the PIT is having championship matches that are not run in the traditional fashion, of lowest to highest weights. For example, this year’s finals started at 182 and ended at 138. Since that’s how the finals took place, that is the order in which the title matches will be chronicled.
“We take a lot of pride in this thing,” Amy said. “It’s probably the best Class A tournament in the state and it takes a lot of help and we get a lot of great help. We have a lot of wrestling parents and ex-wrestlers that come back to help, and even from their parents, who’ve been long gone, and that’s great. It’s why we have all of these great teams here, so that we can see them. And what I also like is that our young kids, like our junior high and club kids are here. They’re working the tournament, so they know what to expect when they get here, and even their parents are helping, which is awesome.”
Championship matches at the Lyle King Princeton Invitational Tournament (PIT)
182 – Bryar Lane (PORTA) D 10-4 TJ Connor (Tremont)
132 – Phoenix Blakely (Dakota) TF 4:54 Dillon Hinton (Vandalia)
195 – Braiden Young (Coal City) D 12-6 Aiden Sancken (Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley)
126 – TJ Silva (Dakota) D 5-2 Jude Finch (Rockridge)
106 – Dean Wainwright (Riverdale) SV 6-4 Ivan Munoz (Ottawa Township)
285 – Cole Edie (Auburn) F 1:06 Noah Gomez (Clifton Central)
160 – Collin Altensey (Riverdale) D 6-0 Eric McKinney (Vandalia)
145 – Paul Ishikawa (Illini Bluffs) D 5-2 Mataeo Blessing (Coal City)
113 – Alex Powell (Litchfield) F 1:43 Konnor Martin (Tremont)
152 – Landin Benson (Coal City) D 7-4 Eli Hinde (Riverdale)
170 – Alex Watson (Riverdale) D 5-2 Derek Carlson (Coal City)
120 – Joey Ruzic (Auburn) D 4-2 Payton Murphy (Tremont)
220 – Kody Marschner (Reed-Custer) D 3-1 Noah Wenzel (Dakota)
138 – Brock Smith (Riverdale) SV 2-0 Dresden Grimm (Auburn)
Here’s a breakdown of the PIT champions and their weight classes (in order of the finals)
182 – Bryar Lane, PORTA
Bryar Lane feels very fortunate that he even has the opportunity to compete during this season for PORTA. That’s because the senior, who’s second-ranked in Class at 182, had to undergo heart surgery last year just to continue competing in the sport.
Lane, who’s 32-3 and won a title at his school’s invite, kicked off the PIT championship matches at 182 by capturing a 10-4 decision over Tremont’s TJ Connor, who is fourth-ranked. He won 6-3 over Coal City’s Joey Breneman in the semifinals after recording falls in his first two matches.
“It feels good,” Lane said. “I was actually recovering from a heart surgery a year ago, so coming back and winning this is pretty big. I got released close to the end of summer wrestling, so I just tried to go to everything that I could, I went all over the state, just to get those matches. I started passing out when I was wrestling and it took awhile and we finally got a heart monitor implanted in. But then I passed out again and my heart was going like 300 beats per minute, for about 10 minutes, just resting after my matches.
“It was scary, especially after being told that I might not wrestle again and the doctor also said that I might not be able to do anything. Two heart surgeries later, I’m back and better than ever. I’ve had a great support system and my family has carried me through everything, taking me to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, I couldn’t have done it without them. My mom, Amy, and my dad, Seth, have been great. And coach (Jeff) Hill is just a great coach and it feels good winning for him. I think we’re a really tough dual team and beating Unity at ABE’s Rumble was huge.”
Connor, who is 31-3 and won a title at Plano, captured a 5-2 decision over Clifton Central’s seventh-ranked Hunter Hull in the semifinals after recording falls in his first two matches.
In the third-place match, Hull (22-5) bounced back from his close semifinal loss to pull out a 6-5 victory over Reed-Custer’s Rex Pfeifer (22-3), who won five-straight consolation matches after losing to Hull 5-2 in his first match.
Breneman (24-5), who’s ranked eighth, took fifth place with a 5-2 decision over Riverdale’s ninth-ranked Zac Bradley (20-7). And Auburn’s Skylar Fay (24-8) took seventh with a fall in 3:41 over Rockridge’s Zayd Evans (15-5).
