CHAMPAIGN — Plenty felt fresh about the annual Twin City wrestling meet, held Tuesday at St. Thomas More.
Three participating teams boasted a first-year head coach. And there was a new program involved altogether, with Judah Christian suiting up for the inaugural time in its second season of existence. Some things, though, remained similar from recent Twin City versions. Such as the overall champion coming down to a dual between Centennial and Champaign Central.
The Chargers sent out longtime leader Ed Mears with a bang, taking eight of 13 contested matches versus the Maroons to end the night and cap a sweep of Central, Judah, STM and Urbana.
“I like bragging about my young kids,” said Mears, who is retiring after the 2019-2020 campaign. “Those freshmen ... they go out after it.”
Mears was referring to guys like Nicholas Pianfetti at 106 pounds, Declan Pate at 113, TJ Easter at 138 and Brandon Harvey at 182, all of whom recorded a win by fall against their Maroon foes.
But he also was pointing out the efforts of senior Carson Gates, a heavyweight who’s in his first season of wrestling at any level.
“He pretty much dominated,” Mears said of Gates, who won all three of his Tuesday matches by fall — none taking longer than 1 minute, 3 seconds.
“He’s as strong as anybody around,” Mears continued. “I wish he had a few more years under his belt. ... But he’s also beat some really good kids.”
That includes Mahomet-Seymour senior Seth Buchanan, currently ranked sixth at Class 2A 285 by Illinois Matmen.
“I just have a good coaching staff,” Gates said. “They taught me how to do everything. I’m really grateful. Even though it’s my first year, they’re showing me the love.”
Gates recently completed a senior football season in which he was named all-Big 12 Conference first team on the defensive line. Does that carry over to the wrestling mat?
“It does a little bit,” Gates said, “but I think wrestling’s a lot more technical than football is.”
Pate joined Gates in the three-win column during Tuesday’s action, while guys like Pianfetti, Easter, Cam McMullen (126) and David Navarra (160) succeeded twice apiece.
“Even when we have to move guys around because some guys didn’t make weight (we still do well),” Mears said. “We won some good matches.”
Central bested its other three opponents as it and Centennial each held a significant roster size advantage over the Tribe, Sabers and Tigers.
Laterion McClendon pulled through three times across 138 and 145 for the Maroons to go with two victories for Liam Potenberg at 126/132 and a pair of triumphs for Dalton Hall at 160.
The senior Hall is the reigning 2A state third-place medalist at his weight and presently is rated No. 1 in the group by Illinois Matmen. He’s joined in that respect by sophomore brother Carter Hall, who captured a win in his lone contested match Tuesday and is garnering honorable-mention status from the ranking service at 2A 120.
That said, the Hall boys are in very different boats at this time. Central coach Merle Ingersoll noted that Dalton Hall still is trying to reach his necessary fitness level.
“He had some doubts whether to come back or not, just from high expectations,” Ingersoll said. “Didn’t know if he wanted to deal with that, and I understand that. ... He decided that he missed it, so he came back.”
Carter Hall, meanwhile, is cruising through most of his competition.
“I have not really seen too many people even come close to him this year,” Ingersoll said of last year’s 2A 113 sixth-place finisher. “Him placing last year, I think, gave him really a boost of confidence. When he came back this year, guys that had given him tough battles before, he’s owning them.”
As for Judah, STM and Urbana, each unit found something to be happy about over the course of Twin City’s action.
Tribe boss Jack LeClair watched heavyweight Michael Jancola score the first Judah win in meet history when Jancola turned in a fall over Central’s LaVontae Pelmore.
Jancola was the lone member of the Tribe to pick up two triumphs on the evening, and Jonathan Bailey added one at 132.
“For them, it’s saying that we’re part of Champaign and Urbana,” LeClair said. “Yes, we’re a small school and we haven’t had this before, but now we do and now we’re ready to compete with these bigger schools.”
The host Sabers this season are under the direction of Ben Montez, the father of former STM grappling standout Stephen Montez. The younger Montez died in a 2015 traffic accident at age 24, and his name resides on a banner adorning one of the gymnasium walls.
“The school means a great deal to me,” Ben Montez said. “I want to see the program succeed.”
When former STM coach Mark Mammen’s departure from the program left the Sabers in a bind, Montez answered the call.
“Basically I told them that if it came to that, I would coach the team,” said Montez, who estimates he’s roamed a wrestling sideline more than 40 years. “I used to tell myself if I could get paid to do this I would. Now I’m getting paid to do it. How about that?”
Current Sabers star JD Sexton, a two-time state qualifier, won both of his contested meetings at 160 on Tuesday. Jason Palmberg experienced similar fortunes at 113.
Urbana is moving on from the graduation of three-time state champion Luke Luffman, now wrestling at Illinois. The Tigers are coached by 2007 Urbana graduate Amalio Diego-Juan, who’s in his 10th year with the team after nine seasons as either an unpaid or paid assistant.
“I’m still learning what it means to be a head coach,” Diego-Juan said. “It’s still a very brand-new endeavor.”
Four different Tigers secured one victory apiece in this round-robin. Perhaps the two most impressive came against Central, as Terez Thomas put away his 113 rival in 25 seconds and Quentin Coleman used a late escape-pinfall combination to defeat his 285 opponent with less than 30 seconds to spare.
Also important to Diego-Juan at events like Tuesday’s was picking the minds of local veterans Mears and Ingersoll.
“I look up to those guys,” Diego-Juan said. “I want to learn from who I consider as the best in the area.”