Around the mat
News and notes from Saturday at the Assembly Hall:
Starting next season, the IHSA is likely to expand the wrestling finals to three classes. Whether more athletes will be included remains to be determined.
As it stands now, 12 wrestlers advance to the state finals in each weight class in Class 1A and 24 in Class 2A.
The IHSA could split 2A in half and leave 1A as it is. That move would certainly benefit a school like Mahomet-Seymour, which sent four wrestlers to the event, and had only one come away with any victories – Lyle Shallenberger. Shallenberger, a 130 pounder, won by pinfall in his preliminary match Friday before losing to eventual state champ Jimmy Chase of Glenbard North.
"I'm still kind of undecided on it," M-S coach Rob Ledin said. "But I think it will be beneficial for us because we'll be facing teams with similar population, at least the way it will be broken down."
Despite being in a class with schools closer to its size, Ledin said as far as scheduling goes for the regular season, the Bulldogs will continue to square off against bigger schools in preparation for the postseason.
"I'm still going to give the kids the opportunities to wrestle those big schools and get their exposure and the experience they need. It's going to be something positive in that we might have a different type of success come the end of the year."
Ledin said leaving Class 1A at 12 wrestlers per weight class and having 2A and 3A bring 16 is the way to go. There will be more bodies at the Assembly Hall, but the IHSA can make it work.
"If you do that, I think it's a compromise," he said "We already have this place rented for Thursday, so we'll just wrestle around on Thursday. If it's about success and about kids, I think a 60-man bracket, double-elimination would be a way to make the three-class system work."
Chicago Mount Carmel 112-pounder B.J. Futrell hasn't lost a match in two years. The senior went 40-0 as a junior and finished his last prep campaign Saturday with a victory against previously unbeaten Stephen Robertson of Niles West to finish 42-0 this season. The future Illini barely broke a sweat in claiming his second consecutive state title after finishing fifth as a sophomore.
"It just feels great," the soft-spoken Futrell said. "This was one of my goals coming into my high school career. It's nice to accomplish it now and it's time to move on to bigger and better things."
That means finishing his last semester of high school – he carries a 3.96 GPA – and bringing his talents to Champaign and Mark Johnson's program. Johnson, who missed Friday's session while coaching the Illini to an upset win against No. 4 Minnesota, was in attendance Saturday.
"It's nice to have him in the crowd," Futrell said. "I got a chance to visit the campus and the campus life was nice. Academically the school is second to none and the Big Ten is the best conference in the United States. It was hands down an easy decision."
Johnson sat in one of the boxes in the B section of the Assembly Hall and had to like what he saw Saturday. All five of his future wrestlers made it to championship matches, with three coming away with victories.
"This is as good as our kids have done that we signed early since I've been here," Johnson said. "It's a great night for me to come and watch wrestling."
He was disappointed not to be in attendance Friday.
"My assistant, Carl Perry, was here, but that was a great night for us up in Minnesota last night," Johnson said. "We were getting some calls but it's nice being here today and kind of enjoy it."
The state finals being in Champaign is an advantage as far as recruiting goes for Johnson. It's an event he looks forward to attending every year.
"I'm a fan as well as a coach, so I enjoy this," he said. "I follow it so much, even the kids we're not recruiting, and it's fun to see it come here every year."
The 160-pound match in Class 2A was especially interesting for Johnson. Two of his signees, Conrad Polz of Sandburg and Brian Reynolds of Providence, squared off. Polz won the bout 7-5 for his third consecutive state title. Despite the title, Polz wasn't happy with the way he wrestled.
"I'm pretty proud of myself, but I wanted to do it with a little more style I guess," said Polz, who battled the flu all weekend. "It might have looked bad but I still got it done. That's not the way I wrestle. I like to go out there and score as many points as I can, but this weekend I had some other things I had to deal with with my health. Considering that, I'm still happy."
He didn't take any extra satisfaction in downing his future teammate. Polz and Reynolds both reside in the southwest suburbs and have been friends for years.
"We wrestle a lot over the summer, in club and stuff, and I knew he was going to be tough," Polz said. "Especially with the way I'm feeling I knew what kind of wrestler he was. I wouldn't say it's weird but it's just something that had to happen."
It was clear that Richmond-Burton 171-pounder Jordan Blanton will wrestle collegiality at Illinois. He had a cheering section in C Section of the Assembly Hall decked out in orange T-shirts. Whenever he did something positive, the section roared with approval. It even chanted his name on more than one occasion.
Blanton finished 41-0, including a must-see bout against another undefeated wrestler, Neuqua Valley's Chris Spangler. Blanton won the see-saw affair 8-6 with a late takedown as all of the approximately 10,000 fans in attendance turned their attention to their mat.
Blanton warmed up before matches in an Illinois shooting shirt, similar to the one the men's basketball team wears on the bench. After his match, he ran to Johnson's seat and hugged and took pictures with the Illini coach.