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Tradition.

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Wrestlers earn 20th straight regional title

By Andrew Harner

VANDALIA – During the first 40 years of Vandalia’s wrestling program’s existence, the team won 15 matches in a season three times, picking up three district titles along the way.

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But when Glenn Exton took over as coach for the 1992-93 season, the program began to turn around, and he took the team to its first regional championship in 1995.

Just how far the program would continue turning, no one would have imagined.

Vandalia dominated the field on Saturday, earning the Vandals their 20th straight regional championship.

They beat second-place Olney by 120 points in their home gymnasium, advancing 13 individuals to this weekend’s Robinson Sectional along the way.

“I’ve seen a lot of great wrestlers,” said coach Jason Clay, who wrestled at Vandalia from 1996-98 and is in his eighth season as coach. “We’ve had a lot of kids bust their butt and put in a ton of work to be where we are at.

“I tell our kids, ‘There’s a ton of guys who have done this before you, so you’re doing something special, but it’s not anything that hasn’t been done before,’” he said. “‘Be proud of what you do, but also, you owe it to those older guys – those guys who came before you – to keep it going.’

“Our kids respect that.”

In Exton’s first season as coach, Vandalia won more duals (11) than it had in the previous two seasons combined, and the Vandals bumped that total to 15 the next season.

Then, what would become two decades of dominance began in 1995, with a 26-2 record, and the first of four straight seasons of placing at the state tournament.

“(The freshmen that year) were really the ones that got the ship turned around,” Exton said. “These guys all bought into the hard work, and they came in with an attitude that they would be the best sports class to come through the school.”

That team was undefeated during the regular season, and when combined with the next year's freshmen class, it formed a core group that led the team to a state title in 1996 and fourth-place finishes in 1997 and 1998.

Exton stayed on as coach until the 2005-06 season, compiling a 282-43-3 record and winning 12 regional titles.

“Coach Exton had a high standard, and worked people hard,” Clay said. “I’ll be the first one to say that our technique wasn’t the greatest in the late ‘90s, but we had some hard-nosed, tough kids.

“We still have tough kids, and I feel like we have made some improvement in the realm of technique.”

Exton – who said it never crossed his mind when he started that the Vandals would win 20 straight regionals – credits Clay's coaching abilities as part of the reason why the streak has continued to grow.

“He’s getting smarter about it every year,” Exton said. “He’s getting better at strategy, moving the guys around in the lineup and pulling off wins in that way. I think his management of the wrestlers is really good.

“Not that he isn’t concerned about the dual meets and tournaments in season, but his main focus is to have everything clicking at all cylinders at the end of the year,” he said. “ He has assembled the right lineup to do that.”

Vandalia has qualified for the state tournament in 15 of the past 19 seasons, and with the regional victory, will meet Shelbyville at the dual team sectional on Feb. 25 at Litchfield High School.

Nine individuals claimed regional championships last Saturday, and all of Vandalia’s wrestlers in the finals advanced to the sectional, giving the Vandals 13 sectional qualifiers for the first time since 2010.

Senior C.J. Runkel and junior Dalton Blankenship became three-time regional champions, and Runkel’s win in the first round was the 100th of his career, making him the third Vandal to reach the plateau this season.

Runkel tore his anterior cruciate ligament last season, causing him to miss his junior season, but with 31 wins as a freshman and 34 as a sophomore, he had little trouble reaching the milestone this winter.

“To get to 100 wins in three years, you have average 33 a year, so that’s pretty solid,” Clay said. “As we move into the state series, he has high goals for himself and he should, because he has the ability to do it.”

Runkel qualified for state as a freshman, but faced a tough sectional field as a sophomore and missed the cut.

With that in mind, the 160-pounder goes into the sectional as one of the highest seeds and having won 19 of his past 20 matches.

“I’ve goals to go out there and win it all,” Runkel said. “I have to make sure to be offensive on my feet and not get sloppy, because there’s a been a few matches where I have almost gotten stuck.”

