Olympia captures championship at Unity Invitational

By Curt Herron – For the IWCOA

When there’s a three-team race heading into the medal round of an invitational and one team goes 7-3 with six falls and a win by technical fall, that performance likely be the difference.

And that’s what happened at the Unity Invitational on Saturday where Benton, Olympia and the host Rockets were all within a few points of each other heading into the final round of matches.

While Unity captured three titles and had the most finalists with six, it won two other matches besides the championships and just one of its victories was secured by a pin.

Olympia also won three titles but it recorded six falls and added a win by technical fall during that round and that helped it to claim top honors in the 14-team competition in Tolono with 199.5 points while defending champion Unity placed second with 190.5 points and Benton took third with 188 points. 

Rochester (146.5), Tremont (130.5), Hoopeston Area (120) and St. Joseph-Ogden (119) rounded out the top half of the field.

It was the second tournament title of the season for coach Josh Collins’ Spartans, who opened their season with a first-place showing at Illini Bluffs by nine points over Dixon. Olympia was well behind the hosts and took fourth at Civic Memorial’s Bradley Invite and then was third last week at Pontiac’s Munch Invitational, finishing 9.5 points behind champion Evergreen Park.

Winning championships for Olympia were Dylan Eimer (113), Austin Kisner (120) and Bentley Wise (150) while Cole Bauer (175) and Darian Holloway (190) both took second place.

The Spartans, who co-op with Delavan, got thirds from Mateo Martinez (126) and Cooper Phillips (138) while Kelton Graden (157) and Brayden Riblet (285) took fifth place and Noah Whiteside (106) was sixth. Jordan Bicknell (144) and Kayden Thomas (157) also competed.

Kisner, Wise, Martinez, Phillips, Graden and Riblet all recorded falls in the medal round while Eimer won by technical fall.

Olympia had a 26-22 advantage over Benton for the top total in pins and technical falls while Unity had 16. The Spartans owned a 232-222 edge for the most total match points over Rochester while Unity had 175 and Benton had 133.

Collins was a two-time IHSA Class A champion and three-time finalist from 1999-2001 for the Spartans. He also competed on three trophy winning teams from 1999-2001 for coach Mike Manahan, a 1997 IWCOA Hall of Fame inductee who received the Lifetime Service Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame-Illinois Chapter in 2006.

“We’ve got a good group of kids that work hard and they want to improve and they’re buying into what we’re doing,” Collins said. “Hard work pays off, we like to score on our feet and be aggressive and always scoring points. They battled and wrestled for six minutes. We had several kids who were down by points and kept wrestling and they ended up winning the match. 

“My son is in the middle school and I wrestled at Olympia. My ultimate goal as a coach was always to get back to Olympia and in 2020, I was able to get the opportunity to come back and start coaching. They’re like a family. We work hard together and we win and lose together and we try to fix our problems as we go. And everything that I dish out to them, they just keep coming back for more.”

Winning championships for coach Logan Patton’s Rockets were Abram Davidson (157), Thayden Root (175) and Hunter Eastin (190) while Hunter Shike (132), Kaden Inman (144) and Hudson DeHart (215) took second place.

Also for Unity, Ryan Rink (165) took third, Travis McCarter (113) and Josh Heath (157) were fourth, Taylor Finley (138) finished fifth and Austin Winters (138) was sixth. 

“Hats off to Olympia, top to bottom they’re a super solid team,” said Patton, who led the Rockets to third place in Class 1A in 2020 at the IHSA Dual Team Finals. “I couldn’t have told you what the team score was, but I just kept seeing their kids winning. We only have one senior in the lineup and three juniors in the lineup and our lineup is not even set so I can’t be too upset.

“They’re trying to get in where they fit in kind of deal and trying to understand that there’s no Nick Nosler or Tavius Hosley to help them out. Those guys are gone and doing some great things in Division I, so it’s now, what do they have to do. After these last two days, we’re going to turn in the right direction.”

