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ROBINSON – C.J. Runkel looks more like a warrior than usual.
A gash across his left eye brow, a black eye and a cut on his chin are all battle scars received last weekend as he conquered the 160-pound weight class at the Robinson Sectional as one of Vandalia’s program record-tying eight individual state qualifiers.
“I’m pretty beat up,” Runkel said. “A day before sectionals, I took a knee to the face, and in the semifinals, the Wood River kid gave me this black eye and the cut on my chin.
“Physically, though, I feel great.”
The Vandalia senior won his first-ever sectional championship and returns to Champaign for the first time since he was a freshman.
The tournament kicks off on Thursday at the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. Class 1A preliminary bouts will begin at 1 p.m.
Runkel, who has won 22 of his 23 bouts since Jan. 14, earned a favorable position in the bracket, and he will look to become Vandalia’s first state placer since Levi Ulmer took fifth in 2012.
He meets Morrison’s Austin Keller in the first round, and with a win, would face either Nick Hawkins of Wilmington or Jesse Setzer of PORTA. He has defeated all three of those wrestlers this season.
“He has faced a lot of guys in his bracket, but it works both ways,” said coach Jason Clay. “They are going to be familiar with what he does, and he is going to be familiar with them.”
Runkel isn’t the only Vandal looking to place, however, as senior Seth Purcell – who finished second at sectionals – finds himself in a similar situation.
Purcell meets Erie’s Nick Williams in the first round at 170 pounds, and with a win could meet up with El Paso’s Hunter Sant Amour, who Purcell defeated earlier this season.
And after losing a close battle to Shelbyville’s Lucas Duckett in the sectional finals, Purcell is going to be amped up for his second state tournament.
“He about had a takedown in the second period, but (Duckett) faced and ended up getting the takedown,” Clay said of the sectional bout. “The first takedown in that type of match is always going to be critical.
“Seth is pretty good at counter-attacking people, so if he can get in those positions where a guy has to come to him, he is in good shape.”
Also finishing second at the sectional was sophomore Chaston Womack, who becomes a two-time state qualifer after losing to Roxana senior Jeremy O’Gara in the championship bout.
If he can get a first-round win on Thursday, he likely will get a third bout against Coal City’s Cody Minnick, the No. 1 seed in the 113-pound bracket.
Womack was pinned in their first matchup, but only lost 6-1 the second time around, and Clay is excited to see the outcome of a potential third match.
“Minnick is a tough matchup, but the last time, it was 6-1,” Clay said. “If you can hang around, crazier things have happened at the state tournament.
“Hopefully, he can go out and get that first win, and see what happens on Friday.”
Those who win their first-round bout advance to the quarterfinals, which begin on Friday at 8:30 a.m. and are followed by first-round wrestle-backs. Championship semifinals are held on Friday at 7 p.m.
Wrestle-back matches continue at 9 a.m. on Saturday, with the third- and fifth-place bouts at 3 p.m.
The championship finals are held at 5:30 p.m. that night, and will begin at 195 pounds.
Also advancing to state are junior Dalton Blankenship, who is making his third trip; senior Tyler Dagen, who is making his second trip; and first-timers freshman Trevor Philpot, sophomore Bobby Bradley and junior Ryne Lipsey.
Blankenship had a tough sectional, losing in the championship semifinals and nearly missing out on state before escaping with a triple-overtime 8-6 win in the 145-pound consolation semifinals.
Blankenship scored an escape with four seconds left in the bout against Sparta’s Anthony Carter and scored a near-fall in the second overtime period, securing the win by sparring with Carter for the last 30-second period.
He lost the third-place bout to Litchfield’s Seth Newkirk, and will face the No. 1 seed, Jake Snow of Sterling Newman Central Catholic, on Thursday.
“It wasn’t his best tournament,” Clay said. “Dalton is super offensive and wants to get after people, so kids he has wrestled before get defensive against him.
