CHAMPAIGN — Justin Meyers stands alone this morning among the area's Class 1A athletes.
The LeRoy senior hopes tonight to hold that status among the state's 138-pound wrestlers.
Of six area Class 1A athletes in semifinal matches of the 75th IHSA state wrestling tournament, the unbeaten Meyers was the only one to qualify for the finals during Friday night's semifinals at the Assembly Hall.
It should hardly be surprising. He's in the title bout for the third consecutive year and wants to improve on back-to-back runner-up finishes.
"That will help a little," Meyers said, "but every year is different. There is no preparation for the finals."
Meyers scored three of his five semifinal takedowns in the first period and overpowered Mercer County's sixth-ranked Derrick Morford 12-6.
"I took it to him and dominated from the beginning," Meyers said. "That's the way I like to wrestle. It was awesome."
Though he has been close to a state title for two years, he was far away when he made his debut in the sport as a sixth-grader.
"I got knocked out in the regionals," he said, "but I worked in the offseason and came back and placed (at state) the next year."
Two LeRoy teammates were among the five from the area who came up short in the semifinals. Austin Matlock (120) and Josh Johnson (152) return to action this morning in the wrestlebacks but are assured of their first state medals. They cannot place lower than sixth.
Matlock's 100th win was almost a loss. He needed a buzzer-beating takedown to pull off a 4-3 triumph against Lisle's Ryan Kilroy in the quarterfinals. After two one-point wins, however, he dropped a 9-6 semifinal decision to second-ranked Garrett Webb, from Sterling Newman.
Johnson, one of the meet's biggest surprise stories, lost 5-3 to top-ranked Zach Nelson, from Mercer County, in the semifinals.
Entering his senior season, Johnson had 26 varsity wins. This season, he is 34-3.
"He has come a long ways," LeRoy coach Doug DeWald said. "He was behind Devin (Bulington) as a freshman and sophomore and then grew about 6 inches and put on 30 pounds.
"He cracked the lineup as a junior but wasn't satisfied. He has come back and had a really nice year."
The other area standouts who started with back-to-back wins at state were Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher's Chet McClure (132), Hoopeston Area's Robbie Irvin (160) and Bismarck-Henning's Morgan Supergan (285).
McClure, Irvin and Supergan face a morning consolation match that will determine whether they compete for third or fifth place.
Top-rated Maxx Hubbard, from Sterling-Newman, dropped McClure 6-3 in the semifinals. Irvin fell 5-3 to second-ranked Billy Chancey, from Reed-Custer. Supergan carried a 1-0 lead against third-rated Colton Pease, from Pittsfield, into the final period but was pinned in 5:02.
After falling behind 5-0 in the opening period of the semis, McClure (132) scored more points the rest of the way but couldn't overcome the early deficit against Hubbard.
GCMS/Fisher sophomore teammate Cameron Schwing had two calls go against him in the final two seconds of his quarterfinal showdown against top-ranked Gunner Wenger, from Lena-Winslow.
He scored a takedown and near-fall to pull into a 7-7 tie with :02 remaining only to fall behind 8-7 when he was assessed a penalty point. He then let Wenger escape and thought he had a buzzer-beating takedown to force overtime, but it was disallowed and he dropped a 9-7 decision.
Supergan pulled off a stunning 7-5 win against second-ranked Mitchell Keppy, from Riverdale, in the quarterfinals. He broke a 5-5 tie with a final-minute takedown.
"He had a game plan and wrestled it perfectly," said B-H coach Phil Benjamin, who has come to expect Supergan's proficiency on his feet.
"He leads our team in takedowns and has only given up about five," Benjamin said. "That's one of Morgan's stronger areas."
Fourteen area athletes — including Schwing — have already registered wins in wrestlebacks and are one victory from clinching a state medal.
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher and LeRoy have three qualifiers preparing for today's quarterfinal wrestlebacks, while Monticello and St. Joseph-Ogden each have two.
All 14 had to regroup mentally after a loss ended their hopes for a state championship.
"I can't get first, but I look at the best-case scenario. I can still get third," said SJ-O 195-pounder Kenny Lindsey. "I've worked hard all season trying to get to this point."
Teammate Andy Bensyl (182) adopted the philosophy that his prep career isn't over until it's over.
"It's what Coach (Richard Vetter) preaches, 'Give your best until the end,' " Bensyl said. "I've worked hard and don't want to let it go in the wrestlebacks."
Monticello's medal hopes rest with seniors Ramsey Hoss (145) and Luke Dunn (152).
Hoss arrived at the Assembly Hall on Friday not sure if he'd be able to compete. He was given the chance when the person who beat him a day earlier won again.
"Knowing he won made me feel pretty good," Hoss said. "I thought how important this (wrestleback) match was. Next time if you lose you're out for sure."
Dunn started his day with an 8-4 loss to second-ranked Brian Bahrs, from Sterling Newman. Bahrs is in the title match.
"The kid is tough, and knowing I wrestled tough was reassuring and made it easier to bounce back," Dunn said.
Monticello coach Andy Moore appreciates the mental toughness shown by Hoss and Dunn.
"One of the most difficult matches to ever wrestle is when you have to bounce back from a tough loss," Moore said. "You've set your expectations to be at the top of the podium, and when you fall short it's hard to come back."
LeRoy's wrestleback trio includes Bulington (126), Caleb Wilson (160) and Brad Simmons (220). Seniors Bulington and Simmons were each ranked second but dropped quarterfinal matches by scores of 3-1 and 4-3, respectively.
"For seniors, I've said it's harder to get third than to win state," DeWald said, "because you have to come back from that devastation. With those (wrestleback) performances, you see the type of character we have. It didn't take long to understand pride and not give in."
Two GCMS/Fisher athletes (Schwing, 106, and Josh Wallick, 285) collected pins in their wrestleback bouts. They'll be joined by teammate Dylan Donner (120) in today's 9 a.m. wrestleback session.
Others from the area in Class 1A who need one more victory to assure themselves of a state medal are Argenta-Oreana's Aaron Ford (285), Bismarck-Henning's Zach Martin (126), Hoopeston Area's Zach Drollinger (152) and Prairie Central's Evan Bahler (138).