132 – Phoenix Blakely, Dakota
Phoenix Blakely is definitely on a mission to join the exclusive four-time state champions club and his latest performance at the PIT only reinforces what the state’s top-ranked individual at 132 can achieve this season.
The Dakota senior improved to 22-1 with his lone loss to Rich Township’s nationally-ranked Nasir Bailey as he won the 132 title match by technical fall in 4:54 over Vandalia’s Dillon Hinton to repeat as a PIT champion. He opened the tournament with three-straight first-period falls, pinning Princeton’s eighth-ranked Ace Christiansen in 1:50 in the semifinals.
“It’s very exciting,” Blakely said. “My uncle is a four-timer so that motivates me to go and chase being a four-time champion. I can’t give up any silly points and in that match I didn’t give up anything dumb really, all of the points that he earned were me cutting him. With my teammates winning at this tournament, they’re motivating me pretty well. We compete pretty hard and we don’t give up anything easy.”
Hinton, a freshman who’s ranked fifth and is 22-4, defeated Tremont’s sixth-ranked Mason Mark 5-1 in the semifinals after claiming a 7-0 decision in the quarterfinals and a fall in his opener.
In the third-place match, Clinton’s seventh-ranked Cayden Pool (22-3) pulled out a 3-2 decision over Illini Bluff’s ninth-ranked Ian O’Connor (27-5). Poole lost in the quarterfinals to Mark but then won his final four matches.
Christiansen (19-4) won an 8-4 decision over Mark to claim fifth place. And Alleman’s Adam Jacks (23-7) took seventh with a fall in 4:20 over Riverdale’s Kolton Kruse (20-8).
195 – Braiden Young, Coal City
Braiden Young is enjoying his senior season at Coal City, and with good reason . After all, he’s one of the top individuals on a Coalers team that’s top-ranked in Class 1A after following up on a title at ABE’s Rumble with a PIT championship.
Young, who’s ranked ninth, improved to 23-1 after getting a reversal and nearfall in the final period to rally him to a 12-6 title decision over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s Aiden Sancken, who was unbeaten. The Coalers senior won by technical fall in 3:47 in the semifinals over Vandalia’s Wyatt Dothinger after opening with two falls.
“He did very well,” Young said of Sancken. “The last period was a little rough but we worked through it. This is a great competition to participate in, there were around 30 teams and it was a great turnout. We’re working hard in the room every day and this is great for the team and to see them succeed is great. The hard work is paying off and we’re hoping to keep building on that.”
Sancken, who’s ranked 10th and is now 16-1, recorded a fall in 1:22 in the semifinals over Wilmington’s Hunter Hayes after pulling out a 4-3 quarterfinals win over Orion’s Maddux Anderson and getting a pin in his first match.
In the third-place match, Byron’s Josh Harris (17-4) recorded a fall in 3:58 over Anderson (19-7). After getting pinned by Dothager in the quarterfinals, Harris won four in a row to finish third.
Hayes (16-3) took fifth with a 9-4 decision over Dothager (21-6). And for seventh, Dakota’s Thomas Bowman (11-8) captured a 3-2 decision over Litchfield’s Tristan Staggs (17-13).
126 – TJ Silva, Dakota
After falling a bit short of winning a state championship as a freshman, TJ Silva is focused on winning it all this season, and it doesn’t hurt to have three-time state champion Phoenix Blakely pushing him every day.
The Dakota sophomore, who’s top-ranked at 126, improved to 22-2 after capturing a 5-2 win over Rockridge’s previously-unbeaten Jude Finch in the PIT finals. Silva reached the title match with three-straight first-period falls, pinning Tremont’s Bowden Delaney in 1:13 in the semifinals.
“This tournament is pretty tough, so there was just one goal, just to come and get the bracket board,” Silva said. “It’s awesome having the best teammates. And Phoenix, a three-time state champ, is pushing me every single day as my training partner. After state last year, it was just like a fire underneath me. It drives me every single day after that.
