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Two weeks into the 2008-09 season, the Vandalia wrestling team finds itself in the exact same position it was in a year ago - undefeated.
But in sharp contrast to last season, when seven senior starters led a veteran team to a fast start, underclassmen have played a huge role in the Vandals' perfect start this time around.
On Saturday, it was freshman Daniel Edwards' efforts that proved to be the difference in a 34-28 win over Oakwood at VCHS.
"Daniel had a huge win," said Vandals coach Jason Clay of Edwards, who pinned Oakwood's Alex Shaw at the 5:29 mark of their 130-pound match. "He was getting beat and came through with a pin.
"You've got to look at that as at least a 10-point swing in the dual, and we won by six. That was a huge match from a freshman kid, and I think he shows a lot of promise in the future."
The Vandals followed with a 57-16 romp of undermanned Belleville Althoff, improving their record to 6-0 entering Wednesday's home dual with Bethalto Civic Memorial.
Two other freshmen, Trever Pyle and Levi Ulmer, also continued to impress.
Pyle improved to 7-1 in his young varsity career with perhaps his most impressive win to date - a 6-5 decision over Oakwood's Dacien Alverez in their 103-pound match.
Pyle, ranked 10th in the latest Class 1A 103-pound rankings on Illinoismatmen.com, is likely to move up a few spots after topping Alverez, who is ranked sixth in the same poll.
"Trever Pyle had a tough match; I knew he had a good kid, so that bodes well for the future," Clay said.
Ulmer finished off a promising 3-0 week by pinning Althoff's Kameron Harris. He started the day by picking up an 8-2 win over Oakwood's Cory Pankow.
"Levi Ulmer's wrestling a lot better," said Clay. "Being in an upper weight (as a freshman), it's going to be tough sometimes, because you're wrestling mainly juniors and seniors. But I think he's really starting to listen and is trying to do the things we're asking him to do. You can tell it's making a huge difference in his matches."
A trio of veterans also came up big against Oakwood, as Jake Etcheson, Caleb Walton and Alex Foster had dominating wins that proved crucial in the final tally.
Walton needed just 34 seconds to pin Oakwood's Eli Davis in his first 171-pound match of the day. He then improved to 9-2 on the season with his third pin of the week, as he needed just 36 seconds to overwhelm Althoff's Sam Wuhlig.
Foster moved to 9-1 on the year with a 19-4 win over Oakwood's Mikal Harden and a pin at the 2:25 mark of his 145-pound match against Althoff's Matt Pfeifer.
Etcheson started a 2-0 day by pinning Oakwood's Kyle Barracks at the 1:46 mark of their 160-pound match before winning by forfeit against Althoff.
Althoff forfeited five matches in the second dual, helping the Vandals to an easy win. Unfortunately, things weren't quite as lopsided against Oakwood, which managed to close a huge gap late in the dual.
Still, the Vandals had victory clinched entering the final match of the dual - prompting Clay to elect to forfeit it, leading to a final score that is a bit deceiving.
"We could have wrestled there at heavyweight, but I just decided to forfeit it out," Clay said. "We had the (dual) won, and it was kind of a big weight advantage for (Jacob) Whalen to make up there."
The final margin would have been greater if not for a handful of come-from-behind wins by Oakwood.
"That was kind of disappointing, because we were winning some matches, but we made some mistakes and gave them away," said Clay. "But, the good part of that is that they're building those leads up and doing a lot of good things.
"Still, in tight matches like that, we can't give up pins; but we'll get better at that."
Fortunately, a pair of those Vandals who let late leads slip away against Oakwood - seniors David Downs and Devin Cook - bounced back strong against Althoff.
Cook closed out the day in style with a pin of Thomas Moore at the 3:22 mark of the 285-pound match, while Downs recorded a takedown with 38 seconds to go in overtime in the 152-pound match, picking up a 7-5 win over Phil Nigma.
Clay was also pleased with the wrestling of sophomore Justin Hill, who won by technical fall over Oakwood's Jeff Buckley in the opening dual. Hill is now 8-3 on the year.
The Vandals will now prepare for what should be a strong test Wednesday against Class 2A Civic Memorial. The Eagles are led by Chris Williams, who placed third in the 103-pound division at state last year.
"They have some really tough kids throughout their lineup," Clay said. "They'll have some kids we'll have to try to hold our own against to keep the score down. But they also have spots where I think we can get some bonus points.
"I'm expecting a good dual. It'll be good for us going into the Mascoutah Tournament (on Saturday)."
Vandalia 49, Hillsboro 13
Hillsboro proved no match for the Vandals in both teams' SCC-East opener, as Pyle, Hill, John Vosholler and Walton won by fall in a rout.
Two of those pins came in less than a minute, as Pyle needed just 33 seconds to dispose of Blake Coleman in the 103-pound match and Hill overwhelmed Branden Niehaus 44 seconds into the 112-pound match.
Vosholler's first pin of the season came at the 3:32 mark of his 125-pound match against Tyler Mohler, while Walton quickly pinned Beau Jarman at the 1:24 mark of the 189-pound match.
Daniel Edwards also won in dominating fashion, taking a 14-4 major decision over Dillon White in the 130-pound match, and Foster, Anthony Coney and Ulmer added victories for the Vandals.
Coney edged Nick Milanas, 9-7, in the 135-pound match, while Foster edged Tyler Beeler, 4-2, in the 145-pound match. Foster usually wrestles in the 135- and 140-pound divisions.
Ulmer was a 5-1 winner over Zalen Wiltshire in the 171-pound match.