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Rockets' path to state blocked by Dakota

Tall hill for Rockets to climb

Caption
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Rock Falls' 195-pound state runner-up Shawn Skinner (left) will lead the Rockets into tonight's Class 1A Byron Dual Team Sectional matchup with Dakota.

With 22 dual meet wins, the Rock Falls wrestling team tied the school record for wins in a season.

If the current crop of Rockets want to reach No. 23 and hold the record by themselves, they likely have to be at the top of their game tonight. Standing in the way is Dakota at the Class 1A Byron Dual Team Sectional.

At stake is a berth in the dual team state tournament, slated for Saturday in Normal. Eight teams from four sites will advance to state.

"We've got a young team that's never been here before, and I don't know if they really know the magnitude of this," Rock Falls coach Derick Cox said. "I've tried to explain to them, 'You're one win away from being at the state tournament. We have a good team, and we have the capability of going in there and winning.' "

On paper, Dakota will have an edge. The Indians beat the Rockets 50-18 in a dual back on Jan. 10, but it goes deeper than that.

While Rock Falls had just two state qualifiers in 113-pounder Carlos Gutierrez and 195-pounder Shawn Skinner, both of whom earned medals (fourth and second, respectively), Dakota has seven state qualifiers (Alec Henze, 113; Josh Alber, 120; Nathan Olson, 126; J.J. Wolfe, 132; Carver James, 138; Brandon Lizer, 145; Daniel Zimmerman, 220) in its lineup.

Alber and James were state champs, Wolfe and Zimmerman placed second, Lizer finished fourth, and Olson wound up sixth.

"We're classified as the underdog," Rock Falls 126-pounder Chip Devers said, "but I think if we all try hard enough, we have a good chance of getting them."

"We just need to go out there and wrestle the way we can," Rocket 120-pounder Konner Smith said. "We wrestled not up to our capability that night."

Dakota coach Pete Alber warned to not put too much stock in a regular-season meeting, but also acknowledged his team will be favored.

"We did a good job against them the first time," Alber said Saturday during the individual state tournament in Champaign, "but I've been in this long enough that you don't look past anybody. The wrong turn, and you're trying to get your team gathered back together. We're looking forward to this, because we have the advantage, but we're going to prepare."

Rock Falls will have a different look this time around. Brue Knox is in the lineup at 106 pounds, and he has given the team a spark. Roman Luevano, solid at 182, was injured for the teams' first meeting. Also, 132-pounder Tibs Cervantes was recently dismissed from the team.

There will be several keys for the Rockets, chief among them avoiding too many repeat bouts from when the teams squared off nearly 6 weeks ago. Rock Falls won just two contested bouts, at 113 (Gutierrez) and 285 (Jonas Robbins).

"We're going to give them a different look," Cox said. "I'm sure there's going to be guys weighing in at different weights than they did before, trying to give each team their best chance of winning. I know we'll be moving our lineup around a little bit."

Another key will be weathering the storm in the middle of the Dakota lineup. The Indians have a decided advantage there, and will be looking to rack up pin points. Rock Falls will try to minimize the damage.

"It'll be interesting to see if we can save enough points," Cox said. "Maybe give up a tech or a major instead of a pin. That's going to be huge for our young guys going up against their top dogs."

Rock Falls (22-6) last won a regional title in 2005, but fell to Alleman 33-24 in the team sectional.

Dakota's last regional title was in 2007, when it placed third at state. The Indians won a state title in 2006 and were third in 2005.

Mercer County will take on Harvard on a mat adjacent to the Rock Falls-Dakota match. The two winners advance to state, as well as winners from the Robinson, Wilmington and Heyworth sectionals.

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