The individual wrestling state finals begin today at Assembly Hall in Champaign for 36 area qualifiers.
That number is up from 31 qualifiers last year, but this will be the first time in three years no area wrestler has entered the state tournament as a defending champion. Last year saw three win state championships, but all were seniors.
McHenry County has established itself as a hotbed of wrestling talent with 16 state championships the past five years. Crystal Lake Central was a large part of that with 10 of those titles in four years.
And while there has been some impressive performances this season, no one enters the state tournament as an overwhelming favorite. Whether someone can step up to keep the championship streak alive will be interesting to watch.
Here’s a look at some possible state contenders from each of the three classes.
Class 3A: With a 42-0 record this year and a fourth-place finish at state last year, Cary-Grove sophomore Michael Cullen enters the tournament as the top seed at 113 pounds. A state title for Cullen would be the first from the area in Class 3A.
Despite the success, Cullen is ranked No. 4 by Illinoismatmen.com behind Marist’s Mark Duda (No. 1), Thornton’s Kris Williams (No. 2) and Lockport’s Brian Rossi (No. 3). Duda and Cullen could meet in the semifinals. Cullen must first get past a possible matchup in the quarterfinals with either fifth-ranked Ronald Triche of Providence or Naperville North’s Wayne Yuan (No. 10).
C-G coach Ryan Ludwig said the Barrington Sectional was tougher than Cullen’s scores made it appear. At Barrington, Cullen defeated seventh-ranked Zac Denny of Harlem, 6-3, in the semifinals and New Trier’s Colin Kenyon, 11-1, in the finals.
“I don’t think any of the wins was easy,” Ludwig said. “Wrestling two full six-minute matches will prepare [Cullen] for downstate.”
With an 82-3 career record, Cullen’s experience exceeds his age. Ludwig said Cullen has made great strides this season.
“He’s prepared, he’s more mature,” Ludwig said. “His demeanor on the mat is more mature. He has the maturity of a senior.”
In what could be the toughest bracket in any of the three classes, Crystal Lake South’s Nick Gil looks to place at state at 126 after missing out by one match last year. Standing in his way are state champions Jordan Northrup of Harlem (113 last year) and Glenbard North’s Jered Cortez (120 last year).
Gil lost to Northrup by decision at the Huntley Regional and Barrington Sectional. Gators coach Ross Ryan said Gil is a student of the sport and wrestled Northrup better at sectionals than he did a regionals.
“The game plan was to wrestle on our feet,” Ryan said. “[Gil’s] just got to continue that the next two periods. He goes right back to the drawing board.”
McHenry’s Wade Lardy won the 145 title at Barrington with a win against second-ranked Justin Weber of Stevenson in the finals and is seeded No. 2 at state. Losing in the opening round last year at state and not qualifying for the consolation bracket has stuck with him, Lardy said.
“I’ve been wanting this for a year. I’ve been needing this for a year,” Lardy said.
Class 2A: Richmond-Burton’s Garrett Sutton (152) and Crystal Lake Central’s Andrew Marsden (170) enter state as Antioch Sectional champions and No. 2 seeds.
Sutton (34-0) is looking to improve on his third-place performance last year. Also returning state place winners from the Rockets are Cameron Kennedy (third) and Grant Sutton (fifth). Kennedy has placed in each of his three previous seasons.
Marsden qualified for state for the first time with an impressive pinning performance at the Hampshire Regional and Antioch Sectional. He won by pin in his five matches.
Class 1A: After a fourth place finish last year at state, Harvard’s Anthony Luis enters this year’s tournament as the No. 2 seed. Luis, ranked No. 2, won the Oregon Sectional with two wins against top-6 ranked wrestlers.
Standing in Luis’ way of a state title is top seeded Cody Minnick (44-0) from Coal City.
Luis lost a chance to see Minnick in the finals of the Princeton Invitational with loss in the semifinals.