“I’ve just been focusing on my offense and my scrambling. It’s good to be able to switch off to have an offensive and a defensive match because it makes me alot better wrestler. The thing I like about Dakota is that they’re so welcoming. Any time we have home meets, it’s like the whole town is there. It’s just such a good community. It’s a wrestling community and I love it. “
Finch, a sophomore who’s ranked ninth and is now 23-1, beat another Finch in the semifinals, Coal City’s Brock, by fall in 3:59. That followed a pair of wins by technical fall.
Delaney (27-3) used three falls and a win by technical fall to claim third place, pinning Brock Finch (22-8) in 1:54 in his final match.
LeRoy’s Brock Owens (23-9) took fifth place with a fall in 5:21 over Clifton Central’s Evan Cox (14-6). And Coal City’s Noah Houston (8-3) took seventh with a 14-5 win over Litchfield’s Braxton Kieffer (22-10).
106 – Dean Wainwright, Riverdale
Dean Wainwright may be a freshman, but he’s known seniors Brock Smith, Collin Altensey and Alex Watson for a long time and hopes to be in the mix at the state finals, just as they’ve been.
One of four champions for Riverdale, fourth-ranked Wainwright (22-0) rallied to win 6-4 in sudden victory over Ottawa Township’s tenth-ranked Ivan Munoz in a clash of unbeatens at 106. Wainwright, who won 13-8 in the semifinals over Coal City’s Culan Lindemuth after opening with two falls, kept the match going with a late reversal and then got a quick takedown in overtime to secure the PIT championship.
“It’s fun and we all grew up together,” Wainwright said. “We’re a small school and everyone knows everyone and helps each other out, so that’s fun. He was tough on top, so I just had to keep moving on bottom. (In overtime), I felt that I could outmove him. I’m just getting better with the team, so we’ll see where it takes me.”
Munoz, a sophomore who is 12-1, led in the late going of the title match before Wainwright staged his late comeback. Munoz won 3-2 in the quarterfinals over Princeton’s Augustus Swanson before advancing to the finals by medical forfeit over Illini Bluffs’ Hunter Robbins.
In the third-place match, LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s fifth-ranked Brady Mouser (30-2) won a 6-4 decision over sixth-ranked Swanson (19-3). Mouser lost to Lindemuth in the quarterfinals and then won his last four matches.
Lindemuth (24-8), who’s ranked seventh, took fifth by medical forfeit over Robbins (26-1), who was top-ranked but got injured and couldn’t compete in the semifinals. Litchfield’s Vinny Moore (23-4) won by fall in 5:55 over Warrensburg-Latham’s Charlie Wittmer (22-6) for seventh.
285 – Cole Edie, Auburn
Cole Edie is three-for-three in tournament finals after adding a PIT title to championships won at the Dvorak and PORTA.
Edie (24-2), a senior who’s ranked fifth, won by fall in 1:06 over Clifton Central’s sixth-ranked Noah Gomez in the 285 finals. Edie recorded three other falls, pinning Coal City’s second-ranked Michael Gonzalez in 3:19 in the semifinals.
“It’s really exciting,” Edie said of winning the Dvorak and PIT. “I went in at the beginning of the year that I wanted to place at the Dvorak and just kind of put my name out there and prove who I was and to prove to myself who I was and I went out and I wrestled probably the best that I’ve ever wrestled. When I won that, I was on a high for a while but then I didn’t complete one of my goals when I got pinned at ABE’s, I wasn’t ready and didn’t wrestle my best and I got caught.
“So I made it my goal this week that I was going to win this and I’ve got to bounce back. They (Joey Ruzic and Dresden Grimm) might not be able to physically push me because they’re smaller, but they can mentally push me and we push each other at practice. We have a great wrestling room. I have to give it to my practice partners and my coaches because they push me. If we didn’t drill the way that we do, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Gomez (31-4), a junior who also had won two titles coming into the PIT, captured a 6-2 decision over Reed-Custer’s Gunnar Berg in the semifinals after getting two first-period falls.
Gonzalez (18-5) took third place with a 3-0 decision over seventh-ranked Berg (21-2) in a clash of two seniors from nearby schools.
