CHAMPAIGN – Brian Bahrs set the tone early for what might be the final time he dons a wrestling singlet.
Before taking on Clinton’s Kye Reczek in the Class 1A 160-pound title bout at the state wrestling tournament on Saturday night, the Newman senior smacked his head coach, Steve Davis, upside the head. He then tried to do the same, at least metaphorically, to Reczek, and was successful enough to post a 6-3 victory.
It capped a 43-1 season and his third state title. Next year, when he’s a freshman at a yet-to-be-determined college, he plans to concentrate on football. Wrestling is a remote possibility, at best.
“All my hard work has paid off,” Bahrs said. “I’m done wrestling now, but I can say it was a good journey.”
That journey ended against Reczek, who put up a better fight that the first time their paths crossed. In the semifinals of the Princeton tournament back on Jan. 5, Bahrs took an 11-4 decision.
This time around, Reczek (41-4) struck first with a takedown a little more than a minute into the bout. The crowd gasped, but Bahrs didn’t panic. He quickly escaped, and got through the first period trailing just 2-1.
“I’m a three-time state champ, but I still get taken down every once in a while,” Bahrs said. “I still make mistakes just like everyone else does. The main thing is to stay focused, and that’s what I did. You can’t get down from stuff like that, especially that early in the match.”
An escape to start the second period knotted the score at 2, and Bahrs seized control with a takedown 11 seconds later to take the lead for good.
Bahrs rode out Reczek the last 1:34 of the second period. Given a choice of the down position to start the third period, Reczek instead chose neutral, rather than let Bahrs ride him again.
With 1:18 remaining in the third period, Bahrs scored another takedown to go up 6-2, then avoided trouble the rest of the way.
“He’s definitely strong and stays in great position all the time,” Reczek said. “He’s small, so it’s hard to do anything against him. The main thing, though, is he’s always in position.”
With the win, Bahrs also solidified his position as one of the best Newman wrestlers ever, no small feat for a school with 34 individual championships. Only Mike Mena (1989-92), one of just 11 four-time state champs in IHSA history, has more. The only other Comet with as many as Bahrs is Bob Mena, who won three titles from 1986-88.
“He’s definitely among the elite,” Davis said. “The only time he didn’t win it, he had surgery, tried to do it, couldn’t do it, and went out and won the fresh-soph state tournament against all these guys that just won it in 2A and 3A. He’s one of the elite wrestlers to ever come through Newman, by far.”
He’s also put his name among the IHSA’s best of all time. Before this year, there were just 25 three-time state champs. That number has swelled to 30 with the addition of five this year: Bahrs; Stillman Valley’s J.J. Whaley (2011-13); Dakota’s Josh Alber (2011-13); Marmion’s Johnny Jimenez (2011-13); and Glenbard North’s Jered Cortez (2011-13).
“The main goal of all of this is to lead by example to all those below me that look up to me,” Bahrs said. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of talent, and by the grace of God, I was able to win three state championships. I’m totally grateful.”
As for smacking Davis before this year’s title bout, he wasn’t being mean. It was something he earned. Davis gives all his wrestlers a head slap before each bout. They rarely hit back.
“If you make the state finals, you get to hit me,” Davis said. “Brian’s first year, he was a little scared. He was a freshman and barely touched me, and we gave it to him about it. This year, he laid one on me pretty good.”