Before a group of area wrestlers sit down to a holiday feast they can't (or at least shouldn't) partake in, there is a bit of business to be handled on Saturday.
The 48th annual Panther Invitational will be held at Erie High School, and will once again have a distinct local flavor. AFC, Fulton, Morrison, Newman, Polo, Rock Falls and the host team are in the 15-team invite.
Rounding out the field are Argenta-Oreana, Illini Bluffs, Knoxville, Peoria Heights, Rockford Lutheran, Sherrard and Wethersfield. Preliminary-round bouts begin at 9 a.m., with the finals on tap for approximately 3 p.m.
Rock Falls is coming off an impressive championship at the Riverdale Invitational last Saturday. The Rockets have racked up dual meet wins (16 and counting), and were also effective in winning a loaded Riverdale tourney that included Iowa powers Burlington, Davenport West, Dubuque and Muscatine.
An added bonus: the Rockets have a chance to settle the score against Lutheran, which handed Rock Falls its lone dual defeat, 45-29, on Wednesday. That is on the mind of Rock Falls coach Derick Cox and his squad.
"The biggest thing, with the way we wrestled on Wednesday, they want to see Rockford Lutheran again," Cox said. "They're there, we didn't wrestle very well, so they're wanting to come out and prove to them we can wrestle a lot better than that.
"Obviously we won at Riverdale, and that's the first time they've done that. It'll be interesting to see how they respond and see if we can pull it off again."
The Rockets' balanced lineup showed its stuff in Port Byron. There were two champions (120-pounder Carlos Gutierrez and 195-pounder Shawn Skinner) and two runner-ups (145-pounder Roberto Arellano and 285-pounder Josiah Torres).
Rock Falls also piled up points with one third-place finisher (Tibs Cervantes at 138), three fourths (Tristan Dudley at 106, Matt Mammosser at 170 and Lucas Newburgh at 182), two fifths (Konner Smith at 113 and Roman Luevano at 220) and one sixth (Zac Muntean at 152).
The tournament will also serve as a bit of postseason preview. Rock Falls has high hopes of winning its own regional, but will have to get past Newman to do so. Erie-Prophetstown is another squad that has a regional title in its sights, but will have to get past Orion and Sherrard if it is to win the Sherrard Regional.
"I think it's important to see how these teams stack up against each other," E-P coach Tod McCullough. "We all want to send a message that we've got good teams that are capable of winning not only this tournament, but also a regional. It's important to get your kids believing they can do that."
Ranked teams in the field, according to Illinois Best Weekly, are No. 15. Argenta-Oreana, No. 16 Rock Falls, No. 21 Rockford Lutheran and No. 23 Sherrard.
Ranked wrestlers include Sherrard's Hunter Spengler (No. 5 at 106); E-P's Brandon McCullough (No. 6 at 103); Newman's Jake Snow (No. 1 at 126); Argenta-Oreana's Nate Josza (No. 2 at 132); A-O's Rob Lane (No. 3 at 145); Orion's Joe DeVolder (No. 2 at 152); Newman's Brian Bahrs (No. 1 at 160); Rock Falls' Skinner (No. 3 at 195); and A-O's Tyler Ortmann (No. 3 at 285).
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Erie High School
Local teams: AFC, E-P, Fulton, Morrison, Newman, Polo, Rock Falls