News and notes from Friday at the Assembly Hall:
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Toward the end of Friday's portion of the IHSA individual wrestling finals, the Assembly Hall public address announcer informed the crowd that the Illini wrestling team defeated No. 4 Minnesota 19-17. Those in attendance overwhelmingly approved of the announcement.
But there were a few competitors on hand who were more interested with that result than the spectators. Among the hundreds of wrestlers competing this weekend are three future Illini – Chicago Mount Carmel's B.J. Futrell, Monticello's Kyle Dooley and Sandburg's Conrad Polz – all of whom are ranked first in their respective weight classes. All three won state titles last year, and each had a pretty easy time advancing Friday.
Futrell, the 2007 winner at 103 pounds, won both his matches by pinfall. He disposed of Highland Park's Joe Schwartz in 51 seconds and later defeated Yorkville's Jed Lightfoot in 1 minute, 12 seconds.
Dooley, the winner at 140 last year, took care of Lena-Winslow's Jared Hermann 11-5 in his only match of the day. And Polz, who was battling a bout of the flu, won a pair of matches, one by injury default.
"I'm really looking forward to coming down here, I really am. I'm just looking forward to college," said Polz, who won state titles as a sophomore and junior. "It's a little different being here this year. I've been down here in years before and been successful, but this is the first time I've been here knowing I'll be coming here."
With so much going on Friday and so many matches being conducted, the three future Illini didn't get a chance to catch up with one another, but they do keep in touch throughout the season.
"We talk a lot over the summer and at camps and stuff," said Polz, who moved his record to 42-0 this season.
"I think every wrestler's goal is to have success and be undefeated," Polz said. "I wanted to go undefeated last year. I didn't reach that, but I wasn't too disappointed. But this year has been a pretty dominant year for me, and I worked really hard to get here. I'm happy with where I am now, but I've got two more matches."
With the Illini wrestling in Minnesota, coach Mark Johnson wasn't able to attend Friday's session to get a look at his future grapplers. But he's expected to be in the Assembly Hall today before heading to Northwestern on Sunday.
"I talked to assistant coach Carl Perry last night and a little bit today," Polz said. "But I know those guys are real busy right now with their own season."
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Brett and Rob Porter don't get to see one another too often during wrestling season. Busy schedules and the distance between them makes it difficult for the former Mahomet-Seymour wrestlers to meet up. But Friday provided a rare opportunity for the brothers to coach at the same venue. Brett Porter, who coaches at Shelbyville, sent four wrestlers to the state meet. Rob Porter, Naperville Central's coach, had one athlete competing.
"We don't see each other much, but we talk on the phone a lot," Brett Porter said. "We talk a lot about the differences between officiating and the wrestling in the different areas. It's nice to get a different perspective because we hardly get to see any of the same teams."
Friday was a sort of homecoming for the Porters. Their father, Tom Porter, coached the Illini from 1974 to 1978. Tom Porter was in attendance Friday.
"It's fantastic having my dad here," Brett Porter said. "He's been helping me out since I was wrestling, so to have him come and watch my kids and hear his perspective on things is kind of nice."
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There are plenty of wrestlers in the IHSA trying to capture their second or even third state titles this weekend, but Mascoutah's Kyle Williams is going for a second state title that's a little different than the others.
Williams, a 130-pound senior from Mascoutah, is trying to capture his second state championship medal, but his first in Illinois. As a freshman, Williams won a state championship at 112 pounds in North Dakota.
"Two state titles is every wrestler's dream, but this would be kind of cool doing it in two states," Williams said. "I'm just hoping I can pull it off."
During his first match Friday, it didn't look like Williams would get the chance to pull off the double. Canton's Andrew Zobac almost sent Williams, the top-ranked 130-pounder, to the consolation bracket before Williams prevailed in overtime. It was an extremely physical match that had numerous delays because each wrestler had blood dripping from his nose.
"I knew when I came here that it was going to be tough to win a state title in Illinois," Williams said. "It's not that the guys are that much better here, but it's just so much more populated. There are just so many guys."
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During the state finals, the best wrestlers the state has to offer are on display. It's not rare to catch a match featuring guys each ranked in the top five of the state rankings. Some guys are even recognized on a national level. But none are more highly thought of than Downers Grove South's Ben Apland. The 215-pound senior is rated as the No. 1 wrestler in his weight class in America – a distinction no other IHSA wrestler can claim.
"It feels pretty good, but I try not to think about it too much," Apland said. "We're in the state tournament now. Maybe I'll feel it a little bit more after, but right now it doesn't really mean much."
He's trying to block out his ranking, but his opponents know exactly who Apland is and where he's ranked. Having such a lofty ranking is a target and Apland said he gets everybody's best effort each time out.
"Even if you're No. 1 in the state and not the nation, guys are going to come at you harder," he said. "You've got to wrestle that much better every time and you've got to put in more work in the offseason, too."
Apland finished fourth a year ago, but for a guy so highly thought of as a senior, fourth place won't be good enough this time around.
"Last year was my first time down here, so I was happy with placing," he said. "You always want to be able to win more than lose and I'm just hoping I can win here this weekend."
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Friday was a rough day for the area's Class 2A qualifiers. Of the 10 who qualified, only Mahomet-Seymour's Lyle Shallenberger came away with a victory. The 130-pounder beat Chicago Mount Carmel's David Argue in the preliminary round before losing his next match. Shallenberger's teammate, Andrew Brewer, who had a bye at 171, lost his opening match to Sterling Hecox of Machesney Park Harlem.