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Wilmington's wrestling team is ranked No. 1 in the state for a reason.
The defending Class A champions return a strong core from a squad that edged Vandalia via a tiebreaker in last year's dual team state final.
So it wasn't that surprising the Vandals lost to the Wildcats Saturday at the St. Thomas More New Year's Challenge.
But it was how the Vandals dropped a 47-23 dual that bugged VCHS coach Jason Clay.
The final score was skewed by six Wilmington pins, many of which occurred in matches that were closely contested, while others were recorded in the waning seconds of the third period.
"You can't get pinned that much," Clay said. "That's probably the thing I'm most disappointed with.
"There were several matches that were close matches, then we give up pins. I know we were overmatched in some of those weights, but we can't give up those pins."
The Vandals looked to be in good shape early, as they enjoyed an 18-16 lead heading into the midway point of the dual on the strength of pins by Curtis Hemminghaus, Matt Shroyer and Nate Stone.
Hemminghaus got Vandalia on the board with an impressive win over state-ranked Tom Fritz, pinning him just before the buzzer at the end of the second quarter in the 160-pound match.
Shroyer dominated the 215-pound match, enjoying a 14-1 lead before recording a pin with 26 seconds remaining. Stone then put Vandalia up two points with a first-quarter pin in the 285-pound match.
But Wilmington dominated in the lower- and middle-weight classes, taking six of the next seven matches.
Four of the victories came via pin, with one coming with .02 seconds remaining in the 119-pound match.
By the time Adam Bowling got Vandalia back on track with a 9-6 victory over Jake Murphy in the 145-pound match, the Vandals' hopes of victory had long been vanquished.
Josh Eller's 3-0 win in the 112-pound match had cut Wilmington's lead to 22-21, but the state-ranked trio of John VanDuyne, Ryan Nash and Jeff Goodwin recorded consecutive lopsided wins to clinch the match for the Wildcats.
"We got destroyed on our feet with takedowns," Clay said. "A lot of times they didn't even choose bottom; they didn't want to mess around getting turned by us.
"We have got to get better on our feet. Takedowns are going to be critical."
Though he feels his team is better than it showed Saturday, Clay gave props to Wilmington.
"I'd say they're going to be as good as anyone we'll see all year," Clay said. " I'd say they're very deserving of their No. 1 ranking. Until somebody beats them, to me, they're No. 1.
"They graduated some good kids, a lot of their upper-weight kids. But they've got a real good returning core. And you can tell they've been working. Their technique is sharp and they're determined. They're a good team."
Despite the margin of defeat, Clay feels his team will represent much better if the two team's paths cross again.
Chances are, it'll happen in Champaign.
"We will get better," Clay said. "I'm confident that by February we'll be improved."
The Vandals started the day with a dominating 63-12 win over Robinson, as Justin Hill, Zach Ledbetter, Alex Foster, Kevin Paulding, Cody Pyle, Bowling and Stone all recorded pins.
Shroyer kicked off an outstanding individual day by topping state-qualifier Bryce Bowman, 3-1, in his first 189-pound match of the year. Shroyer had been wrestling at 215 prior to Saturday.
Bowling also beat a returning state qualifier in his match against Robinson.
"He looked pretty sharp today," Clay said of Bowling.
The Vandals closed out the day with a 44-30 win over Argenta-Oreana.
Shroyer got revenge over Bryce Bowman in a state-tournament rematch, taking a 4-1 decision. Bowman topped Shroyer in the 171 quarterfinals at state last year.
"That was a good win for him, and he wrestled well today in his first day at 189," Clay said.
Jake Etcheson, Foster and Hemminghaus added pins against Argenta-Oreana.