State wrestling: Danville's Turner sees success at new weight
CHAMPAIGN — Griffin Meeker re-watched his Class 1A Clinton Sectional 182-pound final loss to the Maroons’ Logan Winter just once this week.
And like the shoulder injury he suffered late in the season, Meeker didn’t think much about it when he arrived at State Farm Center on Thursday for the state tournament’s first day.
“I watched it one time and put it in the back of my mind,” Meeker said. “If it comes down to it and I have to wrestle him again, I’ll probably watch it five or six more times before I wrestle him.”
As sectional opponents, Meeker and Winter are on different sides of the 182-pound state bracket and wouldn’t meet until the championship round. That’s just as well, because they’re the top two remaining athletes in their championship bracket, according to illinoismatmen.com.
That was after Unity’s Jake Frost, the No. 2 wrestler in the weight class, was upset in the opening round on Thursday.
While Meeker has wrestled at the state meet every year of his high school career, Winter missed out last season, when he didn’t make it out of regionals in the 170-pound weight class.
But after working to keep his weight down to wrestle at 170 early in the year, Winter made the move to 182.
“As soon as I decided to go 182, I was in the gym every day, so that helped a lot,” Winter said.
After topping Meeker and pinning Frost earlier in the season, Winter has shown throughout that he deserves the No. 1 ranking at 182. But he isn’t letting that get to his head while preparing to take on No. 4 Brandon Elsbury of Byron on Friday in the quarterfinals.
“It gives me a lot of confidence, but just because I beat that kid doesn’t mean I can take it easy,” Winter said. “I’ve just got to keep practicing, keep pushing my pace, keep preparing for the worst.”
Meeker, meanwhile, returned to state after he was knocked out with an injury default last year. After finishing fifth at 152 pounds as a sophomore two years ago, he’s hoping to utilize his experience to move higher up the podium.
“There’s not as much nerves,” Meeker said. “I know what I can do, I know that I can place here. But this year I’m going to try to find a way to be at the top instead of just placing.”
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For Justin Cardani, the first period of his opening-round Class 2A 106-pound bout was simply a game of catch and release.
Every time he took Ottawa’s Luke Fleming down for two points, Cardani would cautiously let him to his feet, conceding a point before quickly taking him down again.
“It was a match to get warmed up to get ready for the tournament,” Cardani said after his 22-6 second-period technical-fall win. “Normally, I just want to get my heart rate up to get used to the atmosphere and everything to get my feet in the water.
“It’s more of a workout for me. I get my heart rate up. I just get to practice my shots and work on my technique.”
A year ago, the experience was far different for the Centennial junior. After losing by a 12-3 major decision in the first round, he lost 8-1 in the second.
Back then, though, he was a small 106-pound sophomore, whereas this year he weighs a full 106. That’s allowed him to dominate en route to a 42-0 record thus far.
His first state meet win in the books, he’ll take on Carmel’s Christian Valadez in Friday’s quarterfinals with a chance to secure a medal.
“Last year, I didn’t show myself how I wanted to show myself to everybody,” Cardani said. “This year I want to prove myself more. … I just feel more comfortable with myself and my style of wrestling.”
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Danville sophomore Anthony Turner hung on to Rich East senior Kevin Radcliff’s left leg in the third period of their Class 2A 120-pound first-round matchup and slid across the mat.
In a match that was stopped twice due to Turner’s bloody nose, the Viking wasn’t letting go as the seconds ticked off the clock. Against the No. 3 120-pounder in Class 2A, he hung on for a 5-2 win.
“I felt like I had his ankle pretty tight,” Turner said, “and he was kicking and kicking. I’ve been in positions like that plenty of times this year.”
Turner didn’t realize he’d move up two weight classes from 106, at which he wrestled as a freshman, until last summer. That’s when he shot up 6 inches and spent time in the weight room to earn a starting spot on the junior varsity football team.
“I didn’t want to be no bench rider,” Turner said. “So I packed on muscle, packed on weight, grew 6 inches and I went out there and played football.”
A year ago at state, Turner won his first-round matchup by a 1-0 decision before losing his next two matches. At a greater weight, Turner has higher hopes this year.
“I want it more than I did last year,” he said. “Last year I was like, ‘Oh, it’s all right. I’m a freshman, I’ve got three more years.’ Now, I want to be a champion. I’m out here working.”
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Hunter Crowley made quick work of his opening-round matchup at 195 pounds in Class 2A, pinning Hillcrest’s Brandon Harper in 1 minute, 34 seconds and pulling himself within one pin of Mahomet-Seymour’s career record.
His quarterfinal matchup, though, likely will take a bit longer. Crowley, ranked No. 2 in his division, will take on No. 3 Seamus O’Donnell of Crystal Lake Central, who won his first match with a second-period pin.
Bulldogs coach Rob Ledin, though, is confident in Crowley’s abilities.
“Looking at it, of course we’re the returning state placer (fourth in 2016), so I feel pretty good about that,” Ledin said. “Of course, we’ve got to wrestle our match. Hunter’s patient, he’s not going to really do anything to beat himself. We’ve just got to put that kid in a position so that kid beats himself. I think if we can get on top, Hunter’s best position, that kid’s got some worrying to do.”
