The only thing more profound than the Vandalia wrestling team’s Cumberland Regional title run Saturday was the reaction of the opposition after the Vandals’ 14th-straight regional victory was announced.
You could here a pin drop.
The silence spoke volumes to the Vandals’ status as the New York Yankees of the regional wrestling scene – a role they have openly embraced.
‘It’s like that every year,’ said VCHS coach Jason Clay of being the team everyone roots against, but nobody can seem to beat. ‘That’s just part of the territory. It’s fun. The kids feed off of it.’
Hard to argue with Clay’s assessment after the Vandals came away with seven individual titles – each of which was won by a senior – in addition to advancing the maximum total of 14 wrestlers to this weekend’s Robinson Individual Sectional.
It was a performance that was dominating even by the Vandals’ lofty standards.
‘It was a good day,’ said Clay, whose team finished with 247 points, easily besting Shelbyville (163), Robinson (129), Cumberland (106.5), Lawrenceville (80), St. Anthony (24) and Casey-Westfield (16).
‘Our goal coming in as a team, of course, was to win the regional,’ Clay said. ‘But we also wanted to get all 14 guys through to the sectional.’
And, like the Yankees in October, the opening weekend of February is just the first step in an expected month-long journey.
And though the road to Champaign and the individual state tournament will veer sharply to the east this year after several years of running through Vandalia, Clay assures his team will be prepared for another Vandal-esque showing in Robinson.
‘I guarantee you we’ll get after it this week in practice,’ Clay said. ‘We’ll head over to Robinson and see how many we can get up to Champaign.’
With the team title, the Vandals also qualified for their own dual team sectional. They will face SCC rival Litchfield Tuesday, Feb. 19, at VCHS for the right to advance to state. Herrin and Harrisburg will do battle in the other dual.
Should the Vandals advance to state (they defeated Litchfield 63-3 during the regular season) they will draw defending state-champion Wilmington in the quarterfinals, which will begin Friday, Feb. 23, at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb.
Sophomore Anthony Wenrle will be making his first sectional appearance after placing a strong second in the 103-pound division. Wehrle (18-14) advanced to the finals with an 8-2 victory over Casey-Westfield’s Andrew Geffs. He then gave top-seeded Buddy Holmes (27-6) of Shelbyville all he could handle in the finals before losing a 9-7 decision.
Eller (29-8) won his second straight regional title in dominating fashion by taking a 15-4 major decision over Cumberland’s Doug Powers (26-11) in the 112-pound title match. The senior advanced to the championship after pinning Shelbyville’s Eric Hightower in the second round of their semifinal match.
Zach Ledbetter clinched his second straight sectional appearance by pinning Cumberland’s Nick Powers (25-12) early in the second round of their 119-pound semifinal match. Shelbyville’s Dalton Brown (24-1) came away with a victory via pinfall 1 minute and 51 seconds into the championship match, however.
Sophomore Alex Foster (24-10) clinched his second straight sectional appearance with a pin of Lawrenceville’s Dustin Hoke (20-16) in the semifinals. Shelbyville’s Caleb Duckett – ranked seventh in the state in the 125-pound division on illinoismatmen.com – was too much for Foster in the championship match, however, taking a 10-2 major decision.
In one of the most exciting, hard-fought matches of the day, senior Kevin Paulding pulled out a thrilling 10-9 double-overtime decision over Shelbyville’s Nate Bly in the championship of the 130-pound division.
Bly came into the day ranked 10th in the state in the division, but a determined Paulding dropped the Ram standout’s record to 29-5 with a gutsy effort.
‘He battled through it, and that (other) kid was obviously gassed out,’ Clay said. ‘Late in the match, it usually comes down to determination, and that’s one of Kevin’s best qualities. He’s always battling and fighting, and I think that match was really indicative of the way he’s always been a fighter.’
The regional title was the first of Paulding’s career, as he saw his record improve to 31-8 on the year.
Cody Pyle dropped down a weight class, and the senior rolled to the third regional title of his career by sweeping through the 135-pound division. Pyle (29-10) needed just 51 seconds to pin Cumberland’s Clay Wilson in the title match.
Sophomore Jake Harris went up two weight classes for the good of the team and more than held his own, finishing a strong second in the 140-pound division.
After finding himself in a tight semifinal match against St. Anthony’s Nate Gray, Harris dominated the third period, rolling into the semifinals with a 14-3 major decision victory. State-ranked Ben Sherrick of Cumberland was too much for Harris (12-6) in the finals, however, winning by pinfall in 3:19. Harris’s willingness to go up two weight classes allowed Vandalia to have a sectional qualifier in each weight division – a display of depth that is rare at the Class A level.
‘It’s good to have depth and people that care about the team,’ Clay said.
Bowling crushed his opponents’ spirits by jumping out to big early leads in his 145-pound semifinal and championship matches, as the senior rolled to his fourth regional title.
Bowling (35-4) took a 16-0 major decision over Cumberland’s Isaac Christopher in the semifinals before winning by technical fall at the 4:27 mark of his title match against Lawrenceville’s Ethan Morehead.
Junior Jake Etcheson (26-16) battled back from a semifinal loss to qualify for sectionals for the first time with an 11-5 win over Lawrenceville’s Garet Potts (21-10) in the third-place match of the 152-pound division.
Senior Curtis Hemminghaus (32-9) clinched his first sectional appearance with a 10-1 semifinal decision over Lawrenceville’s Jeremy Melton (23-14) in the 160-pound division. He was hoping for a chance at top-seeded and state-ranked Travis Selby (30-6) of Robinson in the championship, but Selby had to forfeit due to injury.
‘He’s a tough kid, and I thought it’d be a real good match, but the kid hurt his shoulder,’ Clay said. ‘ Still, we’ll take that one.’
Sophomore Caleb Walton bounced back from a semifinal loss with a pin of Cumberland’s Andrew McClain 5 minutes and 29 seconds into their 171-pound third-place match. The sectional-clinching victory was one of the Vandals’ most gratifying of the day, considering Walton is one of Clay’s hardest workers in practice.
‘He’s starting to get a little more confidence and transfer some of the stuff from practice into his matches,’ Clay said.
Senior Matt Shroyer (36-1) came out on top in the day’s marquee matchup, topping Robinson’s Josh Kincaid (27-7) for the second time this season with an 8-2 decision in the title match of the 189-pound division.
‘That kids’ a muscle man; he’s real strong,’ said Clay of Kincaid. ‘It was a good win. I thought Matt did some real nice things and looked sharp on his feet.’
Kincaid entered the day as the fourth-ranked Class A 189-pounder in the state, but the top-ranked Shroyer broke open a stalemate by taking a 3-1 advantage late in the second period. He then opened up a comfortable lead midway through the final round.
Junior Devin Cook advanced to the sectional round for the first time by edging out Robinson’s Ben Rardin in the third-place match of the 215-pound division. Cook is now 9-7 on the year.
Nate Stone (33-5) needed no more than 20 seconds to wrap up the 285-pound title. After quickly pinning St. Anthony’s Chris Goeckner in the semifinals, Stone won the championship via injury default, as Shelbyville’s Ott Sands could not go do to an injury.
Despite winning his second straight regional title, Stone was clearly upset that he didn’t get a chance to earn the title on the mat.
‘These guys work so hard in practice that they want to go out there and earn it,’ Clay said. ‘And they know they’re capable. They don’t want to be handed anything.’