Seven area grapplers stay in hunt for titles
CHAMPAIGN – This isn't a scientific survey based on thousands of cases. Yet, it reveals perhaps the reality in high school wrestling.
The study group consisted of the first 16 matches in the preliminary round of the Class 1A state wrestling tournament that involved News-Gazette area athletes.
The focus Friday at the UI Assembly Hall during the 71st annual event was on the first takedown. How many of those wrestlers went on to win and how many suffered defeat?
Logic indicates that scoring the first takedown generally means earning the first points in a match and forcing the opponent to play catchup. Some would theorize that those recording the first takedown would win two-thirds to three-fourths of the matches.
The facts indicate something different. In those first 16 bouts involving area athletes, the individual with the first takedown won eight and lost seven. In the other match, there was never a takedown.
Oakwood senior Brendan Hafner and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley senior Tyler Flynn were among the grapplers who yielded the opening takedown but bounced back to win.
Hafner overcame his 2-0 deficit to edge Herrin's Trenton Fortner 5-3 in a 140-pound match. Ironically, Hafner broke a 3-3 tie with a last-minute takedown.
"Being behind is bad, but it's also good because it keeps you working and you never stop moving," Hafner said. "I've been down before, and you learn you've got to stay calm. Little mistakes can cost you big points."
Oakwood coach Dave Markwell was impressed how Hafner "kept his cool and didn't get shook when he was behind."
The first-time state qualifier "was determined," Markwell added, "because he knows there's no tomorrow for a senior."
The 171-pound Flynn gave up the first takedown to Aledo's Cory Brown but returned the favor in the second period, putting his opponent on his back and collecting a pin in 3:19.
Even when trailing, Flynn kept his motto in mind: "Anything can happen," he said.
Seven of the 12 area athletes who competed in the quarterfinals Friday night secured berths in this morning's semifinal round.
GCMS' Flynn will be joined by teammate Guy Kirby (135 pounds), Unity's Dustinn Brown (119), LeRoy's Tyler Wilfley (130), St. Joseph-Ogden's Lukas Graves (140), Monticello's Kyle Dooley (152) and Argenta-Oreana's Bryce Bowman (189).
Flynn was the biggest surprise, knocking off fourth-rated Cory Hauter of Litchfield in the quarterfinals 10-8 in a match he trailed 2-0.
"I'm feeling more joy than I've ever felt in my life," Flynn said. "Nobody was expecting me to win, but I wanted to prove to myself and my teammates what I can do."
He trailed 8-2 and took his only lead on a buzzer-beating near-fall that he called "sheer willpower."
Added Flynn: My teammates push me hard in practice, and I knew I had to push him to the limit."
Kirby advanced by virtue of a 6-2 conquest of Sterling Newman's Shawn Bahrs.
For defending state champion Dooley and former placers Brown and Graves, qualifying for the semifinals is not an unusual occur- rence.
"It feels good," Brown said, "but I'm hoping to come out first instead of second and third like I've done in the past."
Brown wasn't in the mood for celebrating Friday. His semifinal match is against defending state champion Seth Milks of Dakota.
"This is when I'll have to step it up," said Brown, who has a 135-11 career record.
Dooley found himself the survivor against third-ranked Jared Hermann of Lena-Winslow but was not satisfied with his performance.
"Sitting around all day wore me out, but even when I was tired, I was trying to push the pace," Dooley said. "I'm disappointed because I'm not used to wearing down like that."
Dooley, a UI recruit with a 150-10 career record, upended Hermann 11-5.
Graves in contention
Graves endured a scoreless first period against Kewanee's Jemaine McKnight but barely needed a minute of the second period to secure a pin in 3:15.
As a sectional champion, Graves had the chance to scout his opponent earlier in the day.
"It was an advantage because we saw what he did and then worked on it in practice," Graves said, "and he didn't have any looks at me."
Graves, who has placed third twice in his career, is trying to give the Spartans a state placer for the fifth consecutive year.
"One more win and I go to the big show," Graves said.
The 130-pound Wilfley, who is ranked third, snapped a 2-2 tie against Herrin's Jon Sargent with a third-period takedown and held on for a 4-3 decision in the quarterfinals.
"I beat him on conditioning," Wilfley said. "I wrestled pretty conservatively so I could keep it close and make a move at the end."
Last year's state experience has helped Wilfey advance further as a junior.
"Last year, I was happy to be here, but this year my goal is to get on the podium (for a top-four finish)," he said.
The 189-pound Bowman gave up a third-period reversal to fall behind by a point, but followed with a reversal of his own a few seconds later and made it hold up in a 3-2 verdict against Robinson's Josh Kincaid.
"I didn't feel like I wrestled my best. Maybe it was the nerves from sitting all day," said Bowman, who has a 138-28 career record.
All quarterfinal- and preliminary- round losers will receive the chance to wrestle back and place as high as third if the individual who beat them wins in the semifinal round.
Oakwood teammates Hafner and Evan Davis (160) will spend part of the morning as cheerleaders as will three others who suffered quarterfinals setbacks: Monticello's Noah Browne (who was pinned by top-ranked Cameron Vance, from Riverdale), GCMS' Colin Kirkpatrick (who dropped a 13-8 decision to top-ranked Jeff Bybee, from IVC) and GCMS' Colten Unzicker (whose 9-4 quarterfinal loss was to second-rated Jered Staver, from Lena-Winslow).
Markwell was pleased with the showing of his two Oakwood seniors, each of whom won their state tournament debuts and were 1-1 for the day.
"They gave it their best shot and we'll go from there," Markwell said. "I thought the kids wrestled well and took it to them. They ran into kids who were a lot stronger and quicker."