Vandal wrestlers hope to make state semifinals for first time since '07

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By Andrew Harner

Vandalia seniors opened and closed Tuesday’s team sectional match against Herrin, but without the efforts of some underclassmen throughout, the Vandals probably would not be going back to state.


Senior Anthony Fladeland scored a pin in the first bout, and senior Levi Ulmer’s 10-7 decision put the Vandals ahead by enough to secure a 39-33 victory against Herrin, giving the Vandals their seventh trip to state in eight years.

But, the team hasn’t won a first-round match since 2007, when it placed second in the state.

“We’re not going up there to lose,” said coach Jason Clay. “We’ve been one-and-done the last couple of times, and I’m sick of that.

“We’re going to be up against it (battling Lena-Winslow), but we’re not going up there to settle, we’re going up there to win.”

To make that happen, Clay will need some of the same unexpected results he got on Tuesday.

Freshman Dalton Blankenship used a takedown with one second left on the clock to get a 3-2 decision against Ethan Pullum, one of the better 132-pounders in the state, and junior Zach Jackson earned a pin after securing points at very end of both the first two periods.

Blankenship had battled Pullum to stalemate through the first two periods, and Pullum secured the first points by getting a reversal with 53 seconds left in the bout.

But Blankenship escaped 23 seconds later, and then took a shot at the buzzer to close Vandalia’s deficit to just three.

“He pulled that last-second takedown, and winning that was huge,” Clay said. “He hung in there and fought tough. He got one good shot off at the buzzer.”

Added Fladeland, “Dalton comes to practice and works every single day. He’s been there for us through the whole season, and it makes me proud that I had a hand in bringing him into wrestling.”

Jackson, who battled sectional qualifier Nathan Vaughn, tied the match at two with a reversal at the very end of the first period, and the 170-pounder widened his second-period lead to 8-5 with a two-point near-fall in the waning seconds of that period.

Then, 15 seconds into the third, he secured the pin to move the Vandals ahead by 12.

“Zach’s always a surprise,” Ulmer said. “The way he scores those points at the buzzer is to be expected. That was a great match.”

Also earning wins for the Vandals were freshman Ryne Lipsey (pin at 106 pounds), sophomore C.J. Runkel (13-6 decision at 138 pounds), sophomore Seth Purcell (pin at 145 pounds) and senior Daniel Edwards (pin at 152 pounds).

“It was a big dual. The kids pulled it out,” Clay said. “Different guys came through, and it was a total team effort.”

Ulmer’s 10-7 decision at 195 pounds came against Drake Holland, who this past weekend was the runner-up in 170-pound weight class at the individual state tournament and is a friend of Ulmer’s.

The Vandalia senior never trailed in the match, but he wasn’t dominant, either, never holding a lead of more than three.

With 1:30 left in the bout, however, Ulmer used most of the injury clock due to shoulder discomfort after Holland held him in a near-fall.

“He dug a leg in and got a power half, but I wasn’t going over,” Ulmer said. “He was either going to rip my shoulder out of socket, or I would scream loud enough that the ref would let me up.”

Ulmer continued to battle and secured a takedown with four seconds left in the bout to seal the victory and send the team to state.

”I’m actually more happy for (my teammates) than for me,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t experienced it yet, and it’s a great feeling to go up there.”

Fladeland had trailed sectional qualifer Paul Sims throughout the first three minutes of their bout, but once Fladeland escaped Sims’ hold the second time, he quickly ended the battle.

Just 16 seconds later, Fladeland gave the home crowd a reason to cheer and set his team on a winning track with the pin.

“I’ve wrestled and pinned him twice already this year,” Fladeland said. “Pulling off a win like that to help our team get back to state is pretty cool.

“When the ref hit the mat, it was the most amazing feeling of my life.”

The state tournament begins on Saturday at 9 a.m. at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.

Freshman Blake Cripe was unable to wrestle due to a broken thumb, and he is not available for Saturday’s tournament … Junior Tyler Dagen, who did not wrestle against Herrin, is expected to be back in the lineup on Saturday … Junior Sean Newcomb was prepared to wrestle at 220 pounds, but because the Vandals had secured the win, he did not wrestle. He would have battled state qualifier Tyler Cravens … Lipsey’s pin was his 10th of the season

Tuesday, Feb. 21
at Vandalia Sectional
vs. Herrin

•285 – Fladeland won by fall at 3:26
•106 – Lipsey won by fall at 0:35
•113 – Adam Palmer lost by fall at 2:42
•120 – Herrin won by forfeit
•126 – Emily Miles lost by fall at 1:00
•132 – Blankenship won, 3-2
•138 – Runkel won, 13-6
•145 – Purcell won by fall at 1:31
•152 – Edwards won by fall at 5:04
•160 – Todd Ashdown lost by fall at 1:02
•170 – Jackson won by fall at 4:15
•182 – Dayin Godberson lost, 6-4
•195 – Ulmer won, 10-7
•220 – Herrin won by forfeit