The athlete who is arguably the most dominant prep wrestler in Illinois will leave the state tournament with no better than a third-place medal.
Oak Park senior Ellis Coleman – who entered the Class 3A 135-pound bracket undefeated and having allowed two takedowns in 44 matches – was stunned in Friday's quarterfinals by Chicago Lane's Max Schneider, who pinned him with 5 seconds remaining in the match.
It was the most shocking result of the tournament and, perhaps, in recent memory. Coleman was expected to cruise to a title, winning 37 of his 44 matches this season by pin or technical fall.
"It's hard for Ellis because Ellis knows how good he is," Oak Park coach Mike Powell said. "It's hard for us because we know how good he is. And more importantly, we know how hard he works. I've coached some really hard-nosed, tough kids. He's No. 1 by far. What happened to him, there couldn't be a worse scenario."
It was the fourth straight year Coleman lost in the quarterfinals, and Friday's culprit was a familiar one.
Coleman has battled anxiety issues for a while, and Powell said the senior had a "full-on anxiety attack" on Friday.
"It's happened to him before," Powell said. "It breaks my heart."
A despondent Coleman bounced back in the night session to pin his opponent in the consolation bracket in what Powell termed an "emotionless" performance.
For Coleman, the tournament was expected to cap a sparkling high school career – he placed third as a junior, fifth as a sophomore – but it doesn't compare to what he's dealt with away from the mat.
Coleman's father and stepfather were involved in drugs and were not a significant part of his life. Powell said Coleman's older brother, Lillashawn, was the first member of the family to graduate from high school.
"If I could sit here and tell you his life's story for an hour, you'd be amazed," Powell said.
"That boy's personal growth, in terms of his character and who he has become in the last four years, is something that wins and losses don't really measure. That's what I'm most proud of him about. Today was a reminder that wrestling isn't the end of the world."
Nor is it the end of his wrestling career. Coleman is one of the country's best Greco-Roman wrestlers – "I told him my tickets for 2012 (Olympics) are in the mail," Powell said – and he'll attend Northern Michigan, the site of the Olympic training center for Greco-Roman. Coleman won the national title in Greco as a sophomore.
"He's going to go places in the Senior U.S. Open in Greco, and this won't seem like that big of a deal," Powell said.
* * *
There isn't much doubt about which final tonight could be the most anticipated of the tournament.
If both win their semifinal matches today, Glenbard North's Tony Ramos (46-2) and Sandburg's Jon Morrison (42-1) will tangle in what figures to be a dandy 3A 125-pound final.
Ramos, an Iowa recruit, won at 125 last February. His only losses were against out-of-state opponents. Morrison, who will wrestle at Oklahoma State, was victorious last winter at 119. His defeat was a 3-0 loss to Ramos in the regular season.
Both, however, face challenges in the 9:30 a.m. semis. Ramos squares off against Oak Park-River Forest's Chris Dardanes (33-5), ranked third in the state by Illinoismatmen.com. Morrison takes on Wheeling's Luke Smith (34-2), ranked fourth.
* * *
There has never been a three-time state champion who failed in his bid for a fourth crown. Dakota's Seth Milks acknowledged there's some pressure for him to follow through.
Milks, the 2008 champ at 119, reached the 1A semifinals at 130 on Friday.
"There's always pressure coming down here," said Milks, 34-4. "For me it's a little different being a three-time (champion). Everybody wants me to get that fourth and so do I. It just puts more pressure on my back."
Milks said "everybody is gunning for me," but he's not the only wrestler in his bracket with big-time title hopes. Kewanee senior Jermaine McKnight (25-1), who finished first at the sectional while Milks was third, is in the other semifinal. McKnight will face Wilmington's Steve Heino (35-2), the 1A runner-up last winter at 130.
Milks hopes his experience will pull him through.
"A lot of kids will get nervous down here," he said, "but I'm used to it."
* * *
No school has produced more than four individual state champs in a year, but Montini – which had 13 state qualifiers – could be in a position to break that mark.
The Broncos have – get this – nine wrestlers in the 2A semifinals. Four are top-ranked in their weight classes: Stephen Robertson (125), Isaiah Gonzalez (160), Carl Foreside (189) and Grant Goebel (215).
Goebel, a senior making his state debut, won his only match Friday with a pin in 3:45. He'll face East Peoria's Nate Joseph (39-4) next.
"Most of these kids are from down south," Goebel said. "Their records are really good but you don't know who they're wrestling, so you don't know how they're going to be."
Goebel's brother, Garrett, won two state titles before joining the Ohio State football team last fall.
* * *
Coal City's 160-pounder Chase Odeen (39-0) is gunning for his second straight 1A crown, having won at 152 a year ago. If he does, he'll match the feat of his brother, John, now wrestling at Northern Illinois.
John had a some interesting advice for his younger sibling.
"Pardon my French, but he told me to" – at this point, Odeen added some salty language not fit for a family newspaper – "get after it."
So Odeen did, winning his only bout 8-2.