Benton coach Aaron Robinson, one of the school’s nine state medalists who took third at 140 in 1A in 2010, had one of the three repeat title winners in the invite, Mason Tieffel (144), an IHSA Class 1A champion at 138 in 2023 who took second place in 2022 and third in 2021 in the IWCOA. Second-place finishers were Anthony Hernandez (138) and Drake Spears (285).

Also for the Rangers, Zane Stanley (106) and Cohen Sweely (113) took third, Derek Wilkey (150), Tiffin Kouzoukas (165), Petyton Robinson (175) and Braxton Tittle (106) finished fourth,

Nathan Galant (215) placed fifth and Kaden Blades (126) and Briggs Miller (113) were sixth.

St. Joseph-Ogden and Tremont both had two champions. Winning titles for St. Joseph-Ogden were Emmitt Holt (106) and Holden Brazelton (132) while Tremont got championships from Mason Mark (138) and Bowden Delaney (165).

Other Unity Invitational champions were Unity Christian’s Garrett VerHeecke (126), Rochester’s Jared Lauwerens (215) and Carterville’s Zechariah Miller (285).

Eastin, Mark and Tieffel repeated as champions in the tournament. Delaney led all competitors with 30 team points. Eastin, Kisner, Lauwerens, Miller and VerHeecke tied for second place with 28 points, Brazelton and Wise tied for seventh with 27.5 points and Mark and Tieffel tied for ninth with 27 team points.

Others taking second place were Hoopeston Area’s Charlie Flores (106), Ayden Larkin (157) and Angel Zamora (165), Rochester’s Connor Carroll (113), Bishop McNamara’s Noah Pelleiter (120), Tremont’s Chase Stedman (126) and Peotone’s Conor Pasch (150).

Some of the closest title matches included Davidson edging Larkin 3-2 at 157, Holt over Flores 7-2 at 106 and Root winning 9-4 over Bauer at 175.

Prairie Central’s Wyatt Strait had the most falls in the least time with four in 6:16 while Hoopeston Area’s Talan Nelson had the most total match points with 53. 

Here’s a look at the Unity Invitational champions and their weight classes:100 – Emmitt Holt, St. Joseph-Ogden

After winning 33 matches and qualifying for the IHSA Finals in 2022, St. Joseph-Ogden’s Emmitt Holt got stuck in a tough regional at LeRoy and was unable to advance to the Clinton Sectional despite winning 30 matches last season. Now the St. Joseph-Ogden senior hopes to get back to state and he’s off to a good start after winning a 7-2 decision over Hoopeston Area’s Charlie Flores in the 100 title match. One of two champs for coach Bill Gallo’s Spartans, Holt (6-1) advanced to the finals with a fall in 0:47 over Benton’s Braxton Tittle in the semifinals.

“I had a big cut to 106, it’s a big transition from 113 last year,” Holt said. “I’m coming out and trying to bring a state title home to St. Joe’s. Our team started off slow but we’ve developed a lot and we’re a really good team now. It helps to have good competition and good people around you who are pushing you. I like everyones’ enthusiasm and how everyone wants to be here. Everyone goes out and tries their best and takes no days off.”

Flores (9-4), a sophomore who was a sectional qualifier and won 33 matches last season, got a fall in 4:13 over Benton’s Zane Stanley in the semifinals to advance to the title mat to become the first of the three finalists for coach Chris Kelnhofer’s Cornjerkers, who co-op with Milford. Benton’s Stanley took third over teammate Tittle as the result of a medical forfeit. And for fifth place, Rochester’s Pierce Bultmann won by fall in 5:48 over Olympia freshman Noah Whiteside.

