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Vandals clinch state berth

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By Seth Whitehead

What has been anticipated for weeks became official Tuesday night.

By virtue of its 47-17 thrashing of Litchfield at its own dual team sectional, the VCHS wrestling team will be making the program's 11th Class A Dual Team State Tournament appearance.

And a rematch of last year's championship dual against Wilmington awaits the Vandals, who will look to get revenge against the defending state champs and Illinois' current No. 1 Class A squad when the two teams clash at 11 a.m. Saturday at Moline's Wharton Fieldhouse.

"We're 0-3 against them," said VCHS coach Jason Clay, referring to a 47-23 loss to Wilmington this year and a pair of setbacks to the Wildcats in 2006-07 - including a heartbreaking state final loss that came down to a tie-breaker.

"It'd be really nice to beat those guys," said Clay of a loaded team that features 10 individual state qualifiers, including three state champions. "They have a really nice team and are well-coached."

The Vandals sewed up another Elite Eight appearance in workmanlike fashion, winning 10 of 14 matches against the Panthers, including pins by seniors Josh Eller (112), Adam Bowling (145), Jake Etcheson (152) and Curtis Hemminghaus (160).

Though the Vandals fully expected to emerge victorious against their South Central Conference rivals (they waxed Litchfield 63-3 earlier this year), the achievement of qualifying for state was still significant, allbeit, lacking in the drama department.

"It is a good feeling," Clay. "I told the kids congratulations on getting back to the state tournament. It's a great accomplishment.

"I didn't think we wrestled real great. We came out maybe a little bit flat. But some of these kids hadn't wrestled in a couple weeks. I think we'll wrestle better on Saturday."

The highlight of the night was the performance of the Vandals' seven seniors in their final meet at VCHS.

In addition to Bowling, Etcheson, Eller and Hemminghaus's pins, classmates Nathan Stone (285), Matt Shroyer (189) and Kevin Paulding (135) were all victorious as well.

Bowling dominated against Zach Going, recording a pinfall victory in 2:35. Eller also had his way with an overmatched opponent, pinning Mitchell Carter in 3:40.

Both Vandal wrestlers were coming off second-place finishes in their weight divisions Saturday at state.

Hemminghaus needed just 40 seconds to pin Vince Calcari, while Etcheson was sharp, despite a long layoff, pinning Nathan Hemken in 3:23.

"We've got a special group of seniors that have really given a lot to the program," Clay said. "This was the last time they're going to be wrestling in our gym, so I wanted it to be special. And I was glad to see there was a good crowd here."

Coming off a surprising second-place finish at state, Pyle survived a bit of a scare, but pulled away to a 9-5 win over Nick Farrar. Stone took a 3-1 decision over Gage Agers, and Paulding cruised to a 9-3 win over Jeremy Patillo.

The night's most intriguing matchup featured Litchfield's Cory Hauter, a 171-pound state-qualifier, taking on Shroyer, who placed second in the 189-pound division Saturday in the Class A Individual State Tournament.

Shroyer found himself trailing 7-4 midway through the second period before bouncing back in a big way late in the second with a more aggressive approach.

Shroyer nearly pinned Hauter at the end of the quarter, jumping out to a 9-7 lead, and he owned the Panthers' top wrestler in the final period, cruising to a 19-9 win.

Jake Harris capped the night with an impressive 12-2 victory over Tyler Heyen.

Despite the lopsided margin of victory, Clay would like to see his team ratchet up its intensity against Wilmington.

"We've got to get more aggressive and get more physical," Clay said. "We're gonna turn it up the next couple days."

Wilmington and Vandalia are widely considered the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Class A, yet they will meet in the first round at state, guaranteeing one team will not take home a trophy.

Though baffling, the Vandals haven't let the seemingly unfair pairing affect their attitude heading into state.

"The first time I looked at it, I was kind of disappointed, because I feel we're the best two teams out there," Shroyer said. "But to be No. 1, you've got to beat everybody... either way we're going to have to beat them, so we may as well beat them sooner than later."

"It's a tough draw, but our goal all along was to win state," Clay said. "You've got to beat everybody to do that, so whether you take them on in the quarters or semis, it doesn't matter. We think if we can wrestle up to our ability, we can hang with anybody and have a chance to beat anybody.

"We're going up there to win it all. That's been our goal all along, and that's what we're shooting for."

Note: The state tournament was moved from Northern Illinois Unversity to Moline this week due to the tragic shootings at the NIU campus last week.