For Erie-Prophetstown wrestlers Garrett Passmore and Mat Garrison, the 2017-18 season has been about taking that extra step toward where they want to be.
Passmore, a senior who has two state medals to his credit, has his sights set on winning a championship at 160 pounds. He’ll have that opportunity when the IHSA State Wrestling Tournament begins today at State Farm Center in Champaign.
For Garrison, a junior who was a state runner-up in junior high, making it to state as a high school competitor and not a spectator has been what drives him. He’ll have that chance after finishing second at 170 pounds at both the Rockridge Regional and Oregon Sectional the past two weekends.
“Making it to state was definitely my No. 1 goal this season,” Garrison said.
Garrison had shown flashes of the form that made him a junior high star, but not enough of that carried over to his high school days. It’s been a matter of tapping into his potential, E-P coach Tod McCullough noted.
“I think he was just letting his natural ability shine,” McCullough said, “and at the high school level, that doesn’t always work. You’ve got to put the effort in. It took a couple years of humbling. He figured out that hey, if I put a little more work into it, I like my outcomes.”
A big part of what McCullough is striving for with Garrison (34-11) is to be more aggressive in the early portion of bouts. He prefers to feel out an opponent for a period or two, assess where he stands, and proceed accordingly. That’s not necessarily the way to go against elite competition.
“Usually I’m not really going after it until late in the second period or early in the third,” Garrison said. “That’s what coaches yell at me for.”
The frustrating part for McCullough is the physical tools are there for Garrison to be better.
“He’s got a great shot,” McCullough said, “but he doesn’t always like to use it until he has to. You see when he’s behind, then it starts to come out and he has some success with it. What we’ve been trying to work on him is go ahead and use it. Open up and take that advantage. Don’t wait for something bad to happen, or be down and now you’ve got to start going.”
That hasn’t been an issue for Passmore (47-0), who has dominated from start to finish in every bout this season. In 41 contested bouts, he has 28 pins, nine technical falls and four major decisions. He has 193 takedowns – Garrison, with 66, is second for the Panthers in that category.
“Winning 1-0, 2-1 – a W is a W, but being able to control a match is where I like to be,” Passmore said. “I like to feel like I’m in the driver’s seat and taking it to someone.”
By anyone’s standard, Passmore has had a great high school career. His 148 wins are 20 more than the next-best total in program history, by Justin Hovey. He has been on the podium twice at the state finals, having placed fifth as a sophomore and third as a junior, both at 160 pounds.
That’s merely a springboard for what he wants this season.
“I want to take that next step to try and be at the top of the podium,” Passmore said, “Really, I’ve never done any offseason wrestling, other than a team camp, so I needed to do something to get to that next level.”
That has resulted in a new dedication to wrestling. He does extra work after practices and on weekends with assistant coach Nate Swanson. Equally, if not more important, he has been been a member of the Young Guns wrestling club in Rock Island since last summer.
Two or three days a week, he makes the drive to the Quad Cities to train with some of the area’s elite grapplers.
“I’ve had some good competition in this room, but when you get to there, there’s kids that are studs from all over the place,” Passmore said. “It’s definitely helped me a lot.”
The payoff, he hopes, will be this weekend in the form of a 160-pound state championship. If the bracket goes as planned, Passmore will be in the finals Saturday night against Belleville Althoff senior Danny Braunagel (50-0).
There are three bouts to be won by both wrestlers, however, before that showdown can take place.
“Anybody can beat anybody, so you’ve got to be ready to roll every match,” Passmore said.