113 – Dylan Eimer, Olympia

Olympia junior Dylan Eimer hopes to follow up on his 116-126 title at the Midwest Nationals Pre Season Open last month in Bloomington with a second state medal this season. A fourth-place finisher at 106 in 2022 who went 43-7 as a freshman, Eimer (2-0) looked impressive in his tournament debut after winning by technical fall in 3:49 over Rochester’s Connor Carroll in the 113 title match. Eimer, the first of three champions and five finalists for coach Josh Collins’ first-place Spartans, won by technical fall in 1:30 in the semifinals over Unity’s Travis McCarter.

“I’ve been doing good,” Eimer said. “I’ve been through a little bit, but I just keep open-minded and keep practicing. I’m excited to see where we’ll go. I just like the drive that everyone has and the commitment that everyone has on the team to bond. My big hope is that bracket board, that’s the goal that I’ve been wanting since I was a little kid.”

Carroll (11-1), a junior who went 34-7 and fell one win shy of a medal at 106 in the IHSA Class 2A Finals last season, became the first of two finalists for coach Brad Alewelt’s Rockets when he captured a 3-2 decision over Benton’s Cohen Sweely in the 113 semifinals. Carroll won a Unity title last season. Sweely (17-2), a freshman, bounced back from his close call in the semifinals by taking third place with a fall in 1:02 over sophomore McCarter. St. Joseph-Ogden junior Jackson Walsh won by fall in 2:42 over Benton freshman Briggs Miller to finish fifth.

120 – Austin Kisner, Olympia

On a day where there was a three-way battle going into the finals, any win by an unheralded performer would be critical. Olympia freshman Austin Kisner was able to provide such a big boost when he followed Dylan Eimer’s title win at 113 with a championship of his own at 120, the first of his prep career, with a fall in 0:25 over Bishop McNamara’s Noah Pelletier. Kisner (17-4) earned his spot as one of five finalists for coach Josh Collins’ title winners by recording the second of his three pins in 2:50 over St. Joseph-Ogden’s Camden Getty in the semifinals.

“I feel like we’re doing pretty good, but there’s a few things that we can work on,” Kisner said. “I’ve finished fifth, second and first. (Dylan Eimer) He’s a really good practice partner, he pushes you pretty good. I like the family. We’re pretty close-knit and we’re not too big of a team, so you get a good bond with everybody on the team.and it really pays off.”

Pelletier was the lone medalist of the four individuals that competed for Fightin’ Irish coach Jacob Kimberlin. The McNamara sophomore advanced to the 120 title mat with a wild 16-12 decision over Rochester’s Miles Carroll in the semifinals. Freshman Carroll (10-3) bounced back from his tough loss to Pelletier by winning an 18-9 major decision over sophomore Getty for third place. Prairie Central junior Wyatt Strait (9-7), who had the most falls in the least time with four in 6:16, took fifth with a pin in 3:16 over Carterville junior Brawnsen Bloodworth.

126 – Garrett VerHeecke, Unity Christian

One year after his brother Clinton won a Unity Invite title which was an early sign of what would be a great freshman season where he went 48-2 and took third place at 113 in 1A representing Lutheran School Association-Decatur, Garrett VerHeecke, who went 43-7 as a freshman and took sixth at 120, became the second VerHeecke to win a Unity title when he won by fall in 1:59 over Tremont’s Chase Stedman in the 126 finals. The brothers, who both won 9th & 10th grade titles at the Midwest Nationals Pre Season Open last month, again are competing for coach Zach Whitsel, but now for the renamed Unity Christian in Decatur. Garrett pinned Rochester’s Jack Zucco in 1:14 in the semifinals as Clinton, who was unable to participate, cheered him on.

“We have a co-op with another school now (Argenta-Oreana) and then our school changed their name,” VerHeecke said. “We plan on making it to the state tournament and hopefully placing higher this year. I just like that we have more people this year and we’ve had a lot of growth. We had eight kids last year and this year we have 23, so we’ve been able to compete a lot more in duals. I’m just trying to keep working hard and keep getting after it in practice. (Clinton) He’s definitely a great asset to have in the practice room. And I have another partner, Caleb Berg, at 150. Those are my two main guys that I practice with and they definitely help to push me and make me better.”

