Thirteen wrestlers from the Sauk Valley remain unscathed at the state meet after the first-day preliminary round at Assembly Hall in Champaign, two more than a year ago.
All the more impressive, considering 16 grapplers are chasing a title this year, compared to 20 last February.
Advancement didn’t come easy for any of the three representatives in Class 2A.
Dixon’s lone qualifier, Kylian Lally (138), quickly found himself in survival mode, down 7-0 after giving up back points to Lincoln-Way West’s Lavonte Blackful.
“He had a real thriller, and he definitely fought through the whole thing,” Dixon coach Chris Bishop said. “It’s easy to fold up when you’re down 7-0.”
Lally finally took an 8-7 lead when he stuck with a single-leg shot that Bishop called less than his best. Lally went around Blackful’s side and scored a double-leg before riding out Blackful for the final 35 seconds.
Similarly, Sterling sophomore Isaac Anderson found himself down 2-0 early in his 113-pound bout with Cahokia’s Dameon Adams.
“I just kept my head up and went after him,” Anderson said.
He seized a 4-2 lead going into the third period and scored a methodical reversal.
“It took a while,” Anderson said.
He allowed Adams to escape with 10 seconds remaining for a 6-3 victory. There’s room to improve, and Anderson is OK with that.
“I look at it as, I’ve had a tough one already,” Anderson said. “I’ve just gotta take it one match at a time and get myself in medal position.”
On the opposite end of the weight scale, Sterling senior heavyweight Curtis Lilly survived a bit of a scare on paper from Johnsburg’s Brandon Boyle, 2-0.
But for Lilly, those classic, grind-it-out heavyweight bouts are becoming his forte.
“I think I controlled the match better than I used to,” Lilly said.
Lilly pulled out a move called “The Rocket” in the second period for a reversal. Boyle had his leg inside Lilly’s and a front headlock.
“I tried to make myself smaller, if that makes sense,” Lilly said, laughing, “and he slipped off.”
Lilly rode out the victory for the entire third period, another area he says he’s improved.
Highlighting the effort for the 13 area wrestlers in 1A was West Carroll senior Jacob Klein, who pinned Toledo-Cumberland’s Colt Brummer with 12 second left in the first period of their Class 1A 182-pound bout.
Klein, in his first state tournament, improved to 39-11 after snaring the fourth and final qualifying spot at the Oregon Sectional last weekend. His classmate, Zach Hartman (132), beat Litchfield’s Seth Newkirk 11-7. Another Litchfield wrestler, Victor Kalaher, was dominated by Erie-Prophetstown’s Brandon McCullough, in a 14-5 major decision.
The other two area wrestlers who opened their trek toward a 1A state title with pins were Newman senior Brian Bahrs (160) and Oregon senior Brandon Sklavanitis (170). Bahrs squeezed Carlyle’s Chris Maddox with 34 seconds left in regulation, and Sklavanitis earned fastest pin honors by finishing off Grant Park’s Kevin McNally 74 seconds into their match.
Bahrs improved to 40-1. He is seeking his third title, the first two coming at 152. He knows the importance of getting off to a solid start.
“No matter what I do, I work hard,” Bahrs said. “That’s what it comes down to. If you work harder than the other person, you’ll come out successful.”
Bahrs’ classmate Stephen Adamecz (138) earned a 5-1 decision over Vandalia’s Dalton Blankenship. Junior Jake Snow, who won a title at 113 his freshman year, handled Auburn’s Dalton Snell 7-1. But his classmate, Bryce Ivey, lost a 10-2 major decision Herscher’s Terry Neubeck.
Narrowly advancing in 1A were Rock Falls seniors Carlos Gutierrez (113) and Shawn Skinner (195), the former outlasting Shelbyville’s Garrett Bachbill 7-5, the latter edging Wilmington’s Nick Vancura 9-6.
AFC senior Jake Kaecker controlled Corliss’ Stephon Gray in a 5-1 decision.