Runkel (37-7) was 3-0 on Saturday, beating all three of his opponents by fall to become the fourth Vandal with 20 pins this season.

With 219 pins as a team, the Vandals are three shy of tying for 20th place all-time, according to the records page on www.ihsa.org.

Two Vandals earned individual titles with come-from-behind wins late in the third period.

Senior Tyler Dagen became a four-time sectional qualifer with his second straight regional championship, handling all three of his bouts in the 152-pound bracket, and sophomore Bobby Bradley earned his first trip to sectionals with the title at 195.

Dagen trailed 2-0 after the first period, but cut that lead in half with 24 seconds left in the championship bout.

A penalty was called on Mt. Carmel’s Baeu Taylor five seconds later to tie the bout, and Dagen (32-11) got a takedown 32 seconds into the overtime to earn the win.

“It was nice to come out with that victory at the last second,” Dagen said. “I saw an open shot to get my two, and when (the referee) called fleeing the mat, it helped a lot.”

Bradley found himself locked in a tight match with Robinson’s Aaron Rankin, who he had beaten 9-0 earlier in the season.

No points were scored in the first period, and Bradley took a 1-0 lead with an escape 18 seconds into the second period.

Rankin scored a reversal with 54 seconds left in the bout, but he got lazy in the final seconds, allowing Bradley a reversal as time expired for a 3-2 win.

“You can’t ever give up,” Clay said. “You have to keep going, and our kids have done that.”

Sophomore Chaston Womack and junior Ryne Lipsey made quick work of their two opponents to earn their second individual titles.

Womack earned pins in 40 and 24 seconds in the 113-pound bracket to improve to 32-10, and Lipsey had pins in 12 and 32 seconds in the 120-pound bracket to move to 35-8.

Senior Rodney Tedrick (21-12) earned his first individual championship and second sectional appearance, picking up some momentum with a big win in the championship bout.

Tedrick – who became the 13th wrestler with 20 wins this season – controlled the bout against Fairfield’s Braden Robertson from start to finish, but put the 138-pound battle away with a pin with 11 seconds left on the clock.

Blankenship (39-4) picked up a pair of pins – 18 seconds and 2:45 – to win his third straight regional title and 20th straight bout.

Senior Seth Purcell (37-3) extended his personal winning streak to 17 bouts, earning a pin and a technical fall at 170 pounds to win the bracket.

He sat out the Litchfield Tournament a week earlier to recover from some minor injuries, and wrestled just as Clay expected he would.

“He looked good, and we knew he would,” Clay said. “We just wanted to make sure that he was healthy all the way, because if you go into the postseason with nagging injuries, it just compounds with the tougher matches.”

Sophomore Kendrick Woolsey (29-15) earned the title at 285 pounds to make his first sectional appearance

Freshman Trevor Philpot (23-16) advanced to the 106-pound championship bout, but was pinned to finish second.

Sophomore Luke Tessman and junior Adam Palmer earned their first trips to the sectional, with third-place finishes.

Both wrestlers have shown improvement throughout the season – Tessman improving his win total from 14 last season to 22 so far and Palmer improving from 10 to 21 – and earned close wins to advance.

“As third-placers, they’ll be in for a battle next weekend,” Clay said. “They broke the ice a little bit, and it shows them that their hard work is paying off.

“They’re listening and being coachable,” he said. “When you do that stuff, you get better, and it helps them to see it happening.”

Tessman (22-21) trailed after the first period, but scored a near-fall with two seconds left in the second period to take a 3-2 lead. He got an escape 14 seconds into the final period to earn the 4-2 win.

Palmer (21-21) slowly built a lead in his bout, coming away with a 9-4 win.

Junior Jake Stewart also placed third in the toughest weight class at the regional.

The 182-pounder lost, 5-4, in a rematch against Robinson’s Nick Berty in the semifinals. Stewart (33-9) had previously beaten Berty, 4-3.