Stedman (10-1) became the first of three individuals to reach the title mat for the Turks, who are coached by 2006 IWCOA Hall of Fame inductee TJ Williams. The Tremont junior won an 11-7 decision over Olympia junior Mateo Martinez in the semifinals. Martinez (13-7) helped his team’s cause to become invitational champions when he recorded a fall in 1:06 over freshman Zucco (11-3) to claim third place. And Hoopeston Area senior Talan Nelson (12-2) captured fifth place after defeating Benton sophomore Kaden Blades by sudden victory.

132 – Holden Brazelton, St. Joseph-Ogden

After going 49-3 and placing third at 132 in 1A  last season and 44-6 and taking sixth at 120 in 2022, Holden Brazelton definitely has his sights on the big prize as he looks to become the third individual from St. Joseph-Ogden to be an IHSA champion, joining Wesley Kibler and Griffin Meeker, and joining Kibler as a three-time medal winner. The junior is off to a great start after improving to 13-0 following his win by technical fall in 1:51 over Unity’s Hunter Shike in the 132 finals. One of two champions for coach Bill Gallo’s Spartans, Brazelton, who also took first place at PORTA, reached the title match with a fall in 1:55 over Hoopeston Area’s Aiden Bell.

“I just got off of the PORTA Invitational win,” Brazelton said. “At Unity last year, it didn’t go as planned and I always have a target on my back in these local tournaments since there’s a lot of these kids who know me here. I just have to stay sharp and do \what I do and get the job done. We have a lot of new guys out, freshman through senior. Me and my teammates and coach Gallo, we get to work in there. And we have a lot of the young guys who are stepping up. Coach Gallo is showing a lot of technique and I show some of mine to just try to get the young kids a little better. They definitely put me to work and they make me better, and I just want to make them better, as well.”

Shike (10-4), who went 36-17 and qualified for state last season, was one of six finalists for coach Logan Patton’s runner-up Rockets. Shike, a sophomore, advanced to the 132 finals after winning by technical fall in 5:43 over Prairie Central’s John Traub in the semifinals. Bell (10-4), also a sophomore, took third place with a 17-5 major decision over junior Traub (10-5). And Tremont sophomore Matthew Flowers (4-1) claimed a 6-4 decision over Charleston sophomore Jake Kuhn to finish in fifth place.

138 – Mason Mark, Tremont

After reaching state for the second time and the IHSA Finals for the first time in 2023, Mason Mark was disappointed that his 44-8 season ended without him reaching the awards stand. The Tremont senior hopes to go out with a bang and is 10-1 after winning his first title of the season after falling just short at PORTA. Mark repeated as a Unity champion and was the first of two title winners for coach TJ Williams’ Turks after he recorded a fall in 1:13 over Benton’s Anthony Hernandez in the 138 finals. Mark, an IWCOA qualifier in 2021, won his first two matches by technical fall, with the latter one in 4:17 against Olympia’s Cooper Phillips in the semifinals.

“We’re just worrying about progressing through the season, so that in February, we’re getting to the actual good matches,” Mark said. “We have a decent amount of good guys but we’re still building and trying to work on some things and just working hard in the room. (TJ Williams) He’s a great coach. He’s pushing us, getting us in shape and getting us ready for February. I just like the room’s chemistry. We’re all working hard in there and we have some new good coaches this year and there’s just like a new feel.”

Hernandez (17-3), a junior who was one of three finalists for coach Aaron Robinson’s third-place Rangers, opened with two falls, with his second pin coming in 2:30 over Urbana’s Malachi Hutchinson in the semifinals. Phillips (16-5), a junior, claimed third place with a fall in 4:24 over freshman Hutchinson (11-7). And in the fifth-place match, Unity freshman Taylor Finley (12-8) pulled out a 5-4 decision over his Rockets teammate, sophomore Austin Winters (11-8).

