If experience is everything, the Vandalia wrestling team could be in for a record-setting weekend at the IHSA Class A Individual State Wrestling Tournament.
The Vandals are not only sending a whopping seven grapplers to Assembly Hall this weekend – they’re sending five salty veteran wrestlers with a combined 10 state tournaments under their belts.
That experience factor could go a long way toward helping the Vandals break last year’s program record of three state medalists.
All five of the Vandals state returnees are seniors – and they all claimed championships Saturday at the Robinson Sectional.
Leading the way in the experience department will be Adam Bowling and Josh Eller.
After placing third at state last year in the 140-pound division, Bowling clinched the third state tournament berth of his career Saturday – and he did so with a bullet.
After securing a state berth with a semifinal pin, Bowling took the 145-pound title with a 21-8 major decision victory over top-seeded and previously undefeated John Kesler of Herrin.
Eller will also be making his third state appearance. He also secured a state spot with a semifinal win before topping Roxana’s Mike Caldwell, 3-1, for the first sectional title of his career.
Eller, like Bowling, has not only had plenty of state experience – he’s had success as well, finishing fourth in the 103-pound division last year.
Making their second-consecutive state appearances will be Matt Shroyer and Nate Stone.
Shroyer punched his ticket with a semifinal win before beating state-ranked Josh Kincaid of Robinson for the third time this year, 4-2, in the 189-pound title match.
Stone put an exclamation point on an awesome day for the Vandals by pinning West Frankfort’s Paul Coash 3 minutes, 53 seconds into the 285-pound championship.
Like Shroyer and Stone, Cody Pyle clinched his second state tournament berth. Unlike his classmates, Pyle’s return to Champaign has been a long time coming.
Pyle qualified his freshman year, but had to endure a pair of near misses his sophomore and junior years.
He finally broke through again, however, getting a big semifinal win before claiming a 10-5 victory over Carmi-White County’s Shane Cisco in Saturday’s 135-pound championship.
All five of Vandalia’s returning state qualifiers will receive a first-round bye by virtue of their sectional titles.
Bowling claimed his third career sectional title by flat-out taking it to a previously undefeated wrestler. Bowling scored a takedown just seconds into his title tilt with Kesler, and it was never even close after that, as he led 9-2 after one quarter and rolled to victory.
‘Adam wrestled him last year and pinned him,’ VCHS coach Jason Clay said, ‘so I think he had a mental edge on the kid, and his first takedown set the tone.’
‘I was pretty nervous going into the match, because he was undefeated,’ Bowling said. ‘I just went out there and attacked like coach and I talked about. Luckily I was on my ‘A’ game, and I ended up winning.’
Bowling advanced to the final by pinning Benton’s Casey Spencer and Red Hill’s Jordan Clevy.
After battling through a tough bracket and stacked weight division last year to place third at state, Bowling’s goal this year is clear, considering his experience, resume and the way the brackets are shaping up this time around.
‘I’m hoping I can come through in my first two matches and get into the championship,’ Bowling said. ‘I’ll end up wrestling – hopefully – a two-time state champion up there (IVC’s Jeff Bybee). I guess my goal’s to win it.
‘I got the best possible draw I could have gotten, really. The tougher kids are definitely on the bottom, so hopefully I’ll get to the championship.’
Bowling will open up Friday in the quarterfinals against the winner of a first-round bout featuring Aledo’s Ethan Ball (34-5) and Walter’s Robert Watson (31-4).
Eller’s senior season has featured countless challenges.
New weight division. Countless high-caliber opponents. The pressure of following up a fourth-place state finish.
Saturday was no different, as Eller ran into top-seeded Kyle Borders of Herrin in the semifinals.
But lo and behold, Eller finds himself in position to repeat last year’s state success after an impressive 9-3 win over Borders to clinch his third state berth.
‘His semifinal match was probably the best match he wrestled in the tournament,’ Clay said. ‘He was really aggressive.’
Eller added some icing on the cake by going on to win a sectional title.