When it was all said and done, Vandalia had a 257.5-137.5 advantage over Olney, and enough pins to give them at least 15 in all four individual tournaments this season.

In anticipation of the 20th straight title, many wrestling alums were in attendance.

“There’s been a lot of people passing it down,” Clay said. “We’ve had a lot of older guys in the program who know how to teach younger kids the right way to do things.

“It’s exciting to see it keep going,” he said. “We’ve had a couple close calls – especially last year – but I knew being at home with this strong of a team we’d have a shot.”

Runkel and Dagen both said seeing the former wrestlers in the crowd was a boost for the team, and that it was a privilege to wrestle in front of them.

“It means a lot,” Runkel said. “It shows that they really care, and it means a lot to have them supporting you when you’re out on the mat.”

Said Dagen, “I really liked seeing all the alumni here. There’s a lot of history here, and I hope it keeps going for another 20 years.”

106 – Trevor Philpot
•First round: Def. Hannah Templeton, 16-0
•Semifinals: Def. Noah Egleston by fall at 4:30
•Championship bout: Lost to Aaron Wood by fall at 2:41
113 – Chaston Womack
•First round: Bye
•Semifinals: Def. Lance Bailey by fall at 0:40
•Championship bout: Def. Kenny Raigner by fall at 0:24
120 – Ryne Lipsey
•First round: Bye
•Semifinals: Def. Justin Weinbrecht by fall at 0:12
•Championship bout: Def. Austin Goodman by fall at 0:32
126 – Luke Tessman
•First round: Def. Tristen Duran by fall at 3:46
•Semifinals: Lost to Nathan DeMeyer, 6-4
•Consolation semifinals: Def. Beau Johnson, 13-4
•Third-place bout: Def. Evan Briner, 4-2
132 – Adam Palmer
•First round: Lost to Collin Smith, 11-4
•Cons. first round: Bye
•Cons. Semifinals: Def. Logan Johnson, 11-9
•Third-place bout: Def. Collin Smith, 10-3
138 – Rodney Tedrick
•First round: Bye
•Semifinals: Def. Dalyn Brach, 8-5
•Championship bout: Def. Braden Robertson by fall at 5:49
145 – Dalton Blankenship
•First round: Bye
•Semifinals: Def. Coltin Crawford by fall at 0:18
•Championship bout: Def. Hoa Bobe by fall at 2:45
152 – Tyler Dagen
•First round: Def. Trenton Vaught by fall at 0:34
•Semifinals: Def. Michael Brown, 17-0
•Championship bout: Def. Beau Taylor, 4-2 (OT)
160 – C.J. Runkel
•First round: Def. Parker Wilkerson by fall at 2:46
•Semifinals: Def. Jon Lees by fall at 1:26
•Championship bout: Def. Tim Sturm by fall at 3:35
170 – Seth Purcell
•First round: Bye
•Semifinals: Def. Quentin Pillsbury by fall at 0:45
•Championship bout: Def. Jacob Wirth, 15-0
182 – Jake Stewart
•First round: Bye
•Semifinals: Lost to Nick Berty, 5-4
•Cons. Semifinals: Def. Jordan Ratermann by fall at 1:05
•Third-place bout: Def. Joe Burkett by fall at 3:13
195 – Bobby Bradley
•First round: Bye
•Semifinals: Def. Josh Lamp, 13-5
•Championship bout: Def. Aaron Rankin, 3-2
220 – Kolton Etcheson
•First round: Def. Eli Allen, 7-2
•Semifinals: Lost to Andrew Wise by fall at 1:54
•Cons. semifinals: Lost to Thomas Toombs by fall at 2:22
285 – Kendrick Woolsey
•First round: Def. Trevor Corry by fall at 5:40
•Semifinals: Def. Adam Holbrook, 15-2
•Championship bout: Def. Trevor Richards, 4-3