BLOOMINGTON — The LeRoy/Tri-Valley cooperative team doesn't have one individual state wrestling champion. Instead, the Panthers have a team full of champions.
LeRoy started with the best opponent in Saturday's Class 1A team-dual series and then had to beat the rest of the top challengers — which it did by progressively wider margins — en route to being crowned the IHSA team state champion Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
The Panthers made sure the 27-24 quarterfinal win over top-rated Wilmington wasn't the highlight of their day. They dispatched eventual third-place finisher Mercer County, which was ranked fifth, 38-27 in the semifinals, and then handed fourth-rated Lena-Winslow a 40-24 setback in the finals.
Fittingly, it was senior Justin Meyers — a three-time individual runner-up — whose 15-5 decision at 138 pounds clinched the state crown against Lena-Winslow.
Fighting back tears, Meyers said, "One hundred years from now, when I've had time to reflect, I still won't be able to describe the feeling. Second (individually) three years running (stinks), but this takes care of all of it. We (seniors) are leaving LeRoy with an exclamation mark. I dreamed of being the guy to clinch it, and I was blessed by God to get that opportunity."
Making Meyers' win more significant was the quality of his opponent. Quincy Kalkbrenner placed third individually last week at 138.
It is the third top-three finish at state for coach Doug DeWald's team (27-1) in the past four years.
The title match started at 152 pounds. The Panthers sent senior Josh Johnson to the mat for the opener. He needed 3:12 to pin 35-match winner T.J. Knutson.
"Ten years of wrestling finally paid off," Johnson said. "I was really glad to get the team started. I'm so excited; I want to give everybody hugs."
DeWald said it was the perfect beginning to the finals.
"In dual-team wrestling, momentum is the key," DeWald said. "You get momentum and it can carry you a long ways. That was the start we needed, and we rolled from there."
Senior John Brent, a 170-pounder who competed at 182 on Saturday, won all three of his matches as did another senior, Brad Simmons, who weighed in at 215 but wrestled at 285. Also going 3-0 for the day was senior Tyler Woolridge (145), who concluded the title bout with a pin in 3:31 for his 40th win.
"That senior class set a standard that generation to generation of LeRoy and Tri-Valley wrestlers in the future will try to emulate," DeWald said. "I've been chasing this a long time. To get one, I'm excited for my coaches, excited for my athletes, excited for my (wrestlers') parents and excited for the administration, which built us a new wrestling room this year."
Other individual winners for LeRoy against Lena-Winslow were senior Devin Bulington (126), who had a pin, junior Tate Ruffner (113), by forfeit, and sophomore C.J. Wilson (170), a 5-1 decision.
The outcome against Wilmington wasn't decided until the 14th — and final — bout when LeRoy senior John Morrell avoided getting pinned at 132 pounds. He lost to Wilmington's Andy Rodawold, last week's individual state runner-up at that weight, 8-4.
"What really happened was a lot of matches before that," DeWald said. "It came down to us getting bonus points and fighting our tails off not to give them away."
Against Mercer County, the Panthers clinched their advancement on Bulington's 39-second pin at 126 pounds. Safely ahead, LeRoy forfeited the final two matches to avoid any possible injuries.
"They are an up-and-coming team that reminds me of us two or three years ago when we burst onto the scene," DeWald said. "To our credit, we came out to wrestle. There was no letdown."
Bulington's two 39-second pins on Saturday raised his all-time area career mark to 104 and his season school record to 31.
LeRoy's seniors were 86-7 in dual meets for their four years.
Sages fall in state debut. Monticello recorded three first-period pins but dropped a 52-25 decision to Mercer County in its first dual-team state tournament match.
Underclassmen Jamie Smith (106 pounds), Austin Hyde (113) and Zach Armstrong (195) registered the fast falls. Smith's was in 36 seconds. Hyde's was his 20th of the season. Also winning for Monticello were Luke Dunn (160) and Brendan Menacher (182). Dunn's win gave him 40 this season.
"It was exciting competing at that level," Monticello coach Andy Moore said. "Monticello has always had pretty good individuals but was never concerned with the team aspect. What we accomplished opened everyone's eyes that there is another path (to state)."
The Sages' final record was 18-6.