In the fifth-place match, PORTA senior Issak Espenschied (25-7), who’s ranked eighth, won 3-2 by ultimate tiebreaker over Princeton’s Cade Odell (11-6). And for seventh, Dixon’s Shaun DeVries (19-6) won by fall in 4:25 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Tate Sigler (23-7).
160 – Collin Altensey, Riverdale
Collin Altensey is definitely focused on capturing a second-straight state title and the two-time state placewinner has won all 25 of his matches after adding to a title win at his school’s invite.
The top-ranked senior was one of four Riverdale champions after defeating Vandalia’s Eric McKinney 6-0 in PIT’s 160 finals. Altensey, who also won the PIT last year, reached the finals with three falls, recording a pin in 2:00 in the semifinals over Manteno’s Carter Watkins.
“This was awesome,” Altensey said. “Dean has been at Riverdale his whole life so we remember him from middle school and he won an IESA state title last year. I’m really grateful to get these good matches in right now. This is awesome and I’m going to miss it after this year.”
McKinney (25-2), a senior who’s ranked sixth, recorded a fall in 2:00 in the semifinals over Coal City’s Jack Poyner after getting a win by technical fall in the quarters and a fall in his opener.
Watkins (14-4) took third place after prevailing 11-9 in sudden victory over Dakota’s Garrett Vincent (15-5), who lost to Altensey in the quarterfinals before winning his next three matches.
Poyner (23-8) took fifth place with an 8-2 decision over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Ethan Conaty (24-7). And for seventh place, PORTA’s Cash Welbourne (19-13) won by fall in 1:47 over Ottawa Township’s Wyatt Reding.
145 – Paul Ishikawa, Illini Bluffs
Paul Ishikawa remembers well the excitement of winning a championship at the IWCOA in 2021 and then the disappointment of placing fourth last year in the IHSA finals.
Top-ranked at 145 and now 30-0, the Illini Bluffs senior added to titles at Illini Bluffs and Erie after winning 5-2 over Coal City’s Mataeo Blessing in the finals. He beat LeRoy/Tr-Valley’s Connor Lyons 16-5 in the semifinals following a 7-4 decision in the quarterfinals and a fall.
“I know that this is my last year so I’m going to put everything on the mat,” Ishikawa said. “I’ve known Mataeo since I was seven and we’ve gone back and forth. The PIT is probably the toughest one, besides state, of course. It’s the one to see where you are and to push yourself. I just want to be in everyones’ face. I know that I can push the pressure. I’ve had coaches come up to me and say that if you go at it, no one is on your level. I’m definitely on a mission to win a state title. And that should be eveyones’ goal. I’m ready to go.”
Blessing (27-2), a senior who’s ranked third, won 3-1 by sudden victory in the semifinals over Princeton’s Augie Christansen and won 5-3 over Orion’s Mason Anderson after getting a fall.
Christiansen (20-1), a senior who’s ranked fourth, bounced back from his first defeat to capture a fall in 4:18 over Anderson (19-5) for third place.
Newman Central Catholic’s Daniel Kelly (19-9) won by medical forfeit over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Connor Lyons (22-7) for fifth. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s Carson Maxey (19-3) won 5-1 over Clifton Central’s Gianni Panozzo (29-9) for seventh.
113 – Alex Powell, Litchfield
As someone who had qualified for state three times and placed sixth a year ago, Alex Powell was looking for more than two third-place finishes that he had heading into the PIT.
Things came together for the Litchfield senior, who’s 26-3 and ranked fifth, after beating Tremont’s Konnor Martin by fall in 1:43 in the 113 finals. He pinned Mercer County’s Kale Stirn in 2:51 in the semifinals after opening with a decision and a fall.
“It’s really weird not winning those and now I win this one,” said Powell of taking third at Cumberland and PORTA. “There’s a lot of good competition here and there are finals-level matches in the quarters. Obviously I still need to do more work and to work harder in practice. But, so far, I’m pretty content with how I’m doing. This makes me feel like I can actually win tournaments, because I haven’t been able to win any. I ran into the same opponent in both semifinals and lost two close matches.”
Martin (19-3), a freshman who’s ranked sixth, earned his spot in the 113 title match with a semifinals win by technical fall over Newman Central Catholic’s Zhyler Hansen. That followed a fall and a decision.
