By Gary Larsen
There’s a lot more of Lena-Winslow’s Jaden Rice that opponents have to deal with now, a far cry from the 106 pounds they had to square off with when he was a freshman.
Rice improved to 25-0 at 182 pounds on Sunday, winning the title at that weight at the IWCOA Sandwich 1A super-regional — a culmination of sorts to a 76-pound, mother-of-all-growth-spurts in three years.
Rice wrestled 113 as a sophomore and 126 last year before jumping up 56 pounds to 182 this year. The explanation for that massive leap up in weight class is actually pretty simple: “I grew out a little bit and I grew up a little bit,” said the 6-foot-1 Rice, who gained five inches in height since his freshman year.
“After cutting weight last year I just got tired of it and decided to do my thing,” he said. “I decided to eat, lift weights, and in the middle of all that I hit a growth spurt. And I lifted every day since quarantine hit.”
Rice, Case Harsmstrom (170), and Jason Hermann (160) all won individual titles while teammates Garrett Luke (120), Simon Rillie (145), Griffin Luke (152), and Andrew Haas (195) all reached the title mat for a Panthers team that finished atop the 22-team regional field in Sandwich.
And any time a coach sends seven wrestlers to a tournament’s title mat is a good day. “I was really proud of the way the kids competed,” Lena-Winslow coach Kevin Milder said. “I’ve got a good core group of seniors that are taking the postseason pretty serious and giving it their best shot here. They’ve been really committed.”
Lena-Winslow outpointed second-place Dakota 195.5 to 146, while Oregon and host Sandwich tied for third with a team total of 120.0. There will be no dual team state tournament in Illinois this year but wrestlers are primed for the IWCOA’s individual state finals in Springfield.
“It’s a bummer that there won’t be any team stuff but it’s awesome that (the IWCOA) is putting this on for us, especially to give us seniors a chance to make our mark,” Rice said.
Ryan Welgat of Kewanee kicked off the title-mat action, improving to 23-3 at 106 with a pin of Rock Falls’ Anthony Reyes (3-1). Welgat posted two pins on the day. At 113, fourth-seeded freshman Brady Grennan (19-2) of Newman Central Catholic won a regional title in dominant fashion. Grennan opened with a fall before winning a 10-2 major over Dixon’s top-seeded Chris Sitter (18-2) in their semifinal.
Grennan then won by first-period fall on the title mat over second-seeded Luke Moen (16-5) of Orion. Illinois’ defending state champion at 120 pounds, top-seeded Dakota sophomore Phoenix Blakely (20-1), won his regional title match via 3-0 decision over second-seeded Garrett Luke (18-3) of Lena-Winslow.
Luke finished third at 106 at last year’s state finals in Champaign. Blakely — top-ranked in Illinois at 126 in Rob Sherrill’s IWCOA rankings — posted a pair of pins en route to the finals, where he did something he hadn’t done before “They’ve wrestled for three or four years and Phoenix had never beaten (Luke),” Dakota coach Pete Alber said. “Luke is tough. But Phoenix has worked hard and now he’ll be more comfortable when they meet again.”
The first wrestler to stay unbeaten at day’s end was host Sandwich junior Evan Reilly (29-0). Top-seeded Reilly edged Dakota’s fourth-seeded Jason Bowers (22-4) 3-1 in a semifinal match at 126, then won 8-6 on the title mat over Princeton’s Matthew Harris (19-6).
The title match at 132 featured a pair of state place-place winners who both entered the day as the No. 1-ranked wrestler in their weight classes, per Rob Sherrill’s IWCOA rankings.
Dakota junior Maddux Blakely (23-1) came out on top, winning 2-1 over West Carroll senior Ethen Doty (3-1). Blakely is currently ranked No. 1 at 132 and Doty entered the day as the top-ranked wrestler at 138.
Doty is a hammer in the top position and Blakely had his work cut out for him. “He dropped down from 138 so he’s definitely bigger than I am, and he’s very good on top,” Blakely said. “I don’t know how but I reversed him. I’ll probably see him at the sectional and at the state finals and it definitely gets more difficult when you wrestle a guy over and over.”
The second wrestler to remain unbeaten heading into Saturday’s Sandwich sectional meet was Newman Central Catholic’s Will Rude at 138. Top-seeded Rude won 7-1 on the title mat over third-seeded Tyler Simmer (18-6) of Dakota in improving to 22-0. The field at 145 was a formidable one and in the end it was third-seeded Andrew Herbst (27-1) of Oregon who survived as regional champion.
