URBANA – Now that Caleb Blaney is back where he belongs, plenty of heavyweight wrestlers have reason to say good riddance.
After going 17-0 against the biggest boys on the mat to open this season – with 14 of those victories by pin and the others by forfeit – the Urbana senior once again is competing at his weight class of the previous two years.
"Definitely for state I wanted to be down to 215 (pounds)," Blaney said. "I thought my chances were a lot better there."
That transition started last weekend, with Blaney pinning his first four opponents at 215 before suffering his first loss of the season in the title round of the Morton Invitational. It took the state's second-ranked Class 3A 215-pounder – East Moline's Robert Cooney – to end his 2A opponent's perfect streak at 21-0.
Though the fourth-ranked Blaney was disappointed in that outcome – "My goal was to finish the season unbeaten" – the veteran is confident he took the smart path to this point. That path actually was set during football season, when Blaney sustained a mid- year injury. Although the lineman continued to play, his practice activity was restricted, and his weight rose to nearly 250 pounds.
Rather than attempt to quickly cut weight for wrestling, Blaney and his coach agreed the senior should temporarily move up a weight class.
"We spoke and I said, 'Let's try to keep your strength up and drop the weight slowly. Let's do it the healthy way,' " Chuck Trabaris said.
Although he typically was undersized in heavyweight matchups, Blaney was surprisingly dominant. Superior quickness was one critical reason.
"My opponents all wanted to go upper body a lot more, but my style is more of a shooting style," he said. "So I think that helped me out a lot at heavyweight. ... Being able to shoot, a lot of heavyweights haven't really seen that a lot, so I think that was kind of an advantage for me."
That's not to say Blaney couldn't muscle up with the big boys, too.
"He has the strength to hang with the 285(-pound) guys and did it for about half a season," Trabaris said. "And they weren't even giving him much of a problem."
Coming off a 35-6 junior season, Blaney has made his biggest strides between the ears, according to his coach.
"This year, he's become more cerebral about the sport," Trabaris said. "He's become more versatile on his feet, more versatile as far as pinning combinations and putting moves together."
Said Blaney: "In past years I'd kind of go out there and I couldn't really explain what I was doing. I'd just go out there and wrestle. But this year I watch my opponents a lot more and think about how my style will match up with theirs and what advantages I'll have. And I try to exploit those a lot more."
It's part of a package that has the Tiger senior focused on the ultimate prize in his sport.
"To win state," Blaney said. "It's my last shot."