144 – Mason Tieffel, Benton

Following a 52-2 junior season where he won the Class 1A title at 138 to become Benton’s second IHSA champion and its third overall, Mason Tieffel has obviously been focused on doing whatever he must in order to be a two-time champion. The Rangers senior, who is off to a 21-0 start, hopes to also be a four-time state medalist, going 47-5 and placing second at 126 in 2022 and finishing 33-1 and taking third place at 120 in 2021 in the IWCOA Finals. Tieffel repeated as a Unity Invitational champion after capturing a 16-2 major decision over Unity’s Kaden Inman in the 144 title match. He was one of three finalists and the lone champion for coach Aaron Robinson’s Rangers and reached the finals with a fall in 1:28 over Rochester’s Drake Pfeiffer.

“It’s been exciting,” Tieffel said. “We co-op this year with another small school from around us, Sesser-Valier, so we got a couple of kids there so we’ve made a really good group this year. We have a lot of numbers this year so everybody has good partners and we have a lot of good new young guys this year. and they have a good future. And a lot of our team worked really hard over the summer, so it’s just cool seeing it all pay off for them. Over the fall, I ran cross country, just trying to keep my cardio where it needs to be. I’m in shape and I just keep pushing my pace in my matches and practicing right.”

Inman (8-4), a junior who went 37-16 last and qualified for the IHSA Finals, was one of six finalists for coach Logan Patton’s second-place Rockets. He captured a 5-1 decision over Peotone’s Micah Spinazzola in the semifinals to advance to the 144 title match. Spinazzola (10-4) is a sophomore who went 38-13 in 2023 and also qualified for the IHSA Finals, where his brother Marco closed his Blue Devils career by winning the 1A 152 title. Spinazzola took third with a fall in 4:44 over Rochester junior Drake Pfeiffer. Urbana junior Emiliano Bedello claimed fifth place after winning by technical fall in 3:53 over Carterville sophomore Spencer Crotser.

150 – Bentley Wise, Olympia

There was plenty of disappointment at the end of last season when Olympia advanced four individuals to the Clinton Sectional but was unable to qualify anyone for the IHSA Finals. Someone who likely was most upset was Bentley Wise, who went 42-9 but fell one win shy of a trip to Champaign. On Saturday, the senior improved to 16-3 and was one of his team’s three champions and five finalists to help coach Josh Collins’ Spartans win the title of the Unity Invite over the host team. Wise won with a fall in 1:49 over Peotone’s Conor Pasch in the 150 finals. He reached the title mat with a win by technical fall in 2:54 over Benton’s Derek Wilkey.

“It feels amazing, we’re doing awesome out there, honestly, it’s the best that we’ve been in awhile,” Wise said. “But they deserve it, they work hard. They like to have fun and they have no filter and they’re fun to be around. I usually practice on the weekends and do double practices every night. We’ve got Dylan Eimer back out here and I think he’s going to do great this year.”  

Pasch (9-4), a junior, reached the 150 title match after recording a fall in 3:44 over Rochester’s Ethan Fordham in the semifinals to become the lone finalist for coach Josh Kreske’s Blue Devils. In the third-place match, junior Fordham (11-3) won by fall in 2:58 over freshman Wilkey. And Prairie Central junior Ethan Ziller captured fifth place when he won a 7-0 decision over Unity Christian freshman Caleb Berg (9-7).

157 – Abram Davidson, Unity

In the tight battle that was unfolding during the medals round at the Unity Invite, the hosts Rockets received a big boost when sophomore Abram Davidson captured a 3-2 decision over Hoopeston Area’s Ayden Larkin in the 157 title match. Davidson (12-2), one of the six finalists for coach Logan Patton’s runner-up Rockets, became the first of their three champions. He earned his way to the title mat with a 10-2 major decision over St. Joseph-Ogden’s Coy Hayes.