Herbst won 5-1 over second-seeded Aiden Linden (28-2) of Sandwich in a semifinal match, then won 6-4 over top-seeded Simon Rillie (23-3) of Lena-Winslow on the title mat. Herbst scored a late third-period takedown to win his title match against Rillie. Close matches against quality competition can only help prepare a wrestler for the task at hand once the state finals arrive on the calendar.
“They were both really tough kids,” Herbst said of Linden and Rillie. “(Linden) and I have trained together over the summers and we’ve always been practice partners. (Rillie) is really strong and I can’t wait to wrestle him again. “Wrestling tough guys for three periods helps you mentally prepare for those big matches at the end of the season. You want to be totally relaxed in those tight situations and those are the matches that help you do that.” West Caroll’s Kelden McCombie (3-0) won a 4-2 overtime decision on the title mat at 152 against Lena Winslow’s Griffin Luke (19-3). Luke reached the title mat with a 3-1 overtime win in his semifinal match, upsetting top-seeded Noah Schnerre (18-3) of Orion, while McCombie won a pair of major decisions to reach the title mat.
The next three title bouts belonged to Lena-Winslow. Jason Hermann (25-1) carried his top seed at 160 to fruition, winning by 3-2 decision on the title mat against Dakota’s fourth-seeded Martin Snyder (17-5). Hermann and Snyder had previously wrestled to overtime in a regular-season dual meeting.
“(Snyder) is hard to score on and stays in great position,” Milder said. “Jason has a great pace but he just wasn’t getting his shot off, but he wound up getting a takedown in the second period on a duck-under.”
Second-seeded Case Harmstom (24-1) of Lena-Winslow took care of business on his half of the bracket at 170, before winning 5-2 over Stillman Valley’s Austin Abitua (14-2) on the title mat. Rice gave Lena-Winslow its third regional champion with a 9-5 title-mat decision over Morrison’s Kayden White (20-3). Rice posted a major decision and a fall leading into the title match, but struggled to keep his motor going against White. “I got a couple takedowns but he wasn’t giving up and for some reason I got really tired. I don’t feel like I wrestled to my full potential in that match,” Rice said.
At 195, Orion’s Josh Fair (27-0) became the day’s final wrestler to stay unbeaten on the season. Third-seeded Fair won by fall in his semifinal match against Princeton’s Drew Harp, and then won 3-0 on the title mat over top-seeded Andrew Haas (21-2) of Lena-Winslow. Haas’ appearance on the title mat gave Lena-Winslow six consecutive wrestlers — from 145 to 195 — to reach the finals in Sandwich. “It’s hard not to get better in that practice room. It’s filled with a bunch of athletes,” Rice said. “Between 145 to 195, and a couple light weights, we all get after it. We all have different styles and that benefits us all a lot. It gives us a head start on other people’s styles.” Sherrard’s Josh Bynum (21-2) pinned three of his four opponents en route to a regional title at 220, culminating with a pin of Nick Upmann (12-2) of Durand for the title. Bynum also handed Dakota’s Aidan Nardin (20-1) his first loss of the season via second-period fall in their semifinal match.
At heavyweight, Rockridge’s top-seeded Sam Buser (14-5) won by fall in his semifinal before pulling off a 3-1 sudden victory win on the title mat over second-seeded Elijah Friedrichsen (13-4) of Erie.
With the tournament over, Milder applauded the effort of the IWCOA in creating this year’s individual state tournament. “I’m sure it was a headache and a struggle but I think they’ve done a great job pulling it off and giving kids a chance to win a state title,” Milder said. “We’re treating it like a state tournament, the same way we do every other year.” Complete list of sectional qualifiers from the 1A Sandwich regional:
106 1st Place – Ryan Welgat – independent of Kewanee (H.S.) 2nd Place – Anthony Reyes of Rock Falls 3rd Place – Jacob Gibson of Erie 4th Place – Ayden Rowley of Dixon (H.S.) 5th Place – Steven Benavidez of Princeton 6th Place – Dalton Nimrick of Rock Island (Alleman)
113 1st Place – Brady Grennan of Sterling (Newman Central Catholic) 2nd Place – Edwin Estrada of Oregon 3rd Place – Chris Sitter of Dixon (H.S.) 4th Place – Luke Moen of Orion 5th Place – Aaron Meenen of Rock Falls 6th Place – Kadin Kern of Sandwich
120 1st Place – Phoenix Blakely of Dakota 2nd Place – Garrett Luke of Lena (L.-Winslow) 3rd Place – Wyatt Doty of Savanna (West Carroll) 4th Place – Grant Stender of Oregon 5th Place – Carter Rude of Sterling (Newman Central Catholic) 6th Place – Kaden Peterson – independent of Kewanee (H.S.)
