CHAMPAIGN – When the prep wrestling season started in November, Austin Armetta wasn't even the best 140-pounder on Mahomet-Seymour's team.
"He lost the first couple of wrestleoffs and wasn't in the lineup early," M-S coach Rob Ledin said.
When the individual season ends today for IHSA wrestlers, Armetta will be one of the state's four semifinalists in his 140-pound weight class.
The freshman won two matches during Friday's day-long session and secured one of the three semifinal spots in Class 2A that belong to area athletes.
Teammate Andrew Brewer (171) and Champaign Central's unbeaten Aryn Gilenson (125) – both of whom are seniors – also are among the final four in their respective weights.
Armetta was not timid nor was he intimidated in his state tournament debut. In his first match at the Assembly Hall, he built a 10-0 lead against Springfield Southeast's Christian Taborn and held on for a 10-5 triumph.
To reach the semis, he decisioned Rich East's Rayshonn Clemons 12-1.
"I didn't expect to come to state at the beginning of the year," Armetta said. "I didn't start believing in myself until sectionals."
Once he earned a varsity spot, Ledin saw the potential.
"Every week, he keeps getting better, and he's committed to wanting to be better," Ledin said. "You've got to believe you're the guy and go out and battle for it."
Against Clemons, Armetta did what Ledin expected.
"A lot of the position was a battle, and Austin won the battle," Ledin said.
Central's Gilenson found himself in an unusual position at the end of regulation. He was tied with Burlington Central's Shane Burke, 5-5.
Gilenson led 5-4 with four seconds remaining, but Burke received a penalty point when Gilenson was called for fleeing the mat as he sprinted around the perimeter, avoiding his opponent.
The move didn't prove costly, when he scored a takedown in overtime to salvage a 7-5 verdict and his 38th consecutive victory.
"Aryn's as smart of a wrestler as I've ever coached," Central's Jeff Scott said, "but he lost his head for a second. He dodged a bullet, no doubt. That was not very smart."
After a scoreless first period, Gilenson took a 3-0 lead.
"He pretty much controlled the match," Scott said. "I think the best kid won."
M-S' Brewer had the distinction of competing in the lone match where two area athletes opposed one another.
He handed Champaign Central senior Evan Ellsworth a 9-2 loss. Though their high schools are separated by less than 15 miles, the last time they'd met was in eighth grade.
Ellsworth reached the quarterfinals with a dominating 16-0 technical fall in his first match, against Chicago Uplift's Shelton Wallace. Brewer, by virtue of winning his sectional last week at LaSalle, had a bye and didn't wrestle until more than 14 hours after he weighed in.
"It showed a little bit," said Brewer, a third-time state qualifier. "I was a little timid. I'd like to be more explosive."
Athletes who lose in the quarterfinals will get a shot at wrestlebacks to place as high as third if the person who defeated them makes it to the finals.
Among those hoping for a return to the mat is Champaign Central freshman Nate Volk (145 pounds). He recovered from a 4-1 deficit in his opening match against Normal U-High's Alex Bee to capture a 7-4 triumph.
"Nate's a kid that has unbelievable poise and doesn't get too rattled," Scott said.
Volk said his goal this season was "to get a win or two" at state.
That it came in his first bout added to his pleasure.
"This is such a different atmosphere," he said. "There's a lot of pressure."
Three of the Maroons' four state qualifiers posted at least one win Friday. The lone exception was 189-pound Deshoun White, who battled Morris' Tim Sereno into triple overtime before losing a 2-1 decision.
In the quarterfinals, Volk lost by technical fall to Fenton's Josh Castellano.
One of the marquee quarterfinal bouts was at 135 pounds, where Rockford East's third-ranked Kyle Logsdon decisioned M-S' second-ranked Jared Ernst 6-1.
Four of M-S' six qualifiers won at least once Friday, including 130-pound Cody Briggs, who registered the school's only pin with a fall in 1:41 over Riverside-Brookfield's Nicko Torres in the first round.
"It's my senior year and I'm giving it everything I have," Briggs said.
Urbana's Caleb Blaney had the toughest preliminary-round draw among area participants. He dropped a 14-6 decision to third-ranked Nate Joseph of East Peoria.
Joseph won his next match and is in today's semifinals, which are scheduled to start at about 9:30 a.m. For Blaney to get a wrestleback, however, Joseph will need to get past top-ranked Grant Goebel of Lombard Montini.
Centennial's two qualifiers, 130-pound Cam Pickett and 189-pound Dakota Tiger, were competitive before suffering losses in their only matches. Pickett was beaten in the quarterfinals 4-2 by Ottawa's Ryan Osborne, with his opponent scoring the clinching points on a reversal with 22 seconds left in the second period.
Tiger trailed Crystal Lake Central's Anthony Degani 3-0 after two periods but battled his opponent on even terms in the final period of an 8-5 setback.