‘It felt really good, because I had never done it before,’ Eller said. ‘To win it my senior year, it meant a lot to me. And to know I battled through all the tough matches and everything just makes it better.’
Eller struggled a bit early in the year with illness and adjusting to a new weight class, but he now seems primed for another state run.
He will face the winner of bout 10, featuring LeRoy’s Cory Matlock (33-8) and Stillman Valley’s Nick Harrison (33-4) in quarterfinal action Friday night.
‘I’m hoping to do even better (this year) and get into the finals,’ Eller said. ‘To do that would be a major accomplishment for me.’
Pyle’s reaction when he pinned Murphysboro’s Deven Tyrone in the 135-pound semifinal final Saturday was simple, yet prophetic.
‘Finally,’ Pyle said of his first state berth in three years.
The sixth-seeded senior went on to claim his first sectional title with a win over the No. 1 seed.
He finished fourth his sophomore and junior years, coming up one spot shy of state.
‘It made me want it even more,’ said Pyle of the near misses. ‘(Getting back to state) was my main goal.’
Clay wrestled Pyle in the 140-pound weight division most of the year, and he has dominated since dropping down to 135 for the postseason.
Like his freshman year, Pyle will have a tough draw at state, as he will open state competition against the winner of bout 42, which will feature Wilmington’s Jeff Goodwin (36-4) and Argenta-Oreana’s Bronson Washburn (34-4).
‘I’ve got a tough draw,’ Pyle said.
If you had no prior knowledge of high school wrestling, and were forced to line up Shroyer and Robinson’s Josh Kincaid side-by-side and predict which one would be 3-0 against the other, chances are the chiseled Kincaid would be the no-brainer selection.
But appearances don’t mean squat in wrestling, something Shroyer proved for the third time in as many tries versus Kincaid with a 4-2 sectional-title victory.
‘It just goes to show that a lot more goes into it,’ Clay said. ‘Matt’s been in (wrestling) since he was 9. He definitely knows how to wrestle and stay in position. He just moves well, battles and doesn’t give up points.’
Shroyer advanced to the final with a quick pin of Harrisburg’s Matt Foles and a major decision over Pinckneyville’s Bryce Martin.
Buoyed by his sparkling 39-1 record and a mat mojo most wrestlers don’t possess, Shroyer’s goals heading into state are ambitious.
‘My goal is to win it,’ said Shroyer, who has beaten a handful of wrestlers in his bracket. ‘I feel like I got a pretty good draw, so I’d like to go up there and win it, or at least medal.’
Clay is also optimistic Shroyer can make some serious noise.
‘I think he’s got a shot at it,’ Clay said. ‘He gives himself a chance to win every match.’
Shroyer will open up in the quarterfinals against the winner of an opening-round bout featuring Peotone’s Kody Lathus (25-11) and Eureka’s Zach Wakid (30-9).
It happened in an instant. One minute, Stone was down 2-0 and visibly frustrated in his sectional championship match. The next minute, Stone was celebrating his first-ever sectional title after recording his 28th pin over an overwhelmed opponent.
Clay has gotten used to the sequence.
‘He is pretty strong,’ Clay said. ‘Once he gets them there, he’s a pretty good pinner.
‘His strength is probably his biggest asset, but now he’s starting to learn how to move and position himself, too.’
It was Stone’s 28th pin in 36 victories this year. He recorded two others pinfalls advancing to the finals with victories over Pinckneyville’s Jack Lynch and Carterville’s Stephen Bateman.
‘It felt pretty good to finally win (a sectional) my senior year,’ Stone said.
Now, just four years after taking up the sport, Stone is shooting for a medal at state.
‘I’ve got a pretty good draw, so I’d really like to get in the finals and see what I can do there,’ Stone said. ‘That’s what I’m shooting for.’
Stone will open up in the quarterfinal round Friday against the winner of an opening-round bout featuring Macomb’s Evan Kline (33-3) and Walter’s Steven Campbell (32-2).