Most high school programs could make the trip to the IHSA Class A Individual Wrestling Tournament in a Yugo.
The Vandalia wrestling program might have to take a bus.
The Vandals came up just one wrestler shy of tying the program record for individual state qualifiers, as half of the team’s starting lineup qualified for state Saturday by placing in the top three in their weight divisions at the Robinson Sectional.
‘I thought we had a realistic chance to get anywhere from five to eight, and I thought five were pretty sure thing,’ VCHS coach Jason Clay said. ‘To get half the team, that’s a pretty good number.’
And it isn’t like a majority of the Vandals snuck in, either.
Five VCHS seniors claimed championships, as Josh Eller (112 lbs.), Cody Pyle (135), Adam Bowling (145), Matt Shroyer (189) and Nate Stone (285) all finished first in their respective weight classes.
All five wrestlers clinched state berths with semifinal wins (see separate story for more details) before clinching first-round byes at state by claiming sectional titles.
That left the spotlight focused directly on senior Curtis Hemminghaus and sophomore Alex Foster, as they battled for state berths in their respective third-place matches.
The duo did not disappoint, pulling out victories under tremendous pressure to bolster Vandalia’s already formidable presence this weekend at the Assembly Hall in Champaign (see separate story for more details).
‘That’s more of a pressure situation,’ said Clay of the third-place matches. ‘Those championship matches, you can relax a little bit, even though you’re going for a first-round bye at state. But those third-place matches are exciting.’
Foster and Hemminghaus will both make their state debuts Friday morning when the opening round kicks off at 11 a.m.
The rest of the Vandals contingent will begin wrestling at 6:30 p.m. in the quarterfinal round.
Clay is anxious for his state newcomers to take in the big-time experience at the home of the Fighting Illini, and he hopes his five state veterans will be able to capitalize on their combined 10 state tournament appearances.
‘It’s a neat weekend,’ Clay said. ‘It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot of great wrestling. I hope they keep it there for a long time.’
Seven other Vandals came up short of state berths Saturday at Robinson. They will return to action on Feb. 19 when the Vandals host their own dual team sectional.
Anthony Wernle’s first sectional match was a success, as he pinned Harrisburg’s Masen Motsinger in 1:22 in an opening-round 103-pound bout. Wernle dropped a 13-0 major decision to Murphysboro’s Cody Brashear, however, and was eliminated from the tournament. He is now 19-15 on the year.
Zach Ledbetter started strong in the 119-pound division, pinning Harrisburg’s John Miller in 1:05. He fell to Litchfield’s Chance Davidson in his next bout, however, and is now 22-15 on the year.
Senior Kevin Paulding saw his state bid come up a little short with an 11-7 consolation semifinal loss to Benton’s Kyle Bean. Paulding opened up with a tough 4-3 loss to West Frankfort’s Josh Johnson, but battled back with a win over Hillsboro’s Nick Milanos. He finished 32-10 on the year.
Hillsboro’s Tyler Beeler pinned the Vandals’ Jake Harris in 2:28 in an opening round 140-pound match. Harris is now 12-7 on the year.
Jake Etcheson’s first sectional appearance started off well, as he opened up competition with a pin of Herrin’s Brandon Fortner in 5:19. But Etcheson was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Harrisburg’s John Fuller, who pinned him in 3:34.
Caleb Walton had the misfortune of drawing Roxana’s Dez Zimmerman in his opening- round match in the 171-pound division, and Zimmerman went on to a pin in 36 seconds.
Devin Cook suffered a 9-2 loss to Hillsboro’s Ryan Knop in his first sectional appearance. Cook finished his first varsity season with a 9-8 record.