“We’re a pretty young team and we’re just constantly improving,” Davidson said. “(Logan Patton) He pushes us real hard in the room every day and he’s probably the biggest reason why we’re improving like we are. (Recent Unity teams). They were really good two years ago and they had a great team and we’re just chasing what they did. We’re pretty close-knit, we’re all like family here and it really helps just being as close as we are. Last year didn’t go like I wanted it to, so this year I have a lot to prove and I’m looking forward to it.”

Larkin (9-4), who went 37-14 last year but was unable to advance out of the Clinton Sectional, was one of three finalists for coach Chris Kelnhofer’s Cornjerkers. The junior earned his way into the 157 finals by capturing a 5-3 decision in the semifinals over Unity’s Josh Heath.

Hayes claimed third place when he prevailed over Heath by a 6-5 decision in a matchup of sophomores. And in the fifth-place match, Olympia junior Kelton Graden (19-3), who went 33-19 in 2023  but failed to qualify from the Clinton Sectional, got a pin in 2:41 over Peotone senior Santino Izzi, who went 39-16 last season and qualified for the IHSA Finals.

165 – Bowden Delaney, Tremont

Bowden Delaney had a real fight on his hands in the 165 title match when he found himself trailing in the second period to Hoopeston Area’s Angel Zamora. But the Tremont junior turned things around with two nearfalls and was finally able to record a fall in 4:43 to repeat as a champion in the tournament and add to a title win that he had the previous week at PORTA. Delaney (12-0), who joined Mason Mark as one of two champions and three finalists for coach TJ Williams’ Turks, went 42-6 a year ago and qualified for the IHSA Finals after posting a 35-7 record in 2022 and advancing to state as a freshman. He earned his trip to the 165 title match with a fall in 1:13 over Benton’s Tiffin Kouzoukas in the semifinals.

“I knew that I had to push the pace because he was a tough opponent,” Delaney said. “And he wrestles a unique style so I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to  go out there and bang with him, so I had to work on outside shots. And I’m taller than him, so I had to use that to my advantage. In the second period, I just had to keep pushing because it was going to be a tough match, and once the third period hit, the same thing. We had a rough couple of weeks at the start, especially like last weekend was tough. Our coach did a good job of pushing us and making sure that we worked our hardest in the room to prepare us for these big tournaments. (TJ Williams) He notices the small stuff, whether it’s messing up technically or our gas tank is up. He just does a good job, especially since he’s been through all of this and put so much into the sport. He’s done a good job of doing his role and making sure that we’re doing our best out there.” 

Zamora (11-1), who went 41-12 last season and qualified for the IHSA Finals, became the third member of coach Chris Kelnhofer’s Cornjerkers who were able to reach the title mat. The junior was able to advance to the 165 finals by recording a fall in 3:11 over Unity junior Ryan Rink in the semifinals. Rink (8-5) claimed third place when he won an 8-0 decision over Rangers junior Kouzoukas (13-10). And Carterville senior Jacob Grob (17-5) took fifth place after recording a fall in 5:11 over Urbana sophomore Edwin Villagomez (8-7).

175 – Thayden Root, Unity

When you’re the lone senior on a team that also has only three juniors, there naturally will be a lot of expectations on the veterans. Thayden Root is in that position this season, but he doesn’t mind that he’ll have to take on a bigger leadership role for a Unity team that has high hopes and that has already been highly regarded. Root (15-3), who went 35-17 a year ago and fell short of qualifying for state, was one of the three champions and six finalists for coach Logan Patton’s Rockets at their invite, He took care of business in a head-to-head matchup of the two teams battling for top honors, winning a 9-4 decision over Olympia’s Cole Bauer in the 175 title match. Root earned his spot in the finals with a 12-1 major decision over Benton’s Peyton Robinson.

