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CHAMPAIGN – One fought back after losing in the first round of the championship bracket.
Another finished a season of redemption after missing last year due to a knee injury.
A third pulled off some impressive upsets to overcome several individuals in one of the state’s tougher weight classes.
And the Vandal wrestlers left the Illinois High School Association individual state wrestling tournament at the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois last Saturday with three state medalists, the most since 2008.
After losing to the eventual champion in the first round, junior 145-pounder Dalton Blankenship earned three wins in the wrestle-backs before losing in the third-place bout.
Senior C.J. Runkel advanced to the championship semifinals at 160 pounds, but lost to the eventual champion before coming back in the wrestle-backs for fifth-place, a year after sitting out while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
And senior Tyler Dagen finished sixth in the tough 152-pound class, getting there by beating a one-loss wrestler in the first round and earning an ultimate tie-breaker overtime decision against an opponent who twice beat him in the regular season.
“It was a good weekend for our program,” said coach Jason Clay. “We won some close matches and lost some close matches, but to have three guys place is great for our program.”
After nearly missing his spot in the state tournament after a tough sectional in Robinson left him with the fourth qualifying spot, Blankenship was matched up with the No. 1 seed in his weight class, Sterling Newman Central Catholic’s Jake Snow, who came to state with just one loss on the season.
Snow showed his might, beating Blankenship, 10-0, on the way to his second individual state championship and third state medal.
In the wrestle-back bracket, Blankenship went to work, taking that bracket match-by-match, defeating Chicago-Bowen’s Kendall Gibbs by injury default in first round, beating El Paso’s Gabe McKinley, 7-2, in the quarterfinals and topping Shelbyville’s Wyatt Fox, 3-2, in the semifinals.
In the third-place bout, Blankenship got another shot at Litchfield senior Seth Newkirk, who Blankenship had gone 2-1 against on the season. Newkirk, however, ended their rivalry with by pinning Blankenship in 1:52.
“After that first loss to Snow, I thought Dalton did a good job of just taking it one match at a time,” Clay said. “He got to face a couple of kids he had beaten during the season (McKinley and Fox) so that helped his confidence.
“I'm glad Dalton broke the ice this year, and he will have big goals for his senior year.”
Runkel advanced farther through the championship bracket than the rest of his teammates, getting to the semifinals before taking his first loss.
He had battled eight of his bracket-mates during the regular season, including his first three opponents, helping him to an 11-3 preliminary round win against Morrison’s Austin Keller and a 5-4 quarterfinal win against Wilmington’s Nick Hawkins.
Those wins, however, set up a semifinal matchup with No. 1 seed Quincy Kalkbrenner of Lena-Winslow, who had previously beaten Runkel, 5-1. Runkel wasn’t able to improve on that with a 16-3 loss.
“He had a tough semifinal match,” Clay said. “It is hard to lose one match away from the grand march and the excitement of the finals, but I thought he handled it well.”
Runkel dropped into the wrestle-back semifinals, where he lost 7-2 to Dakota’s Jared Packer, but defeated East Alton-Wood River’s Zac Blasioli for third time this season in the fifth-bout, with a 3-0 victory.
“He came back from a tough wrestleback loss, where he didn't have his best match, to get fifth,” Clay said. “I was glad to see him win his last match at state.”
Dagen, despite finishing with the lowest place, may have had the most exciting state tournament for the Vandals.
He upset one-loss Austin Hedrick, a former state medalist, of St. Joseph-Ogden, 6-5, in the championship preliminaries, but lost 6-2 to eventual runner-up Gacob Lenox of Durand in the quarterfinals.
Things then got dicey right away in the wrestle-back bracket.
Dagen was paired with Wilmington’s Andrew Liaromatis, who had a pair of one-point wins against Dagen during the regular season.
This time, it would be different, as Dagen controlled the bout throughout regulation before Liaromatis got the bout tied with a penalty point late in the third period.
“Tyler really stayed in great position for most of the match,” Clay said. “When you stay in great position, it is hard to get scored on.
“He gave up a reversal at the end of the second, but was able to get an escape and get after it in the third scoring a takedown.”
Neither wrestler could find a point in the tie-breaker periods, but Dagen finally earned the 4-3 win with an escape in the ultimate tie-breaker.
Dagen earned his state medal by beating Mercer County’s Curtis VanWinkle, 6-2, in the quarterfinals before closing out the tournament with a pair of losses.
Shelbyville’s Adam Husdon beat him 7-0 in the semifinals, and West Frankfort’s Keegan Gardner was a 6-2 winner in the fifth-place bout.
Still, this has been a special final season for the Vandalia senior.
“I think that win in the regional final has really propelled him to a strong finish,” Clay said. “Ever since regionals he has taken better attacks and wrestled with better match strategy.
“Early in the season, he got out of position and gave up some points,” he said. “He is a hard worker who loves wrestling, and I'm extremely happy for him.”
Others wrestling at state for the Vandals were:
•Freshman Trevor Philpot, who lost by fall in 2:24 to Coal City's Joey Rivera at 106 pounds in the championship preliminaries.
•Sophomore Chaston Womack, who lost, 8-4, to Normal-University's Dylan Carey at 113 pounds in the championship preliminaries.
•Junior Ryne Lipsey, who lost by fall at 1:11 to Monmouth-Roseville's Justin Kinney at 120 pounds in the championship preliminaries.
•Senior Seth Purcell, who lost, 7-6, to Erie's Nick Williams at 170 pounds in the championship preliminaries
•Sophomore Bobby Bradley, who lost, 8-2, to Walther Christian's Pierre Pelley at 195 pounds in the championship preliminaries.
Clay said by earning a spot this early in their career, those underclassman who qualified will able to take this year’s experience and use in it the future.
“Like every year, some our younger guys watched guys they had beaten or had good matches with place at state,” Clay said. “I hope the experience broke the ice for them.
“I think after watching the tournament they can come away with the feeling of, ‘Hey, I can come up here and do this just like my teammates did,’” Clay said. “You try to tell them that ahead of time, but it is really something that sinks in from first-hand experience.”
Individual champions in Class 1A this season were:
•106 – Byron’s Brady Wilsie
•113 – Coal City’s Cody Minnick
•120 – Byron’s Nelson Baker
•126 – Rockford Lutheran’s Caleb Micho
•132 – Dakota’s Joshua Alber
•138 – Dakota’s J.J. Wolfe
•145 – SNCC’s Jake Snow
•152 – Dakota’s Carver James
•160 – Lena-Winslow’s Quincy Kalkbrenner
•170 – Kankakee McNamara’s Kyle Betourne
•182 – Winnebago’s Sean Ward
•195 – Plano’s Derrick Maisonet
•220 – Lena-Winslow’s Ty Harmston
•285 – Gibson City’s Josh Wallick