Stepping up to the mat

Stepping up to the mat

We're just days away from being immersed in the prep wrestling postseason, and plenty of local teams have major ambitions. Preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS checks in with a trio of high-flying squads:

Bulldogs building off recent success

MAHOMET — Scheduling strong is not limited to the basketball court come winter sports time.

Just ask Mahomet-Seymour wrestling coach Rob Ledin.

When the Bulldogs host a Class 2A regional this Saturday that will bring nine other opponents to their facility, it'll be the smallest weekend tournament M-S has participated in all season.

Ledin is hopeful that will have the Bulldogs — who are vying for their fourth-straight regional championship — both physically and mentally prepared not only to post some weight-class victories, but also move on to the sectional round as a whole unit. Only the regional champion will continue their season as a team, while the top three wrestlers in each weight class will move on to the sectional meet.

"It's not like they haven't been in bigger, better stages at this point," Ledin said. "Nothing they're going to do is any different. We wouldn't want to push them to do anything different in their wrestling or focus."

The Bulldogs presently are rated fifth in 2A by Illinois Mat Men and finished the regular season with a 21-2 dual-meet record. That includes winning the first-ever Apollo Conference championship, which M-S achieved by defeating Effingham and Taylorville last Thursday.

Though seniors David Spencer and David Griffet, who compete at 138 and 285 pounds, respectively, are returning state qualifiers for the Bulldogs, Ledin said the club's success this season has come from a full team effort. Senior Ben Stahl is breaking out at 220, while senior Lucas Morgan (160), along with juniors Wyatt Heimann (170) and Kyle Johnson (152), have also made strong contributions.

Ledin feels Saturday's regional — which includes area teams like Argenta-Oreana/Maroa-Forsyth, Centennial, Champaign Central, Danville, Rantoul, Urbana and Westville/Georgetown-Ridge Farm — offers a good mix of foes, though only M-S qualified for the 2A dual state tournament last season. Even with that in mind, Ledin said it hasn't been difficult to keep his guys locked in on what's directly ahead.

"We spend a lot of time with our mental training to focus on it match by match at this point," Ledin said. "If you don't win this match, there is no next match. You've just got to home in on what's at stake."Shobe keys

Maroons' assault

CLINTON — Adorning the Clinton gymnasium walls are two separate shoutouts to coach Matt Cooper's wrestling crew.

In one spot, you can find an ever-growing list of individual state placers. In another is an assortment of team accomplishments. The Maroons have one overarching goal heading into Saturday's Class 1A regional they'll host: add to both registers.

"That's what we talk about is continuing to get different names up there and different paint up there," Cooper said.

Clinton will have ample opportunities to do so beginning this weekend. The Maroons most recently were rated fifth in 1A by Illinois Mat Men and are paced by returning state qualifiers in senior Luke Shobe, juniors Kolby Winter and Chase Reynolds and sophomore Micah Downs.

Shobe has experienced the most success this season among that group. The 170-pounder is rated third in his weight by Illinois Mat Men and holds a pair of regular-season tournament titles.

"His work ethic is out of this world," Cooper said. "He's a leader and captain of this team, and he shows it with actions and words."

In addition to the efforts of Winter at 152, Reynolds at 145 and Downs at 182, Clinton also has been aided by an effective trio of upperclassmen — Tyler Harris at 126, Bryce Reeves at 160 and Kyle Hammer at 220.

The Maroons' lone ding this season came in a 36-33 defeat at the hands of Rock Island Alleman, which is ranked 12th in 1A. Cooper said that result, part of Clinton's 24-1 duals ledger, was important for his program.

"I think it was more of a wake-up call," he said. "I think they felt they were just going to walk through that one. Nothing major went wrong besides we didn't wrestle and compete hard."

That shouldn't be an issue for the Maroons as they stay home to begin the postseason. Challenges await from Olympia, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher, Hoopeston Area and LeRoy/Tri-Valley, among others, but Cooper anticipates a bit of an advantage for his grapplers.

"You get that extra hour, 45 minutes of sleep on Saturday morning," he said. "Hopefully, we can get a good home crowd in here and help them support the guys. I think that little stuff kind of helps."

Hawks ready for feisty regional

FAIRBURY — Those in charge of the regional draw were not kind to coach Mark Payne's Prairie Central squad this season.

After battling Olympia and Clinton in a Class 1A tournament to start the most recent postseason, the Hawks must contend with Coal City and Clifton Central/Iroquois West this year at the Coal City Regional on Saturday.

Prairie Central is ranked sixth in 1A by Illinois Mat Men. Occupying the fourth and seventh spots? Coal City and Clifton Central/IW, respectively.

"That's going to be a challenge," Payne said. "Hopefully, the team is ready for it."

Despite experiencing some regular-season setbacks, the Hawks went 21-5 in dual meets, including a victory over Clifton Central/IW.

Critical to that has been senior Drew Hoselton, a returning state qualifier who Illinois Mat Men places first among 1A 170-pounders. In addition to Hoselton's past exploits, he's ended three tournaments this season atop the podium at 170.

And that's not an aberration for the Hawks. Freshman Brandon Hoselton at 195, senior Cade Kerns at 220 and senior Alex Steidinger at 285 — the middle also a returning state qualifier — are also rated among Illinois' best at their weights.

"That's been the X-factor, I'd say," Payne said. "They've been carrying a lot of weight on their shoulders in meets we've been winning. They have high expectations for the individual postseason, and I do, too."

Payne is hopeful he can garner more points from his lighter athletes, such as sophomore Harrison Ifft at 106, sophomore Christian Fever at 113 and senior Marcus Jackson at 126. If that comes to fruition Saturday, Prairie Central could pull off a minor upset in the team chase.

"They've known for a while it's a tall order in front of them," Payne said. "The thing we've focused a lot about is controlling what we can control."