Decorated Ward hoping to finally reach state

CHAMPAIGN – In the history of Champaign Central wrestling, no Maroon is more accomplished at the art of the pin than Brandon Ward.

Perhaps too accomplished.

At least that's the view of first-year Central coach Dan Warner, who has urged his state-ranked 171-pounder to purposely extend many of his matches this season.

"He's such an explosive kid, if he wants to end a match, he can end it," Warner said. "He has things in his arsenal that are unbelievable."

So, why stay on the mat longer than necessary and risk defeat? The answer, Warner hopes, will be obvious this weekend at the Class 2A Springfield Lanphier Sectional.

This deep into the IHSA postseason, Ward – and other qualifiers, for that matter – should expect every match to go deep, too. For that reason, Warner wants his talented senior to be prepared – especially mentally – to go the distance each time he steps on the mat.

"You have to be able to deal with those pressure situations," the coach said. "You're going to need that six, maybe even nine minutes (including overtime) in a match to be able to get that victory.

"So the extra time you spend on the mat right now is going to be the crucial time that's going to pay off at the state tournament."

Ward, ranked 10th in his weight class by Illinoismatmen.com, is eager for that payoff. For all that he has accomplished in his career – 83 pins, 20 more than the next closest Maroon; 128 wins, the third most in Central history; a school-record 663 team points – Ward has yet to reach state.

Ward admits he sometimes created his own roadblocks with disciplinary issues.

"My head wasn't on straight the past couple years," he said. "I kind of got off track. This year I've focused on keeping my head on straight to go to state this year. It's one of my biggest goals of the year."

Warner said Ward (32-3) has bought into the strategy of wrestling full matches, even at the expense of a loss or two he might otherwise have avoided. Except for an 11-2 setback against a defending 2A state champion – Dylan Reel of Washington – the veteran has kept his rare defeats close.

"He's done a really good job of extending those matches with kids that he may have been able, with that one explosive move, end the match," Warner said. "Staying on the mat has backfired on us a couple times, but in the long run it's going to pay off.

"He's gotten that quality mat time. He's learned to be in a pressure-packed environment. And he matches he has lost, he hasn't lost by a great deal so he knows he can compete at the highest level."

Wrestling complete matches also has put Ward's fitness level to the test. He's responded with a renewed commitment to aerobic training.

"(I'm) running a lot, a lot more sprints," Ward said. "Instead of pacing myself, I tried to go hard as much as I could."

To make the breakthrough to state, Ward will need to finish in the top three at sectionals, which begin a two-day run Friday. More than a few times this season, the senior has told Warner, "Coach, I'm going to state."

Ultimately, Ward is the only person that can accomplish that, but his coach is a believer.

"I really believe in my heart that this year Brandon has maintained focus," Warner said. "I feel like it's going to happen this year. I really do. I think he's got a great chance."

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