If you listen closely, you can hear the whispers of doubt.
‘I heard they’re better than last year,’ said an opposing coach during the Vandalia wrestling team’s season-opener at Belleville West.
‘He’s got his work cut out for him,’ said an Oakwood wrestler Saturday before his teammate’s match against the Vandals’ Josh Eller. ‘This guy got fourth at state last year.’
The Vandals’ reputation precedes them. And, according to VCHS coach Jason Clay, it can be a huge advantage if taken advantage of properly.
‘Wrestling’s such a mental sport,’ Clay said. ‘Wearing that Vandalia name on your chest can mean a lot if you go out there and make it work for you.’
The Vandals certainly did just that on Saturday, as they thoroughly dominated a pair of physically and mentally overmatched opponents in a home triangular sweep, improving to 6-0 on the season.
The Vandals kicked off the day by recording nine pins in 14 matches – three of which came in a minute or less – in a 61-16 pasting of Oakwood.
They were even more dominant against Belleville Althoff, as four of their seven pins came in a minute or less in a 69-12 win over the Crusaders.
All told, Althoff and Oakwood’s respective bus rides to Vandalia lasted longer than their matches with the host team, as the Vandals picked up a pair of wins in less than an hour.
‘I was really happy,’ said Clay of his team’s performance. ‘I told the kids afterward I was proud of their mental approach and the way they came after it.’
A trio of the Vandals’ more well-known wrestlers remained perfect on the season, as Matt Shroyer, Nate Stone and Adam Bowling picked up a pair of wins apiece.
Shroyer needed just a minute to top Oakwood’s Chris Wade, before overwhelming Althoff’s Brian Krause in 41 seconds to move to 9-0 on the year.
‘He’s our captain. That’s what we expect,’ said Clay of Shroyer’s dominating wins. ‘But it’s nice when kids meet expectations and it’s not too much pressure for them.’
Shroyer’s start is all the more impressive considering he’s been wrestling up a weight division so far this year. The senior should drop back down to the 189-pound class soon.
Stone also continued his outstanding start in the 285-pound division, pinning Oakwood’s Chris Warren in 47 seconds and Althoff’s Mike Shadwick in 5:31, moving to 8-0.
‘He pinned two kids today that both pinned him last year,’ Clay said. ‘He’s made huge strides and he’s confident. Confidence and physical ability can take you a long way. He’s been standing out to me so far.’
After battling illness and injury early on, Eller showed that’s he’s returning to his state-placing form. Eller recorded a pair of pins in the 112-pound division, as he won by fall over Oakwood’s Wes Patton (3:22) and Althoff’s Phil Rodriguez (0:59).
Bowling (9-0) remained undefeated in the 152-pound division, winning by technical fall, 16-1, over Althoff’s Joe Sauerwein, following a pin in 1:01 over Oakwood’s Kyler Barracks.
But as good as the Vandals’ foursome of returning all-SCC first-teamers were, it could be argued that some of their less-prominent teammates were more impressive.
Kevin Paulding recorded two pins in a combined 39 seconds in the 130-pound division, while Zac Ledbetter pinned two foes in a combined 2 1/2 minutes at 119. Alex Foster also picked up two wins – including a pin – at 125, while Wayne Stock picked up a pair of pins at 135.
‘I was really proud of Wayne Stock,’ Clay said. ‘He didn’t wrestle (well) at all Thursday, but I think he really listened to what I said to him in practice and really came after it today and wrestled a lot better.
‘There are some unknown kids that have really impressed me so far,’ Clay added. ‘They’ve done a good job of listening and improving things we’ve worked on in practice.’
Cody Pyle (pin) and Curtis Hemminghaus (13-1 decision) also went 2-0 in the 145- and 171-pound divisions, respectively, picking up their second wins via forfeit.
Though Clay has been pleased by his team’s perfect start, he believes the Vandals could improve even more as the season goes on.
‘I’m encouraged,’ Clay said. ‘I think we can make big strides by the end of the season.
‘We’re really starting to work on the mental aspects a little bit. We were focused a lot on technique early on, because we were a little bit behind the curve on that. I think we’re starting to catch up a little bit on that now, and we’re improving our mental approach.’
Vandalia 58, Hillsboro 21
Coming off individual titles at the CM Invitational, Shroyer and Stone each remained undefeated on the young season by recording pins.
Shroyer moved to 7-0 with a pin of the Hiltoppers’ Ryan Knop in 5:15 in the 215-pound match. Stone upped his record to 6-0, needing just 3:08 to take down Rick Knop in the 275-pound match.
Eller (119), Foster (130) and Tyler Vosholler (135) won by fall as well, while Ledbetter took a 16-5 decision in the 125-pound match.