Fred Kroner: Winter title chases heat up

State wrestling

The three-day event at State Farm Center starts at 1 p.m. Thursday. If you can only make one session, plan on showing up for Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. championship session.
Storylines will abound.
On the area front, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Josh Wallick is seeking a repeat state championship at 285 pounds. If successful, he would be the first athlete from either Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley or Fisher with two wrestling state titles. He’s also in line to become the first three-time wrestling state placer from those programs.
Folks won’t need to wait long. By blind draw, the championship session will begin at 195 pounds. The 285-pound class will be the third one contested.
On the state front, Dakota’s Josh Alber is chasing a fourth consecutive state crown. He would be the 12th Illinois prep to accomplish that feat, but the 132-pounder is closing in on an achievement that has never happened. Alber is 166-0 in his career and would be the first prep athlete to go unbeaten and untied throughout a four-year varsity career.

Girls’ basketball

St. Thomas More continues its march into history with a sectional semifinal game at 6 p.m. Monday at Clinton against Bloomington Central Catholic. The Sabers (28-2) have been top-ranked in every Class 2A poll that has been issued this season and are carrying a school-record 18-game winning streak. Led by three of last year’s All-Area first-teamers — senior Randa Harshbarger, junior Lexi Wallen and sophomore Tori McCoy — coach Chris Mennig’s squad is trying to become the second from the area with back-to-back state championship-game appearances. The first area school to do so was Sullivan, coached by Scott Thomas, which won the 1991 Class 1A title and was the runner-up in 1992. Monday night’s winner returns to Clinton for Thursday’s 7 p.m. sectional championship game, which could be an all-Sangamon Valley Conference showdown if Watseka is able to get past Monticello. Since November 2007, STM has won 77 of 80 games against other SVC members. The SVC showed its strength during last week’s regionals. Four of the eight league schools won regional titles. Three others lost only when playing another SVC member.

Boys’ swimming

It’s all or nothing Saturday, when Centennial hosts the second largest of the state’s 16 sectional meets at Unit 4 Pool. Twenty-five high schools will submit entries. Diving starts at 9 a.m. The swimming portion of the meet is scheduled for 1 p.m. This is a meet dominated in recent years by Central’s Maroons, who have won sectional team crowns nine of the past 11 years. The current seniors are trying to become the fourth in school history to complete their careers with four regional titles in the sport.
The other Central classes to reach that plateau were the graduates of 1997, 1998 and 2006. The Twin City champion and Big 12 runner-up Maroons hope to be at a peak for the meet that determines which individuals and relays advance to state. They showed they’re on the right track in the conference meet held at the same pool nine days ago. Despite training through the meet, Central’s varsity had 10 personal-best performances.
State berths are awarded to the winners in each event as well as any others who better predetermined standards. Central swimmers have posted the area’s top marks in 10 of 12 events.

Boys’ basketball

Meaningful games abound throughout the area this week. Centennial’s home game Friday against Normal West would allow the Chargers to clinch a share of their first Big 12 Conference crown since 2010. State-ranked St. Joseph-Ogden is in the driver’s seat in the Sangamon Valley Conference, but it closes the regular season Friday at the only school that could create a two-way tie, St. Thomas More. It’s the same scenario that occurred in 2013, when the Spartans won. Chrisman plays a key makeup game against Salt Fork on Wednesday in Catlin. Both schools start the week as two of the four in the Vermilion Valley Conference with 8-2 league records. For Salt Fork, the home game will come 24 hours after it travels to another of the 8-2 teams, Bismarck-Henning, on Tuesday. B-H has won the last two VVC championships. Cerro Gordo/Bement — which has 10 seniors on its 13-player roster — will try to close out an unblemished mark in Little Okaw Valley Conference play on Thursday, when it hosts Tri-County. The Broncos are trying to capture their second LOVC title in the past three seasons. If those games aren’t enough, Central plays Tuesday at Urbana.

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