Twin City wrestling storylines

Twin City wrestling storylines

Champaign County's grapplers will descend upon Combes Gymnasium today for the annual Twin City Meet. Preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS chatted with coaches whose squads will participate:

Charger juniors pushing pace

Justin Cardani is a known commodity for Centennial coach Ed Mears' team. Last season's Class 2A 106-pound state champion is cruising along as a 113-pound senior ahead of a college career with Jim Heffernan's Illinois program.

So Cardani casts a shadow over most matmen in east central Illinois. But two of his junior teammates are making their names known this season as well.

Cameron Nesbitt and Dontaice Roberson are experiencing success under Mears during the 2017-18 campaign. Most recently, at the Lincoln Tournament just before the new year, Roberson earned a championship at 170 and Nesbitt took third at 160.

"(Roberson is) never one who lacks confidence on the mat," Mears said. "He always feels he's going to win a match, and it's been a good formula for him so far. (Nesbitt) has only lost to two eventual champions and a state placer from last year this season. So he's done really well."

Other Chargers making positive strides heading into the Twin City meet are junior Wade Dawson at 182 and freshman Cam McMullen at 106. Mears said the Chargers have benefited from a warmup routine Cardani brought from his time last summer with Team Illinois, involving more gymnastics and stretching to improve athleticism.

What all of this will mean for Centennial today isn't clear, as Mears said he's starting multiple first-year kids in addition to dealing with holes in his lineup. So the impact of a strong day at Combes would be powerful for the Chargers.

"I think that'd mean a lot," Mears said. "It's about the halfway mark of the season, one month until regionals. So hopefully the inexperienced kids are making progress."

Central getting back in action

Coach Merle Ingersoll's Champaign Central outfit has not competed in a varsity meet since Dec. 16 at Mascoutah, the longest layoff for any of the four programs going at it today in Combes.

With the holiday break also leading to some vacation-related absences among the team, Ingersoll is glad the Maroons will be getting back to the grind.

"For the most part, the team has stayed together," Ingersoll said. "We're looking forward to (Twin City) this year. We plan to make some moves to better our chances (of winning)."

Ingersoll will rely on the likes of senior Jackson Skube at 145 pounds, sophomore Dalton Hall at 160 and senior Dylan Gunn at 195 to push Central, which Ingersoll said may not be able to field a full lineup today. Hall's involvement isn't guaranteed, as he's been dealing with an undisclosed injury.

"I really haven't seen too many people challenge him a whole lot," Ingersoll said. "He's ... one weight class up from last year. I'm not sure if he needs to go down or not, but he seems to be happy at that weight."

Gunn has had plenty of momentum this season since winning the title at 195 at the Civic Memorial Tournament in early December. Ingersoll said he's also been pleased with the advancement of sophomore DeLeon Rice at 120 pounds.With all that considered, if Central is able to fill all its weight slots, Ingersoll likes the crew's chances of reigning supreme in Champaign County.

"I think if we have a full team, we can win it," Ingersoll said. "I think they need to step up and compete hard."

Sabers seeking a leader

Once seniors such as Andrew Mammen and Marlin Smock graduated in 2017, St. Thomas More coach Mark Mammen knew he'd be facing a bit of an uphill battle with the Sabers in the following season.

And so far, the returns have been mixed. But sophomore J.D. Sexton appears to be grabbing the bull by the horns and trying to jump into a top role, as he recorded a 6-1 record at 152 pounds in contested matches last week at the STM New Year's Challenge.

"I think he's somebody who's starting to emerge as someone trying to lead by example," Mammen said. "He's been responding to challenges the coaching staff has presented him. On that end, I feel good about where's he heading."

Mammen said his lineup is consistently in flux right now as a result of four to five forfeitures a night. But he's also seen strong contributions from some of the younger guns.

Freshman Ian Clapper at 106 is an athlete Mammen described as a "competitive kid who is trying very hard." Sophomore George Atkins at 126 picked up a pair of victories at the New Year's Challenge, while fellow-second year competitor Dan Hettinger has stepped up at 170.

"He's somebody that has a lot of potential but hasn't fully realized it yet," Mammen said of Hettinger. "He struggles with confidence issues, but when he's confident, there's glimpses of what he can really do."

Mammen would no doubt like to see that — from Hettinger and others — at today's event. He said his concern doesn't lie with picking up a team victory as much as adding to individuals' win ledgers.

"I think the competition will be pretty spirited," Mammen said. "I just hope the kids are confident and ready to go. That's our theme this year is trying to wrestle confident, have fun and give it all you've got."