LeRoy/Tri-Valley sophomore Kobe Brent (21-8) captured third place with a fall in 2:20 over Wilmington’s Landon Dooley (22-4). Brent, who’s ranked eighth, lost 11-9 to Powell in round two and then won six-straight matches, which included five falls.
Stirn (13-4) won by technical fall in 3:41 over Hansen (19-11) for fifth while Coal City’s Luke Munsterman (15-3) recorded a fall in 3:40 over Manteno’s Nolan Ziman (10-8) to take seventh.
152 – Landin Benson, Coal City
Landin Benson capped a big day for Coal City after picking up his first tournament title of the season and being one of his first-place team’s two champions.
The Coalers sophomore, who’s ranked eighth and improved to 15-1, won a 7-4 decision over Riverdale’s Eli Hinde in the 152 finals. Benson won 4-3 by a tiebreaker in the semifinals over Byron’s Carson Behn after opening with two falls.
“We have a lot of hard workers in the room and we know not to quit,” Benson said. “Every time, we don’t stop, win or lose. (Winning ABE’s Rumble) It was a big milestone, but we still have a lot to accomplish. I like the humor, honestly, it keeps us alive before and after the matches, so that we just go out and have fun wrestling. It’s just about the practice room and not overthinking it. I was on JV last year and went to Frosh-Soph state and placed third.”
Hinde (20-3), who’s ranked ninth, was one of his team’s five finalists. He won 11-5 over Olympia’s Bentley Wise in the semifinals after recording falls in his initial two matches.
Behn (13-2), who’s ranked tenth, bounced back from his tough semifinals defeat to Benson to capture third place with an 8-6 decision over Vandalia’s Logan Nance (22-10).
For fifth place, Wise (34-6) won 8-3 over Mercer County’s Eli Burns (18-11). And for seventh, Dakota’s Adrian Arellano (13-9) won by medical forfeit over PORTA’s Brandon Barner (18-4).
170 – Alex Watson, Riverdale
Thus far Alex Watson is doing his best to improve upon a fifth-place finish a year ago as he hopes to join teammates Collin Altensey and Brock Smith as contenders for state titles.
The Riverdale senior, who’s 25-1 and ranked fourth, won 5-2 over Coal City’s Derek Carlson in the 170 finals to repeat as a PIT champion. Watson reached the finals with an 8-2 win over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Tyson Brent following a win by technical fall and a major decision.
“It’s cool since this is the biggest tournament for us, other than postseason,” Watson said. “And it’s awesome winning it last year and then winning it again this year. And it’s cool for his last year (coach Myron Keppy), I know that he’s having a lot of fun. In our sectional, everything is tough, but I have faith in our team because we’re stacked all the way up. We have a lot of fun all of the time, it’s just so fun to be with all of the guys. We’re getting better every week and our upperweights are coming around.”
Carlson (25-5), a senior who’s ranked fifth, advanced to the 170 finals with a fall in 3:36 over Auburn’s Joey Barrow in the semifinals after opening with a pair of falls.
Brent (25-3), a senior who’s ranked sixth and took sixth place last year at state, captured a 10-4 decision over Dakota’s Case Rockey (19-8) to claim third place.
Barrow (21-8) took fifth place with a fall in 0:58 over Rockridge’s Tyler Morrisey (24-5). And for seventh, Dixon’s Steven Kitzman (17-7) won 9-4 over Monticello’s Hunter Romano (27-10).
120 – Joey Ruzic, Auburn
As Joey Ruzic continues his quest to become a two-time state champion, his attempt to repeat as a PIT champion was certainly easier said than done.
The Auburn junior, who’s 27-2 and top-ranked, captured a 4-2 victory over Tremont’s Payton Murphy in the 120 finals. Ruzic got a fall in 1:21 in the semifinals over Roxana’s Lleyton Cobine following a fall and a win by technical fall.
“We didn’t bring our whole lineup and we still ended up taking fifth,” Ruzic said. “My team, we’re all here together and we’re all here for each other, so it’s hard to lose when you have a family behind you. I didn’t wrestle my best at that tournament (the Dvorak), but I’m coming back and doing better now. We’re all on the same page and we’re all doing good. This is just going to propel us in the future. We’re in to get a regional, that’s all I’ve got to say.”