“I’m the only one on the varsity lineup that’s a senior,” Root said. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores this year and not a lot of juniors and seniors. I feel that one of the goals for the few juniors and seniors that we have is to get them ready and train them to kind of meet the expectations. There’s a lot of responsibility but as a senior, I should be keeping the team in line and supporting each one as much as I can. I’ve just been wrestling people in the room that I know that I can work to make better and they will also help to make me better. It’s very friendly and we joke around a lot. We try building each other up and just supporting each other.”

Despite falling short of winning a title, Bauer (10-7) was one of five finalists and 10 individuals out of 12 competitors who placed sixth or better to help coach Josh Collins’ Spartans get past Unity and win the team championship. The junior earned his spot on the 175 title mat by getting a fall in 2:23 over Peotone’s Laith Abunijmeh in the semifinals. Abunijmeh (8-2), a junior, won third place by capturing a 6-2 decision over Rangers sophomore Robinson. And Prairie Central senior Jack Rathbun claimed fifth place with an 8-3 decision over Tremont junior Ian Eatock.

190 – Hunter Eastin, Unity

With his team attempting to catch Olympia in the quest for the Unity Invite title, Hunter Eastin went out and accomplished his job in another head-to-head matchup between the Rockets and Spartans when he won by fall in 2:56 over Olympia’s Darian Holloway to capture the title at 190. Eastin (10-3), a junior who went 48-7 last season and fell one victory shy of a medal at 182 in the IHSA Class 1A Finals, was one of three champions and six finalists for coach Logan Patton’s second-place Rockets, and also repeated as a title winner in the competition. He advanced to the title mat with a pin in 0:39 over Tremont’s Blaine Williams in the semifinals. 

“One of the toughest parts is getting them to understand wrestling for your team and not just wrestling for yourself,” Eastin said. “My favorite part of this program is just winning. I haven’t just been relying on a firemen’s this year. I’ve just been diversifying the moves that I’ve been trying to hit. I like the lightheartedness of this team. We like goofing around.” 

Holloway (15-5), a sophomore who was one of five finalists and 10 Spartans who placed sixth or better to help coach Josh Collins’ team get past Unity and claim the championship in the competition, earned his spot on the 190 title mat with a fall in 2:00 over Rochester’s Conner Broughton in the semifinals. Tremont’s Williams, a junior, captured third place with a fall in 3:01 over Rochester sophomore Broughton. And for fifth place. Charleston sophomore Marcellx Boling recorded a fall in 1:28 over Urbana senior Dominic Mendez.

215 – Jared Lauwerens, Rochester 

After doing his part an offensive and defensive lineman to help Rochester win the IHSA Class 4A football championship with its 59-38 victory over St. Laurence to cap a perfect 14-0 campaign and give the Rockets their ninth state title for coach Derek Leonard, senior Jared Lauwerens is ready to add to his athletic success at the school by accomplishing more big things this winter on the mat. He’s off to an 11-1 start after capturing the title at 215 when he recorded a fall  in 1:52 over Unity’s Hudson DeHart. He was one of two finalists and the lone champion for coach Brad Alewelt’s Rockets that finished fourth in the invite. Lauwerens earned his spot on the title mat with a fall in 1:04 over Tremont’s Jacob Balsimo in the semifinals.

“It’s great and it’s a lot of fun,” Lauwerens said of competing for Rochester. “We all treat each other like family. We’re normally more of a football school and it’s been great fun. It helps out a lot, especially with tackling and takedowns. I’m excited because we have a lot of new kids coming in. They’re proving themselves and they’re doing a lot better.”

DeHart, one of the two freshmen who were able to reach the title mat, picked up a big win in the semifinals when he won a 2-0 decision over St. Joseph-Ogden’s Quincy Jones to become one of the six finalists for coach Logan Patton’s Rockets. Jones (8-5), a junior, claimed third place by recording a fall in 3:02 over Turks senior Balsimo. And for fifth place, Benton senior Nathan Galant won by fall in 3:23 over Charleston junior Elias Rodriguez.

