CHAMPAIGN — A few months ago, Josh Wallick was in the limelight as an All-Area football lineman.
The spotlight was focused squarely on the 285-pound junior wrestler who represents Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher again on Saturday.
He pinned Gus Eisele, from North Boone, in 2 minutes, 53 seconds to win the Class 1A IHSA state heavyweight championship at the Assembly Hall.
Inquiring minds were curious: Are you a football player who also wrestles or are you a wrestler who also plays football?
It was impossible to pin Wallick down.
“I’m an athlete,” he said. “I can’t imagine one without the other. It’s tied between football and wrestling.”
The undefeated Wallick made certain there wouldn’t be a tie in his match as he posted a historic win that made him the first area athlete to capture 50 wins in one season.
“He totally dominated,” said GCMS/Fisher coach Josh Carter. “Josh is very studious when it comes to wrestling. He knows his opponents, their strengths and their weaknesses.”
The hardest part, Carter said, was the journey.
“He’s had to overcome a lot of obstacles,” Carter said. “We don’t have many people who can give him much of a (workout) partner. That was one of my fears, trying to figure out what to do to try and push him.”
Wallick has little time to be out of season. He’ll begin track and field practice with the Bunnies next week.
As he left the Assembly Hall on Saturday, Wallick said a couple more wrestling matches would be nice. He wouldn’t be opposed to a series of challenges with the Class 2A and 3A titlists.
“I’m satisfied where I’m at,” said Wallick, who took up wrestling as a fourth-grader when the family relocated to Fisher, “but that would be fun.”
Wallick is the third athlete from the GCMS/Fisher program to win a state crown in the past five years and the 10th entrant overall the program has had in a championship bout.
First runner-up. Two other area finalists were less fortunate than Wallick.
Argenta-Oreana senior Rob Lane (145) dropped a 9-4 decision to top-ranked Quincy Kalkbrenner, from Lena-Winslow, in the finals.
“I wish it would have turned out different, but this was fun,” Lane said. “I‘d do it all over again if I could. I feel good about the year.”
A-O’s Gary Cook has coached six athletes in championship bouts. Lane’s 42-2 season was a reflection of his work ethic.
“I’m proud of him,” Cook said. “That kid (Kalkbrenner) was on a mission. I asked (Lane), ‘Did you expect to be in the state finals,’ and he said, ‘No.’ I can’t fault anything we did.”
Clinton’s Reczek also went head-to-head with the top-rated grappler in his 160-pound weight to conclude the night’s matches. Sterling Newman’s Brian Bahrs prevailed 6-3 to repeat as a state champ.
“Last time we wrestled it was 12-2,” Reczek said. “6-3 is a lot better. I came up short, but that’s alright. It was my first time here, and I made a noise like I said.
“To be honest, I was nervous if I would even place. To reach the finals is amazing.”
Panthers on the prowl. LeRoy had four of its athletes work their way through wrestlebacks to secure medals. Two-time placer Austin Matlock improved his finish from 2012 by one position, placing fifth at 120 pounds.
A four-time state-meet competitor, Matlock finished with a flourish, pinning Quincy Notre Dame’s Darren Stephens in 4:44 in his final match.
“It’s the only pin of my career at state,” said Matlock, who wasn’t one of the six grapplers ranked at his weight this week by the Illinois Best Weekly.
“I came in as the underdog and I’m pretty happy with my performance,” he said.
The Panthers, who return to action Tuesday in the team-dual series, had sixth-place finishes by Tate Ruffner (113), Caleb Wilson (160) and Ty Sandy (220).
Argenta-Oreana’s Nate Jozsa (132) and Prairie Central’s Evan Bahler (145) concluded their seasons with victories. Jozsa posted a 17-7 win in the third-place bout. Bahler needed a buzzer-beating takedown at the end of overtime to edge Monticello’s Dylan Knisley, 3-1, for fifth place.
“It’s a good way to end my wrestling career,” said Bahler, who suffered three of his seven season losses in OT.
Bahler placed fourth at state as a junior, but he preferred Saturday’s windup.
“I like making the last one a win,” he said.
Jozsa’s 17-7 third-place win concluded a 45-1 season and a year in which he never permitted a near-fall or reversal and allowed his only two takedowns at state.
“Getting a medal is a big deal,” Jozsa said. “First would have been better, but I’d rather go out with a win in third than (a loss) in second.”
Besides Knisley, the Sages had two other medalists. Tanner VanDalsen (195) was sixth and Zach Armstrong (220) was fourth. Before this year, Monticello had never had more than one medalist in a season.
For the third time in eight years, St. Joseph-Ogden had two placers in the same year. Practice partners Austin Hedrick (152) and Austin Upton (170) each took fourth.
Both faced three elimination matches in wrestlebacks before securing their medal.
“We’re both in this spot for a reason,” Upton said. “We drill everything together. This year has gone according to how hard he pushed me in practice.”
Upton (45-4) posted three of his four state wins by pin. When he ponders his season losses, he sees a pattern.
“The kids who beat me got first, second and third (at state),” he said. “I’m pretty happy with how I finished.”
Hedrick posted a pin in his semifinal wrestleback match. The junior called this a learning year.
“I have a lot of work to do for next year,” Hedrick said. “As this season went on I got better and better and was able to push the pace on my feet.”
After losing on Friday, Upton said it wasn’t difficult to regroup so he could salvage something from the season.
“I just had to be on a mission,” he said, “and I accomplished it.”
GCMS/Fisher’s Chet McClure earned a medal for the second consecutive year. He ended fourth at 138, one position higher than he wound up as a junior.
Bismarck-Henning’s Morgan Supergan had his quest for a second consecutive medal derailed by his unsportsmanlike actions. He was ejected for what officials called “flagrant misconduct,” after spitting and attempting to go after his opponent following the final buzzer in a 3-1 wrestleback loss.
Officials stepped in and prevented a confrontation, but Supergan was not allowed to return for the fifth-place match at 285 pounds, which denied him a medal. Ranked second in the state entering the tournament, he finished with a school-record 155 career wins.
Notes. Argenta-Oreana coach Gary Cook kept a watchful eye on some of the 3A matches. His son, Andrew — a 2001 A-O graduate — is the first-year head coach at Oswego. Andrew Cook’s top wrestler, senior Max Larsen, fell one win short of a medal at 160. ... Had the state meet been scored, the top area teams would have been GCMS/Fisher (49 points), Argenta-Oreana (38) and LeRoy (38). ... Farmer City’s Ron Coit was the only area official assigned to work state. It was his 10th time calling matches at state. ... Former Unity coach Joe Summerville was the “official” starter for the championship festivities. Holding a microphone in front of the head table, Summerville said, “Let the Grand March begin.” This marks Summerville’s 50th year of association with the sport, 22 as the Rockets coach and the past 28 as a tournament worker.