“These kids won’t open up and wrestle you to keep it close, and there were a couple of matches where he wrestled into people’s hands or tried to be too offensive,” he said. “That wrestle-back (semifinal) match was tough – the whole gym was rooting against him – but he pulled it out.”
Dagen navigated his way through the 152-pound bracket – which included five wrestlers ranked by www.illinoismatmen.com – avenging a loss to Litchfield’s Caleb Thompson in the consolation semifinals to earn his trip to Champaign.
Dagen gave up a reversal to Thompson during a dual meet on Jan. 16 to lose 2-1, but got the better of Thompson on Saturday, with a 3-0 victory, by not allowing Thompson to escape in the third period.
“He wrestled a really good match,” Clay said. “That Thompson kid stays in good position, works and works and works, is a good rider and usually can score on the bottom.
“It was impressive to get through that bracket.”
Philpot gives the Vandals a freshman qualifier for the second straight season, and he did so in exciting fashion, scoring a reversal with eight seconds left in his consolation semifinal bout.
The victory was his 27th of the season, a great improvement after he started off at 9-11 before closing the second half with an 18-7 mark.
“He’s a good worker, and wants to be successful,” Clay said. “Wrestling (in practice) with Chaston, Ryne and Luke (Tessman), he is the smallest, so he has to step it up.
“He’s learned some things, and we’ve enhanced some of those things,” he said. “He has a little more confidence in himself, and when you feel like that, you battle harder.”
Womack said that it’s Philpot’s ability to avoid getting pinned that has led to his improved record.
Philpot was pinned in six of his first 11 losses.
“Every day in practice, I’m working with him,” Womack said. “In the beginning of the year, he was getting pinned more, and he’s gotten better at that.”
Lipsey – who has been a model of consistency for the Vandals – has finally reached the state tournament after losing in the sectional semifinals in each of his first two seasons.
He did that again this season, but won a 12-7 consolation semifinal bout over Marquette Catholic’s Deyton Mitchell to qualify in the 120-pound bracket.
Lipsey picked up his 85th career victory with that win.
Bradley was Vandalia’s lone third-place finisher, opening up his offensive moves to beat Murphysboro’s Drew Hopkins, 3-1. Those two have matched up four times this season, and have split the bouts.
Bradley made it to state by beating Robinson’s Aaron Rankin for the third time this season, with a 3-0 victory in the consolation semifinals.
Continuing to be offensive will be a key for Clay’s first-time qualifiers, as well as those who have been to Champaign before.
“That’s part of the challenge of going to the state tournament,” Clay said. “There’s been a lot of kids who go up there, play it close to the vest, wrestle cautious and lose close matches.
“You hope they make it when they are younger so they can have experience, but if they don’t, you have to teach them from your experience and things you’ve seen.”
Also at the sectional, five other Vandals wrestled.
Senior Rodney Tedrick (138), junior Jake Stewart (182) and sophomore Kendrick Woolsey (285) all took tough losses in the consolation semifinals, and junior Adam Palmer (132) and sophomore Luke Tessman (126) lost earlier in the wrestle-back bracket.
Still, Clay has high hopes for those wrestlers in what’s left of their careers.
“I thought Luke wrestled extremely well,” Clay said. “He lost to the kid who won the bracket and lost 3-2 to (Litchfield’s Victor) Kalaher, who has beaten Ryne, so I know he is a quality kid.
“Next year, he’ll be one of the guys who is a state qualifer, or is knocking on the door.”
“Adam has wrestled a lot of good kids this year,” Clay said. “A lot of his losses have been decisions or major decisions, and he’s only been pinned three times on the year.
“With one more year, he has a chance to make a push.”
“Kendrick is right there, and with two more years, he can make a lot of noise in the future,” Clay said.
“Jake is a guy who is helping with the kids club, refing kids matches, lifting weights, coming to practice and going to camps,” Clay said. “He is all about wrestling, so you root for kids who are willing to put that much into it.