285 – Zechariah Miller, Carterville

While Zechariah Miller had the chance to qualify for state at the Carterville Sectional in 2023, he also had the misfortune of having four others at his weight class who wound up on the awards stand at 285 in the IHSA Class 1A Finals. So Miller, a senior who went 37-10 a year ago, looks to improve upon that record and hopes to qualify at the Vandalia Sectional that will have only one of those four back, Cahokia’s Jason Dowell, as he aspires to get to Champaign this season. Miller (19-2) won the title at 285 by injury default at 0:27 after Benton sophomore Drake Spears was unable to go following a tough semifinal match. Miller became the lone finalist for coach Daniel Alderman’s Lions after pinning Hoopeston Area’s Tucker Deck in 0:46 in the semifinals.

“I’m just very blessed and all glory to God for my performance today,” Miller said. “All of the work that we’ve done in practice and all of the guys that I had to get beat up by the last couple of years have led to this moment, so I’m very blessed and thankful for this opportunity. We have a really good program. We have a lot of young guys in there and have a new young assistant coach who helps me in every practice and beats up me a little bit. We have a nice wrestling room and we come to work every day. We don’t take any day for granted. Coming in, I was expected to be pretty good since I was a sectional qualifier, but it’s just hype until you prove it. So coming in and being able to actually perform well and show what I can do makes me really happy. And it makes my coaches really happy just to show all of the hard work and dedication we’ve been putting in. This is only the beginning for the rest of the season.”

Spears (5-4), a sophomore, fell behind 10-0 to Charleston’s Stormy Hughes in the semifinals and it looked like the Trojans might get their first finalist. But Spears got a fall in 3:58 to end the semifinal matches and gave coach Aaron Robinson’s Rangers their third finalist and also put them near the top of the points standings heading into the final round. Spears wasn’t able to last long on the title mat, however, defaulting due to injury in 0:27. Hughes (10-3), a junior, bounced back to claim third place  with a fall  in 0:47 over freshman Deck to make him Charleston’s top medalist. In the fifth place, the champion Spartans added one final victory when sophomore Brayden Riblet won by fall in 1:09 over Charleston junior Yeshua O’Brien.

Championship matches for the Unity Invitational

106 – Emmitt Holt (St. Joseph-Ogden) D 7-2 Charlie Flores (Hoopeston Area)

113 – Dylan Eimer (Olympia) TF 3:49 Connor Carroll (Rochester)

120 – Austin Kinser (Olympia) F 0:25 Noah Pelletier (Bishop McNamara)

126 – Garrett VerHeecke (Unity Christian) F 1:59 Chase Stedman (Tremont)

132 – Holden Brazelton (St. Joseph-Ogden) TF 1:51 Hunter Shike (Unity)

138 – Mason Mark (Tremont) F 1:13 Anthony Hernandez (Benton)

144 – Mason Tieffel (Benton) MD 16-2 Kaden Inman (Unity)

150 – Bentley Wise (Olympia) F 1:49 Conor Pasch (Peotone)

157 – Abram Davidson (Unity) D 3-2 Ayden Larkin (Hoopeston Area)

165 – Bowden Delaney (Tremont) F 4:43 Angel Zamora (Hoopeston Area)

175 – Thayden Root (Unity) D 9-4 Cole Bauer (Olympia)

190 – Hunter Eastin (Unity) F 2:56 Darian Holloway (Olympia)

215 – Jared Lauwerens (Rochester) F 1:52 Hudson DeHart (Unity)

285 – Zechariah Miller (Carterville) INJ 0:27 Drake Spears (Benton)

Team standings for the Unity Invitational

1. Olympia (199.5), 2. Unity (190.5), 3. Benton (188), 4. Rochester (146.5), 5. Tremont (130.5), 6. Hoopeston Area (120), 7. St. Joseph-Ogden (119), 8. Carterville (80), 9. Peotone (68.5), 10. Charleston (56), 10. Urbana (56), 12. Prairie Central (55.5), 13. Unity Christian (44), 14. Bishop McNamara (26).

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