With a year of state wrestling tournament experience under their belts, Isaac Anderson and Curtis Lilly are hoping for bigger and better things the second time around.
The Sterling wrestlers, as well as Dixon's Kylian Lally, will head to Champaign for the Class 2A portion of the tournament that begins today at Assembly Hall in Champaign.
First-year state wrestlers, as Anderson and Lilly were a year ago, sometimes struggle with the unfamiliar, if not overwhelming, atmosphere in the cavernous Assembly Hall. There is simultaneous action on six mats. Multiple referees' whistles are blowing. Locating the scoreboard that goes with each mat is sometimes an issue. So is finding your coaches for guidance.
"Going in this year, both of them have experienced that," Sterling coach Charlie Bishop said. "They know where they're at. They've been on that floor. It's a whole new atmosphere. Hopefully we'll catch some guys who haven't been there and it will have a positive impact for us."
Anderson (26-8) was particularly effected by the bright lights, and he admitted as much. He lost both of his bouts, one by pin, one by a 5-4 decision.
"I had lots of fun last year," Anderson said, "but I was scared, getting out there on that mat."
Anderson knows very little about his preliminary-round opponent, Dameon Adams (31-3) of Cahokia. They do have a pair of common opponents, however. Anderson noted he handled a pair of state-qualifying 113-pounders, Steven Bradford of Bloomington and Kolton Taylor of Mahomet-Seymour, with relative ease, while Adams labored to get those wins.
"I like the draw very much," Anderson said.
Like Anderson, Lilly (33-5) knows very little about his first-round opponent, Brandon Boyle (28-7) of Johnsburg. Lilly viewed one of Boyle's matches online but, other than that, will be going in blind. He says that's not a bad thing.
"My dad thinks when I haven't wrestled somebody, I wrestle a lot better than if I know what they do," Lilly said. "I just go out there and wrestle my match. I don't have to worry about what they do. I just do what I need to do to win."
Lilly is bringing in a variety of practice partners this week to help him prepare. Ex-Newman athlete Mike LeMay and ex-Sterling grappler Sheldon Zulauf, father of former SHS great Ben Zulauf, are maulers like Lilly; former AFC wrestler Kyle Bridgeman is a bit smaller, but a good combination of power and strength; and Bishop, who tips the scales at 140 pounds, roughly half of Lilly's weight, is there for quickness.
"I'm definiteley going to be ready for everything," Lilly said.
Lilly has his sights set on a state championship, after knocking on the door of one a year ago. He lost in the semifinals, 3-2 in overtime to Seth Gonzealez of Ottawa, who he had defeated twice previously. The bout haunts him to this day.
"It replays over and over in my mind," Lilly said. "In other tournaments, or even in matches at home or away, it goes through my mind, knowing how close I was to being a champion my junior year."
He hopes a title this year would open some doors to college. He's been accepted to a few schools, but is leaving open the possibility of attending Boise State, his dream school.
"When I was a kid, I always wanted to go there," Lilly said. "You never know. With me getting a little better, maybe they'll keep their eyes open."