M-S teammate David Spencer’s opening-round win at 126 was the polar opposite as far as wins go.
The junior won in sudden victory to earn a quarterfinal bout against Washington’s Tyler Delaware, who is ranked No. 4 in Class 2A.
“He probably would have liked to win in regulation,” Ledin said, “but I think we controlled the match.”
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Rare is the junior who has wrestled his entire career at 220 pounds. Even more scarce are those who have qualified for the state meet at that weight three times.
Bismarck-Henning junior Cody Miller, though, is an exception. And through his three years wrestling at a weight normally reserved for veterans, he’s found that quickness is key in the biggest classes.
“A big, quick man is hard to find, and I’m hoping to be one of the quickest big guys at the tournament here,” Miller said. “I’m quick, and mental toughness is what gets me through my matches.”
He used that quickness to take a 12-3 Class 1A opening-round decision against Litchfield’s Reece Radtke.
It wasn’t necessarily easy for Miller to return at 220, at which he’s ranked No. 3. During football season, he weighed around 260 pounds.
“It takes dedication,” Miller said. “You’ve got to wake up for those 6 a.m. runs, 8 a.m. lifts. You’ve just got to stay hammering after it like anything in life if that you want to be good at. … I feel like I’m healthy at 220 with a reasonable amount of body fat.”
Miller was upset in the 1A Clinton Sectional semifinals by Clinton junior Kyle Hammer, who took a 6-4 decision against Hillsboro’s Jordan Gregg in his state opener.
“I took that loss to the Clinton kid, and he just found a way to stop my offense,” Miller said. “We’ve been working all week to hammer and hammer and hammer on the offense, so that’s what we’re going to do at this tournament. We’re just going to keep going at them until they break mentally or physically, one of the two.”
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Monticello senior Kaehl VanDalsen sat and watched the state meet a year ago after qualifying as a sophomore, exhausted by a bout with mononucleosis.
He’d wrestled the week earlier in sectionals, but he realized early qualifying for state would be an uphill climb.
“Thirty seconds into the match, I’d be gassed,” VanDalsen said.
After finishing fourth in a loaded Class 1A Vandalia Sectional, which included four 152-pound wrestlers ranked in the top state’s seven, VanDalsen is back.
After taking an early lead in his first-round state bout, the senior coasted to a 7-0 win over Rock Falls’ Rollie Elder to set up a quarterfinal bout with No. 12 Dale Ashby of Hoopeston Area, who upset No. 8 Nick Pretto in the opening round with a 6-4 decision.
“That’s what I usually like to do. I build up a lead real fast,” VanDalsen said. “If I’m comfortable with the position I’m in, I might hold back a little. … I controlled the whole match (Thursday) and I didn’t produce a bunch of offense in the third period, but I was up by enough, I just knew I could hang back a little bit.”
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Prairie Central’s Simon Schuler didn’t waste any time in the first period of his Class 1A 145-pound opening-round matchup against Reed-Custer’s Gabe Nagel, picking up several early takedowns on his way to a second-period 15-0 technical fall.
“I always like to set the pace early,” Schuler said. “I like to break kids in the first period, so I get in their heads that they aren’t winning.”
A year ago, Schuler dropped both of his matches, losing on a pin in the first round before falling by a 2-0 decision in the consolation round. This year, he’s out to show he’s a different wrestler.
“Last year, I was nervous and I definitely didn’t wrestle to my capability,” Schuler said. “I was awestruck and taking it all in. This year, it’s my last year and there’s no games. I’m here to win.”
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He knew others thought his reaction was irrational, but Oakwood coach Mike Glosser was happy to see Ren Dazey’s draw in the Class 1A 126-pound bracket.
Dazey’s first-round match, if he was victorious, would potentially set him up to face 1A No. 1 Chase Bittle of Althoff Catholic in the quarterfinals.
“I was pumped,” Glosser said. “I was pumped, and they told me I was crazy. … Why not knock him off in the second round, not have to worry about him later in the tournament?”
Dazey’s first-round bout was no foregone conclusion. After trailing early against Winnebago’s Bryce Faworski, though, Dazey came back to win by a 4-2 decision.
“A win’s a win; you’ve got to get that first one out of the way,” Glosser said. “I’m not really too worried about if he feels like he wrestled well. We got the win in that first match, we got the win and we get a good training session in (Thursday night) and get ready for (Friday’s) match.”
As for that match against Bittle, Glosser doesn’t think Dazey should feel overwhelmed.
“The thing about guys like that, it’s the aura that surrounds them that gives them that intimidation factor, and I’ve never bought into that,” Glosser said. “We haven’t wrestled the match yet, so I’m not going to say you’re better than my guy yet.”
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Urbana advanced both of its wrestlers to the quarterfinals, with Class 2A 182-pound senior A.J. Fox winning by an 8-0 major decision over Tinley Park’s Joe Petrauskas and 220-pound sophomore Luke Luffman topping No. 4 Colin Gussman of Kaneland with a 6-3 decision.
Sixth-ranked Luffman will take on No. 1 George Bessette of Antioch on Friday, while sixth-ranked Fox will take on No. 7 Numan Ayhan of Glenbard South.