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A team with three individual state champions – including the nation’s No. 1 wrestler at 132 pounds – and seven other state medalists will give the Vandals a stiff challenge in the first round of Saturday’s dual team state tournament.
Vandalia was paired with defending champion Dakota during a blind draw in January, and will take on the Indians at 9 a.m. at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.
The Vandals qualified for state with a 31-24 win against Shelbyville at Tuesday’s Litchfield Sectional, and Dakota had little trouble qualifying, manhandling Lena-Winslow, 60-13, at the Rock Falls Sectional.
Dakota senior Josh Alber, an undefeated four-time state champion who will continue his career at the University of Northern Iowa, was recently ranked No. 1 in the country at 132 pounds by the Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine.
He was joined at the top of the medal stand at last weekend’s individual state tournament by teammates Carver James (152) and J.J. Wolfe (138).
Others placing for Dakota were: Dillon Swift, second at 106; Alec Henze, third at 113; Printice Walls, second at 120; Andrew Wenger, third at 126; Greg Krulas, second at 145; Jared Packer, fourth at 160 and Daniel Zimmerman, third at 220.
The Vandals had state placers in junior Dalton Blankenship, fourth at 145; senior C.J. Runkel, fifth at 160; and senior Tyler Dagen, sixth at 152. Additionally, five other Vandals qualified for the individual tournament.
Those losing in the championship preliminaries were freshman Trevor Philpot (106), sophomore Chaston Womack (113), junior Ryne Lipsey (120), senior Seth Purcell (170) and sophomore Bobby Bradley (195).
Matchups for the dual will be hard to determine, however, as the Indians have used several of their wrestlers at different weights throughout the season, and have more than the 14 wrestlers needed to fill a roster.
In tournaments this season, Dakota has used 17 wrestlers, while accumulating several strong finishes, including first at the Princeton Invitational Tournament, and sixth at the prestigious Dvorak Invitational, which includes many of the state’s top Class 3A schools.
It’s against those schools where Dakota has taken its four losses this season. The Indians haven’t lost to any Class 1A or Class 2A programs this season, and their losses came to the top four Class 3A programs in Illinois.
The Vandals will go into the dual with a 25-5 record, with key wins coming against Class 3A O’Fallon, Class 2A Herrin and Class 1A PORTA. Additionally, the Vandals have tied Monticello (losing on the eighth tie-breaker), lost by one to Shelbyville, lost by two to Plano and lost by four to Wilmington.
Many believe that Dakota is on another level than all Class 1A schools, but the Vandals have been working all season toward their goal of winning a state championship.
Dakota’s program co-ops with Orangeville, but combined the schools have an enrollment of just 394. The glue that keeps the team successful is long-time coach Peter Alber, who has been at the helm since 1996, a former state champion himself who has led Dakota to two state championships and four state trophies.
In 2006, Dakota beat Vandalia, 47-18, in the semifinals on the way to an undefeated season, but in 2007, the Vandals enacted revenge with a 41-24 quarterfinal win on their way to a second-place finish.
The winner between Vandalia and Dakota will advance to face either Roxana or Plano in the semifinals.
In the bottom half of the bracket, LeRoy and Sherrard, and Peotone and PORTA will meet in the quarterfinals.