Matt Shroyer and Adam Bowling spent their high school careers adding to Vandalia’s well-established wrestling tradition.
Now, two of VCHS wrestling’s all-time best will look to help Rend Lake College build a tradition of its own.
Shroyer and Bowling recently signed letters of intent to continue their grappling careers for RLC coach Kevin Tate’s young program, which will begin its third season of competition this October.
And in signing on the dotted line, the recent VCHS grads made a little history in the process.
It is believed that their signings mark the first time a pair of Vandal wrestlers have committed to the same college team at the same time.
And, along with Josh Eller – who recently signed to wrestle for Coe College in Iowa – three members of the class of 2008 have now committed to the next level.
‘It’s kind of a proud day for the program to have this many kids going on to college and staying with wrestling,’ Vandals coach Jason Clay said. ‘It’s tough sometimes getting one or two kids that want to go on and wrestle in college.’
Shroyer’s signing ensures that his long grappling career will continue at least two more years.
He took up the sport as a second-grader and went on to pile up 98 career varsity victories, despite missing his freshman season with a broken leg.
Shroyer saved his best wrestling for a dominating senior season in which he went 41-2 and finished second at state in the 189-pound division.
But, despite that success, Shroyer admits wrestling at the collegiate level wasn’t really on his radar at the conclusion of the 2007-08 season.
‘I really fell in love with the sport this year and had lots of success,’ Shroyer said, ‘but I always thought I’d want to play football in college, because wrestling’s so tough, with cutting weight and everything.’
But Shroyer’s mindset changed after just one conversation with Tate following the Illinois-Indiana All-Star Meet in March.
‘Coach Tate contacted me and offered me a full ride,’ Shroyer said. ‘I couldn’t pass it up.’
He also took the opportunity to talk up his buddy, Bowling, who was anxiously awaiting an opportunity to wrestle at the next level.
Shroyer’s recommendation apparently carried a lot of weight, as Tate offered Bowling a scholarship soon after.
And it’s only fitting, considering it was Shroyer who talked Bowling into taking up wrestling as a fifth-grader.
‘He really didn’t like it at first,’ Shroyer recalls. ‘But now he loves it.’
Bowling’s love for the sport showed during a varsity career in which he piled up 140 career wins, good for fourth all-time on VCHS’s all-time list.
He is one of just four Vandals to place at the individual state tournament twice, taking third in the 140-pound division as a junior and second in the 145-pound division as a senior.
Like Shroyer, Bowling was also a standout football player at VCHS. But unlike Shroyer, he coveted a chance to wrestle in college from the get-go.
‘I thought I was always too small to play football in college,’ Bowling said. ‘I always wanted to wrestle, because I just like the competitiveness of the sport.’
Now, the Vandals’ 2008 Co-Outstanding Wrestlers of the Year will have an opportunity to experience the college level together.
‘We’ve been best friends since the second grade, so to go to college with him just makes it even better,’ Shroyer said.
Tate is excited to bring the VCHS grads aboard, but cautions that there will likely be an adjustment period during their upcoming freshman campaigns.
‘These kids are obviously well-coached – Vandalia’s had a storied program for quite some time,’ Tate said. ‘But they’ll have to improve on everything.
‘It’s a step up from high school to the college level. It’s something that’ll take a while to do, but both of them have shown they can work hard, and I think both of them will come in and help our program be successful next year.’
One of the Bowling and Shroyer’s greatest challenges at RLC could also prove to be their biggest opportunity.
Rend Lake will compete in a handful of open tournaments that will feature Division-I teams early in the season.
Though challenging, such matches can also be viewed as open auditions for a Division-I scholarship.
‘When we wrestle those D-I kids, the coaches really don’t have a choice but to watch us,’ Bowling said. ‘That gives you a lot of opportunities if you wrestle good matches.’
A pair of Rend Lake wrestlers took advantage of their opportunities last year, with one earning a scholarship to Northwestern and another likely heading to the University of Illinois.
‘That’s basically what we’re there for,’ Tate said. ‘We’re the stepping stone, not the final destination. We keep pushing kids to D-I schools. I think that says a lot about our program.’
Though advancing his wrestlers to the Division-I level is Tate’s top priority, building a national-title contender at the JUCO level is also on his to-do list.
The Warriors took a step in that direction a year ago, as four RLC wrestlers advanced to nationals, with two going on to earn All-American honors.
‘They recruited a really good class this year,’ Bowling said. ‘I’ve also heard something about them being rated in the top five in the country this year.’
Anything approaching the level of success Bowling and Shroyer spearheaded during their careers at VCHS will have to be considered a success.
They were part of a stellar seven-man senior class that accumulated a sparkling 83-11 dual-meet record during their four years, and advancing to the state tournament each year, including a second-place finish in 2007.
That said, Clay knows Bowling and Shroyer leave behind huge voids.
‘I think the biggest thing we’re going to miss is their leadership,’ Clay said. ‘They’re a couple of guys who were multiple-year starters, and I always knew I was going to get their best in practice, and they were going to give it their all in matches.
‘They are going to be hard to replace, but I think they’ll both acclimate to college real well and represent our school well.’
Shroyer said he would likely wrestle in the 184-pound division for RLC, while Bowling said he would attempt to cut enough weight to wrestle in the 149-pound division.