CHAMPAIGN – Colten Unzicker's wrestling season ended on Saturday the way in began in November.
With one gigantic exception.
The person he lost to in the season's first match – 2008 state champion Chase Odeen, from Coal City – is the person Unzicker extracted revenge against in the Class 1A state championship match at 160 pounds at the UI Assembly Hall.
The Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher wrestler snapped a 1-1 tie on a takedown with 1:04 remaining and held off Odeen, 3-1, for the gold medal.
In the season opener, Odeen posted a 3-2 victory. The rematch went to Unzicker, a three-time state-qualifier, who captured his first state medal.
"It's a dream come true," Unzicker said.
He didn't wait to put on his sweat clothes – or talk to reporters – before starting his postmatch celebration. He raced up to the C Section where he received – and gave – hugs to many in the cheering GCMS/Fisher throng.
"My mom (Theresa) was the main one," Unzicker said. "She's the one who has been making sure I'm getting the right nutrition."
Unzicker's genuine thankfulness and concern for noticing those who supported him came as no surprise to the Falcons coach, Ryan Birt.
"I don't know if there's a more deserving kid (of a state title)," Birt said. "He's a leader beyond a leader. He's a good Christian kid who has a good heart and doesn't say a bad word about anyone."
The key reason Unzicker stood atop the podium was his – and his team's – quest for competition, even if it meant sacrificing a gaudy record.
"Our mentality is to go after the competition," Unzicker said. "I practice against Cody Flynn (Class 1A's third-place finisher at 189 pounds) and bigger guys, and that has prepared me."
When the Falcons had a regular season dual meet against Class 2A Mahomet-Seymour, the 160-pound Unzicker bumped up a weight class to face the Bulldogs' Andrew Brewer, who Saturday won a state title in his weight division.
Unzicker lost that match, but Birt said it made him stronger.
"We don't dodge people," Birt said. "We want to wrestle the best. That's a philosophy I got from when I wrestled for Wayne Mammen and Randy Blackman at Urbana."
Early in the season, while cutting his weight after football, Unzicker competed at 171. Among the people he faced – and beat – were Pittsfield's Devon Johnson (who placed second at state on Saturday) and Wilmington's Jeremy Bailey (the third-place finisher at 171).
At state, Unzicker's dominance showed. In three matches, he permitted two points, both on uncontested escapes.
GCMS/Fisher teammate Guy Kirby (135 pounds) joined Unzicker in the Grand March of Finalists after subduing Murphysboro's Jake Miller, 6-2, in the semifinals. Kirby allowed the first takedown, but was unscored upon the final two periods.
In the championship match, fourth-ranked Kirby dropped a 2-0 decision to top-ranked John VanDuyne, from Wilmington.
Birt said Kirby's success is no surprise.
"He lost 3-1 to last year's state champion in the (2008) semifinals," Birt said. "He has a great work ethic."
Against VanDuyne, Kirby gave up a first-period takedown and spent the entire final four minutes on the top position, attempting to turn his opponent and score near-fall points.
"I was getting him where I wanted, but I wasn't able to finish it," Kirby said. "I'm pretty good on top, but I wasn't able to get it done. I'm happy, but I'm not satisfied."
The area's third title-match competitor, Argenta-Oreana's Cody Force (215 pounds), tied the school record for consecutive wins in a season (41) in the semifinals, when he stunned second-ranked Michael Sojka, from Winnebago, 3-1 in a match that was scoreless until the third period.
Force's title-match appearance was his second in three years. He placed second, matching his 2007 finish.
He was tied with Bishop McNamara's Mario Zinanni 1-1 in the final 10 seconds, before giving up a takedown and back points in a 6-1 loss.
All four GCMS/Fisher wrestlers who took to the mats Saturday won at least once. Flynn prevailed twice to capture third and give the program a school single-season record three medalists.
Flynn had no guarantee of a match when he arrived at the Assembly Hall, but salvaged a wrestleback reprieve. His third-place pin, in 2:50 over Canton's Kyle Chapai, was against the person who had pinned him one week earlier at the Olympia Sectional.
"I was hoping he'd win so I could wrestle him again," Flynn said.
The area's other medalists were LeRoy's Tyler Wilfley (fourth at 140), his school's first two-time state medalist, and St. Thomas More's Nathan Santhanam (fourth at 112), his school's first medalist in the eight years it has offered the sport.
The St. Thomas More junior posted two pins to reach the third-place bout, where he lost 6-2 to third-ranked Thorian Twyner, from Orion.
"Getting a medal is awesome," Santhanam said. "I love doing it for Coach (Cord Schroeder). This will go down in his legacy."
The coach said full credit should go to Santhanam.
"He never wrestled before high school," Schroeder said, "but I don't know if anyone works harder than he does."
Six area athletes lost in semifinal wrestlebacks and were one win away from a medal.
Falling short were Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac teammates Dacian Alvarez (103) and Wesley Patton (112), LeRoy teammates Cory Matlock (119) and Dan Monical (135), GCMS/Fisher's Stephan Birt (152) and Clinton's Nick Wheat (215), who defaulted out of the semifinals after suffering an ankle injury.
Matlock took top-ranked Allen Fish, from Byron, into overtime before losing 4-2. Alvarez dropped a 3-0 decision in his final wrestleback bout.