ROCHELLE – In the annals of Dixon wrestling, one can point to a number of highlights, such as the Clyde Ruffin/Jim Witzleb era of the early 1970s, the Hey brothers 20 years later, and more recently, a state title by Joe Roth.
Add the 2017 Duke wrestlers to that list with the program’s first ever trip downstate in the dual team series, which started in 1984.
At the Rochelle 2A sectional, Dixon defeated the host school 46-24 and will face Mahomet-Seymour this Saturday at the dual team state quarterfinals at U.S. Celluar Coliseum in Bloomington at 11 a.m.
“After our performance tonight, I think our guys are physically and mentally ready for this weekend,” Dixon coach Chris Bishop said.
Bishop looked calm and composed after the Rochelle meet, with perhaps his sights set on the No. 5 team in 2A in Mahomet-Seymour. After all, the win over the Hubs came almost too easy.
Colten Bishop (31-9) got things rolling for the Dukes at 132 pounds with a first-period pin over Rochelle’s only senior, Jon Drilling.
“With all our young kids, we were the underdog going in,” Rochelle coach Rich Harvey said. “Dixon is a solid team with a great coach.”
In a battle of sophomores at 138, Bryce Christiansen (30-15) gave Hub state qualifier Eddie Villalobos (33-9) all he could handle – until the third period, that is. That’s when Villalobos took the score from a 2-2 tie to an 11-5
decision with a barrage of takedowns.
Dixon senior Christian Hall came into the meet with a losing record (17-21), but left with a pin at 145 pounds over Aidan Eckhardt (16-15).
That gave the Dukes a 12-3 lead, and freshman Sebastian Quintana added to that with a major decision at 152. Except for a couple headlocks by his opponent, Quintana controlled the match.
“I think our guys showed that you need to believe in what you’re doing, day in and day out,” Bishop said. “One reason for our success is doing the workouts that nobody else wants to do.”
A Clint Schielein (18-10) pin 37 seconds into his match at 160 made it 22-3, and the large Dixon crowd began to sense that a berth downstate was near.
One concern for Bishop was that Rochelle would make a run, and that took place at weight classes 170 and 182. Austin Tracey got Rochelle’s first pin, and 182-pound state placer Alex Harvey followed up with another pin. That cut Dixon’s lead to 22-15.
Bishop opted to move state qualifier Andy Wolber up from 182 to 195, and the result was a 5-3 decision for Wolber over Bazil Bennett.
“Coach told us not to take Rochelle for granted,” said Wolber of a team the Dukes beat 54-20 earlier in the year. “I didn’t think we’d run away with it like we did. Our goal all year was to win the regional, especially after getting third last year.”
In the most exciting match of the evening, the Dukes’ Jeff McKinney and Rochelle’s Edwin Vega went into overtime tied 3-3 at 220 pounds. McKinney almost closed it out, but was hit with a stalling penalty midway through the third period.
Vega managed a takedown in the extra period, and Rochelle pulled within 25-18.
A few minutes later, Ryan Troutman clinched the team win at 285 pounds. The 27-4 senior, who has been slightly injured this past week, pinned Nick Henson in the first period. That, combined with a forfeit at 103, gave Dixon a 19-point lead with only three matches left.
“After the 220 match, the first thing that came to mind was getting six points,” Troutman said. “We got to take this [win] home.”
Evan Thorpe, who handed over the program to Bishop 7 years ago, could often be seen enthusiastically leading the cheers for the Dixon faithful.
“Chris was a freshman when I came to Dixon,” said Thorpe, who now coaches in the youth program. “He paid his dues the first 4 to 5 years when numbers were low. I feel great about where Dixon wrestling is, and I’m proud of what Chris has done.”
With both schools having the novelty of first-ever sectional dual meet appearances, it was a sea of purple in the seats around mat No. 2, and fans from both sides were extremely vocal.
In contrast, the Washington-Ottawa dual taking place on the other mat had only a handful of fans and generated little interest, as No. 1-ranked Washington crushed the Pirates 71-7 in half the time it took to complete the Hubs-Dukes dual.