No Josh Eller? New names up and down the lineup?
No problem for the VCHS wrestling team.
The Vandals overcame the abscence of one of their best wrestlers and some understandable nerves in their season opener on Monday, rolling to a thorough 52-23 road victory over Class 2A Belleville West.
The Vandals recorded wins in 11 of the 14 individual matches, with seven of those victories coming via pins.
Not too bad considering Eller – who placed fourth at state last year in the 112-pound weight class – was out with an injury and a handful of Vandals were making their varsity debuts.
‘This was a good first match, a good test for us,’ Vandalia coach Jason Clay said. ‘I really didn’t know what to expect with some kids that hadn’t dressed varsity before, you know. They were nervous. But our younger guys battled and did a good job.’
Varsity newcomer Caleb Walton was particularly impressive in recording a pin in the 189-pound division, as was Jake Etcheson in the 160-pound division, as he won a 4-2 decision in his first-ever high school match.
‘He battled through a tough match and actually sealed the deal for us,’ Clay said.
Curtis Hemminghaus added a dominating pin in the 171-pound match, showing little-to-no rust after a one-year hiatus from the program.
The veterans weren’t too shabby, either.
Senior Adam Bowling made a little history in the 152-pound match, recording his 100th career victory with a 20-6 decision. Considering Bowling placed third at state last year, the victory was pretty much inevitable. But it was significant nontheless, as Bowling became the 18th Vandal to reach the milestone.
‘He knew as long as he didn’t get hurt he was probably going to get one somewhere along the line,’ Clay said. ‘You’ve got to have some individual drive, some initiative (to reach 100 wins). But when it comes time to wrestle these duals, these kids are all about the team. But it’s a good accomplishment to have.’
Nate Stone (285), Cody Pyle (140), Kevin Paulding (130) and Zach Ledbetter (119) added pins for the Vandals, while Matt Shroyer took a 15-3 decision in his first match in the 215-pound division. Shroyer wrestled at 189 a year ago.
Ledbetter (:39) and Stone (:53) didn’t even need a minute to pin their opponents, while Paulding took his opponent down in just 1 minute, 20 seconds.
‘The guys who have been there before – they looked real nice,’ Clay said.
Overall, Clay was pleased with the team’s effort, considering the level of competition and the circumstances surrounding his team.
‘(Belleville West) has been real solid,’ Clay said. ‘They were down a little bit last year, but I think they’ve rebounded. I thought they were very competitive.
‘And for us, it was kind of up in the air with Hemminghaus (returning) and Etcheson (debuting). And Eller is one of the guys we’re counting on and as one of our captains.’
Clay is also optimistic his young wrestlers who suffered defeats in their varsity debuts, Anthony Werhle and Justin Hill, will improve as the year goes along.
‘They were a little nervous, but the kids came out and wrestled hard,’ Clay said. ‘Once we get down the road, I think we’ll see big improvements out of those guys that got beat, once they get that nervousness out of them and start wrestling.’
The Vandals will host Jacksonville, Cahokia and Mattoon Thursday in their home opener before traveling to Champaign for the Civic Memorial Invitational Saturday.