126 1st Place – Evan Reilly of Sandwich 2nd Place – Matthew Harris of Princeton 3rd Place – Jason Bowers of Dakota 4th Place – Carter Jepson – Independent of Erie 5th Place – Lane Halverson of Oregon 6th Place – Carson McPeek of Lena (L.-Winslow)
132 1st Place – Maddux Blakely of Dakota 2nd Place – Ethen Doty-independent of Savanna (West Carroll) 3rd Place – Donovan Crumpacker of Stillman Valley 4th Place – Augie Christiansen of Princeton 5th Place – Zach White of Lena (L.-Winslow) 6th Place – Pahyton Smith of Rock Falls
138 1st Place – Will Rude of Sterling (Newman Central Catholic) 2nd Place – Tyler Simmer of Dakota 3rd Place – Kadin Rednour of Kewanee (H.S.) 4th Place – Seth Stevens of Oregon 5th Place – Nolan Bobee of Sandwich 6th Place – Colton Linke-independent of Morrison
145 1st Place – Andrew Herbst of Oregon 2nd Place – Simon Rillie – Independent of Lena (L.-Winslow) 3rd Place – Aidan Linden of Sandwich 4th Place – Reese Finch of Taylor Ridge (Rockridge) 5th Place – Case Rockey of Dakota 6th Place – Josh Pritz- Independent of Princeton
152 1st Place – Kelden McCombie-independent of Savanna (West Carroll) 2nd Place – Griffin Luke of Lena (L.-Winslow) 3rd Place – Dylan Russell of Sherrard 4th Place – Noah Schnerre of Orion 5th Place – Randy Manos of Stillman Valley 6th Place – Owen Brooks of Dixon (H.S.)
160 1st Place – Jason Hermann – Independent of Lena (L.-Winslow) 2nd Place – Martin-independent) (Snyder of Dakota 3rd Place – Gabe Eckerd of Oregon 4th Place – David Dierickx – independent of Rock Island (Alleman) 5th Place – Gunnar Wuebben – Independent of Erie 6th Place – Seven Tornga of Sandwich
170 1st Place – Case Harmston – Independent of Lena (L.-Winslow) 2nd Place – Austin Abitua – Independent of Stillman Valley 3rd Place – Alex Alfaro of Sandwich4th Place – Zane Pannell of Fulton 5th Place – Quinn Staples – Independent of Dixon (H.S.) 6th Place – Jack Patting – independent of Rock Island (Alleman)
182 1st Place – Jaden Rice – Independent of Lena (L.-Winslow) 2nd Place – Kayden White of Morrison 3rd Place – Ethan Rash-independent of Fulton 4th Place – Connor Holly of Sandwich 5th Place – Wyatt Queckboerner of Polo 6th Place – Hunter Locke of Taylor Ridge (Rockridge)
195 1st Place – Josh Fair of Orion 2nd Place – Andrew Haas – Independent of Lena (L.-Winslow) 3rd Place – Mitchell White of Dixon (H.S.) 4th Place – Drew Harp of Princeton 5th Place – Kaiden Gustafson of Sandwich 6th Place – Devon Rucker of Polo
220 1st Place – Josh Bynum of Sherrard 2nd Place – Nick Upmann-independant of Durand 3rd Place – Aidan-independent) (Nardin of Dakota 4th Place – Justin Dallas of Dixon (H.S.) 5th Place – Aaron Wolf-Independent of Morrison 6th Place – Henry Engel of Lena (L.-Winslow)
285 1st Place – Sam Buser of Taylor Ridge (Rockridge) 2nd Place – Elijah Friedrichsen of Erie 3rd Place – Payne Miller of Princeton 4th Place – Tristan Shaw of Rock Falls 5th Place – Josh Vanderlinden of Sherrard 6th Place – Justin Wicaryus of Amboy