Murphy (26-2), a senior who’s ranked fourth, had a tough semifinals match, capturing a 3-1 win over Mercer County’s Ethan Monson. Murphy opened with a tech fall and followed with a pin.
In the third place match, Rock Falls senior Aaron Meenen (20-5), who’s ranked fifth, won a 4-2 decision over Monson (27-3), who’s ranked sixth. Meenan lost to Murphy in the quarterfinals and then won four in a row.
For fifth place, Newman Central Catholic’s Briar Ivey (20-8) won 8-2 over Cobine (15-4). And for seventh place, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s ninth-ranked Shawn Schlickman (14-4) claimed a 10-9 decision over Illini Bluffs’ Avery Speck (26-7).
220 – Kody Marschner, Reed-Custer
While a lot of the title matches at the PIT were intense, the clash between Kody Marschner and Noah Wenzel was more like two friends going at it, since they train with each other at Izzy Style.
In a matchup of two defending PIT champions, Reed-Custer senior Marschner won 3-1 over Dakota’s Wenzel at 220. Marschner (16-0), ranked second at 220 and third at state a year ago, pinned Coal City’s Drake Dearth in 2:21 in the semifinals and added a pin and a technical fall.
“We practice with each other all of the time,” Marschner, the PIT’s OWA recipient for the upper weights said of Wenzel. “That was awesome, battling with one of my good buddies. It’s the best club (Izzy Style) in the state, for sure. It just helps me to build my mindset.”
Wenzel (21-3), a junior who’s a returning state champion that’s top-ranked at 195, rolled into the finals with three falls, including one in 5:21 in the semifinals over Roxana’s James Herring.
In the third-place match, fourth-ranked Dearth (23-4) captured a 5-2 decision over Herring (20-4), who’s ranked fifth.
Olympia’s Nolen Yeary (29-10) took fifth place with a fall in 1:07 over Monticello’s Riley Jones (23-15). For seventh place, Ottawa Township’s Charles Medrow (15-4) won by fall in 0:54 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Jacob Bischoff (26-6), who’s ranked eighth.
138 – Brock Smith, Riverdale
The championship title match at the PIT at 138 was perhaps the most unusual since Brock Smith and Dresden Grimm both went throughout regulation without scoring a point.
In a rematch of a PIT final from a year ago that Smith won, Riverdale senior Smith won 2-0 in sudden victory after getting a takedown with 23 seconds left to improve to 23-0 and repeat as a PIT champion while Auburn senior Grimm (15-1) suffered his first defeat.
Smith, a state champion last year who took fifth place in 2020, is top-ranked at the weight while Grimm, who finished third at state last year, is ranked second.
In the semifinals, Smith won 12-4 over Rockridge’s Reese Finch, which followed a win by technical fall and a 9-3 quarterfinals decision. Grimm pinned Newman Central Catholic’s Carter Rude in 2:56 in the semifinals after winning by technical fall and with a pin in his opener..
“That was an awful performance in my book,” Smith said as he was recognized as the lower weight OWA recipient. “I scored no points, except in overtime and I got rode out for two minutes, so as far as I’m concerned, I won the match because I took him down and he didn’t take me down. I’m way better than that. I feel like everyone is trying to change to my style. I guess I’m cool with getting a target on my back, but I have to wrestle better than that. I’m happy for those guys (his teammates), they all wrestled good matches and did a good job this weekend.”
Rude (27-1), who suffered his first defeat to Grimm in the semifinals and is ranked fourth, claimed a 7-0 decision over fifth-ranked Finch (20-5) to claim third place.
Dakota’s Jason Bowers (18-10), who’s ranked sixth, took fifth place with a 3-1 win by sudden victory over Illini Bluffs’ tenth-ranked Jackson Carroll (29-5). Vandalia’s Owen Miller (26-4) won by forfeit over Rovana’s Lyndon Thies (22-6) to claim seventh place.
Writer’s note: Sorry for the late post of the story, but I was hospitalized for three days with a blood clot and just returned home last night. I hope to be back in action in the near future.