“I told him, ‘This offseason, we are going to get you to the state tournament,’” he said.
“Rodney had a tough matchup with (champion Nate) Jozsa, and that Pinckneyville kid made for a tough matchup,” Clay said. “He was upbeat today (Monday) and was the first one here to practice.
“He is going to the state tournament to watch, and is excited to go out there for the team next Tuesday.”
at Robinson Sectional
106 – Trevor Philpot
•First round: Def. Damian Hargett by fall at 1:50
•Quarterfinals: Lost to Nick Tankersley by fall at 1:24
•Consolation first round: Def, Andrew Dori by fall at 3:20
•Cons. QF: Def. Noah Engleston by fall at 3:29
•Cons. semifinals: Def. James Henseler, 209
•Third-place bout: Lost to Tankersley by fall at 1:58
113 – Chaston Womack
•Quarterfinals: Def. Hunter Lambert by fall at 3:17
•Semifinals: Def. Ty Durbin by fall at 0:59
•Championship bout: Lost to Jeremy O’Gara by fall at 2:31
120 – Ryne Lipsey
•Quarterfinals: Def. Kaehl VanDalsen, 14-7
•Semifinals: Lost to Jarrid Braunagel, 17-2
•Cons. SF: Def. Deyton Mitchell, 12-7
•Third-place bout: Lost to Zach Whitsel by fall at 1:10
126 – Luke Tessman
•First round: Def. Lee Welch by default
•Quarterfinals: Lost to Garrett Brachbill, 17-1
•Consolation first round: Def. Tristan Smith, 11-4
•Cons. QF: Lost to Victor Kalaher, 3-2
132 – Adam Palmer
•First round: Def. Mitchell Law by fall at 2:39
•Quarterfinals: Lost to Chad Hinton, 9-1
•Consolation first round: Lost to Andrew Koss, 9-3
138 – Rodney Tedrick
•Quarterfinals: Def. Heath Moffitt, 14-3
•Semifinals: Lost to Nate Jozsa, 18-2
•Consolation SF: Lost to Christopher Hagan by fall at 3:52
145 – Dalton Blankenship
•Quarterfinals: Def. Brock Barnhill, 2-1
•Semifinals: Lost to Daniel Krug, 4-2
•Consolation SF: Def. Anthony Carter, 8-6 (3 OT)
•Third-place bout: Lost to Seth Newkirk, 8-2
152 – Tyler Dagen
•Quarterfinals: Def. Shon Calvert, 17-3
•Semifinals: Lost to Adam Hudson, 5-1
•Consolation SF: Def. Caleb Thompson, 3-1
•Third-place bout: Lost to Keegan Gardner, 6-1
160 – C.J. Runkel
•Quarterfinals: Def. Brock Barnes, 10-0
•Semifinals: Def. Zac Blasioli, 3-2
•Championship bout: Def. Jacob Burton, 7-5
170 – Seth Purcell
•Quarterfinals: Def. Cole Blankenship, 7-0
•Semifinals: Def. Mike Redwinski by fall at 1:13
•Championship bout: Lost to Lucas Duckett, 7-4
182 – Jake Stewart
•First round: Lost to Colton Reed, 7-4
•Consolation first round: Def. Jeremiah Teal by fall at 1:17
•Cons. QF: Def. Kurtis Owens by fall at 3:10
•Cons. SF: Lost to Nick Berty, 7-3
195 – Bobby Bradley
•Quarterfinals: Def. Drew Hopkins, 4-3 (OT)
•Semifinals: Lost to Matt Baker, 10-2
•Consolation SF: Def. Aaron Rankin, 3-0
•Third-place bout: Def. Hopkins, 3-1
285 – Kendrick Woolsey
•Quarterfinals: Def. Jon Gasper by fall at 2:48
•Semifinals: Lost to Tyler Ortmann, 13-2
•Consolation SF: Lost to Rodney Baker by fall at 0:59