For the first time since 2008, there are no reigning state wrestling champions on area rosters, but there are plenty of hopefuls, eager to earn a spot on the podium in February at Assembly Hall in Champaign.
Three of those hopefuls live in the same household and wrestle for Richmond-Burton.
Brothers Grant and Garrett Sutton and their cousin Cameron Kennedy, all placed in Class 2A state last year. Kennedy was third last season, second in 2011 and sixth in 2010 when he wrestled for Class 3A Grant.
Kennedy said he thinks that experience will serve him well in his senior year.
“I feel older, more mature,” Kennedy said. “This year could be my dominant year.”
Getting ready for state involves all the normal tough practices and facing stiff competition during the season, but Kennedy also is focusing on the mental aspect more this season.
“Clearing my mind,” Kennedy said was something he was working on. “It’s something in the sport of wrestling that’s really important. I’m going to be ready to go to Champaign.”
Garrett Sutton, a junior, took third last year at state and qualified as a freshman. One thing he has been working on during the offseason has been to be more aggressive, particularly on his feet.
“My hand fighting has gotten better,” Garrett Sutton said.
Grant Sutton, a sophomore, said because the R-B roster is pretty small this year, practice has become more efficient and he gets more coach time in the room. Living with two other potential state champions also has its benefits.
“We get stuff done faster. It’s more focused,” Grant Sutton said of practice. “They’re a huge inspiration to me,” he said about his brother and cousin.
R-B coach Bret Wojcik said the Suttons and Kennedy are in the same class as former Rockets state champions Jordan Blanton and Jack Dechow. What most impresses Wojcik is that their success has not gone to their heads.
“They’re right up there with the best of them,” Wojcik said of his current state place-winners. “They want to learn and get better.”
Cary-Grove’s Mike Cullen placed fourth in Class 3A state last season. He said he has only one goal this season – being the first Trojan to win an individual state championship in wrestling. While the ultimate goal is a given, he recognizes the importance of the season in getting there.
“Right now, I’m focusing on the big goal,” Cullen said. “Each match is like a stepping stone.”
Also in Class 2A, Johnsburg returns two state qualifiers – Branden Peshek and Christian Nugent. Crystal Lake Central also returns two qualifiers with Kyle Fugiel and Michael Zelasco. Damon Cloe qualified for Marengo last season.
In Class 3A, Crystal Lake South’s Nick Gil and McHenry’s Wade Lardy made the trip to state last season.
Harvard returns two Class 1A state qualifiers in Anthony Luis and Chance Shelton. Luis placed fourth at state last season at 106.
Fox Valley Conference: The competition to capture the FVC division crowns and the FVC Meet team championship should be fierce this season.
Cary-Grove and McHenry should be the teams to beat in the Valley Division. The Warriors are off to a 9-0 start, and the Trojans beat Crystal Lake South on Thursday.
Gators’ coach Ross Ryan said that McHenry and Cary-Grove are the teams to beat, but don’t rule out South, particularly in the FVC Meet.
“I think we can be a pretty tough tournament team,” Ryan said. “We’ll be ready to go by the end of the season.”
The Fox Division has no clear-cut favorite, but Johnsburg has a good shot after placing second in the Tom DuBois Classic on Saturday at Richmond-Burton, with only nine wrestlers.