CHAMPAIGN — Amid a weekend of triumphs, LeRoy's Justin Meyers had his share of tribulations.
One by one, the seven teammates who accompanied him to the state tournament fell by the wayside in their quest for state championships. Four of them, like Meyers, were seniors.
"It's tough," he said. "They are my best friends. I've grown up with them."
He dismissed the notion that he could help ease their pain and frustration by winning his first state championship.
"The only thing that will help them is winning dual-team state (which continues with Tuesday night sectional championship matches) and we're coming for it," said Meyers, who was in the Class 1A championship spotlight match.
Only in the 138-pound weight class, where second-ranked Meyers met Sandwich's top-ranked Alphonso Vruno, were both challengers unbeaten this season.
In a showdown between a pair of three-time championship-match participants, Vruno prevailed by one point — 4-3 — at the Assembly Hall in the 75th IHSA state wrestling tournament.
Meyers, who declined TV and newspaper requests for an interview after the finals, now has just as much motivation as his teammates to seek a title in the team-dual series.
LeRoy coach Doug DeWald said the closeness of the championship match indicated the closeness in the abilities of the finalists.
"It was two guys who wanted the same thing," he said. "Both are in great shape. Both understand wrestling. If they wrestled 10 times, they'd probably split them 5-5.
"Today, one guy comes out on top and the other goes home unhappy."
Meyers scored the first takedown but allowed one in the final minute to fall behind 4-3. He worked for a reversal and, DeWald said, "was awfully close, but he ran out of time. Another 10 or 15 seconds and he might have got it."
Meyers was one of the LeRoy grapplers who helped DeWald's team set a school record with five state placers. This was the fifth successive year for LeRoy athletes to earn medals, but the school had never had more than two in a year previously.
"Justin and Devin (Bulington) were in sixth grade when I came here," DeWald said. "You knew then they had something special."
One third-place bout, at 220 pounds, had a guaranteed area winner. LeRoy's Brad Simmons went against Argenta-Oreana/Maroa-Forsyth's Aaron Ford. Simmons posted his first career win against the Bombers' standout, 8-7, thanks to a takedown in the final 40 seconds.
The area's other third-placer was GCMS/Fisher's Josh Wallick (285). He ended his season with a 4:34 pin over second-ranked Mitchell Keppy, from Riverdale.
"He was ranked higher, but that didn't matter," Wallick said. "I knew if I could get him to his back, it would be game over. It feels amazing to know I'm getting third."
Bulington joined Meyers as the first three-time placers from LeRoy.
"Their careers have been fantastic," DeWald said, "They're tremendous competitors, and they've set a high standard."
Bulington's first win Saturday was a pin (in 5:14) that was the 101st of his career and shot him into 12th place on the all-time IHSA state list and past former Urbana athlete Cody Abbott for the all-time News-Gazette area lead.
Three of the six third-place bouts featuring area athletes were rematches from earlier in the tournament. All three of the rematches ended in the same manner. This is the second year the IHSA has not allowed "walkovers" if two wrestlers are matched up for a second time in the same postseason tournament.
Representing the area and accepting the fourth-place medals besides Ford and Bulington (who is 160-10 in his prep career) were Prairie Central's Evan Bahler (138), Hoopeston Area's Zach Drollinger (152) and St. Joseph-Ogden's Kenny Lindsey (195).
Bulington, Bahler and Drollinger all lost third-place matches to individuals who had beaten them earlier. All three kept the match closer the second time around.
For A-O, it was the fourth straight year coach Gary Cook had a state medalist. The GCMS/Fisher cooperative program also has a four-year streak for medalists. Prairie Central has had medalists three years in a row. Bismarck-Henning and Hoopeston Area repeated their placement feats from 2011.
GCMS/Fisher's Chet McClure (132) was the lone area athlete among the five in fifth-place matches to end the season with a victory. In a rematch from earlier in the tournament, he decisioned Montini's Schuyler Lindsay for the second time, 11-1. The first win was by an 8-2 score.
Area wrestlers grabbing sixth-place medals the first year they were available to Class 1A athletes were LeRoy teammates Austin Matlock (120) and Josh Johnson (152) along with Hoopeston Area's Robbie Irvin (160) and Bismarck-Henning's Morgan Supergan (285).
Of the six heavyweights who medaled in 1A, only Supergan and GCMS/Fisher's Wallick are underclassmen.
"Our goal was to medal as high as possible," B-H coach Phil Benjamin said. "Sixth is not what he wanted, but it's nothing to be ashamed of. In a few days, it will sink in and he will feel truly blessed to make it this far as a junior."
Supergan and Wallick went head-to-head in the match to determine who would compete for third, and Wallick was triumphant, 4-1.
Seven area athletes ended one win short of capturing a state medal. That group included Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher teammates Cameron Schwing (106) and Dylan Donner (120) as well as Monticello teammates Ramsey Hoss (145) and Luke Dunn (152). Bismarck-Henning's Zach Martin (126), LeRoy's Caleb Wilson (160) and St. Joseph-Ogden's Andy Bensyl (182) each narrowly missed placing.
Bensyl was slowed by an ankle injury he suffered at sectional and, he said, "I had no explosion." Schwing had the closest quarterfinal wrestleback loss, 1-0, against sixth-ranked Anthony Luis, from Harvard,
Schwing, Martin, Hoss, Wilson and Bensyl were all ousted by higher-ranked wrestlers. Dunn was defeated by Hoopeston Area's Drollinger, 11-2, in the lone elimination bout featuring two area competitors.
Notebook items: Championship-session attendance was 7,910, and the five-session total was 29,228. ... LeRoy's eight state-meet competitors compiled an overall 18-14 record. Six of the qualifiers had at least two wins. ... The IHSA does not recognize team scores at state, but trackwrestling.com charted all the points earned by a school's entries. The 1A leaders were Sterling Newman (105), Lena-Winslow (89 1/2), Dakota (67), LeRoy (67), Stillman Valley (66 1/2), Byron (61) and Wilmington (59 1/2). ... The lone area official assigned to state was Farmer City's Ron Coit. He was working his ninth individual tournament. Counting dual-team state meets, he has worked state finals for 15 consecutive years. ... One of the four Grand Marshals was former Champaign Central and Danville wrestling coach Don Pittman. ... Urbana Uni High senior Sarah Sutter sang the national anthem prior to the championship matches.