ALEX FRIDDLE (113) picked up a third place finish for the Coalers, as he battled his way through the wrestlebacks to make the stand. Friddle was one of four wrestlers that placed at the tournament.
by Brent Sumner Staff writer
The best of the best may have gotten the better of three area teams including Coal City's wrestlers who competed in the IHSA 1A State finals over the weekend.
The Coalers still brought home four medals, including three thirds and one sixth.
"There is always hope to do better," said Coal City coach Mark Masters. "Every kid that we had, all 11 qualifiers, the losses were to state place winners. We didn't lose to a single guy who did not place, if that tells you anything about our draws. Six of our weight classes, we wrestled the No. 1 ranked kid. That is a tough draw."
Most of Coal City's wrestlers didn't make it past the quarterfinals before suffering their first loss of the four-day event.
However, in the wrestlebacks, many of the Coalers seeemed to wrestle with a vengeance, as they grinded through their opponents.
"Could we have wrestled a little better in a match or two? Yeah, but we wrestled extremely well in the wrestlebacks," added Masters. "They take a tough loss in the quarterfinals, and then came back and got a win to stay alive. It is the difference in placing and not placing, they had to regroup and re-focus mentally and emotionally. That part, we did an outstanding job."
Alex Friddle (113), Jake Hiles (120) and Brock Crawford (195) earned third place finishes for the Coalers, while Daniel Jezik wound up securing sixth.
Friddle got off to a solid start, as he opened his bracket with a win over Dakota's Evan Riggle.
The match took three periods, which Friddle with a late pin (5:32), advancing to the quarterfinals against Gabe Spencer from Heyworth.
Friddle had a setback in the quarterfinals (4-2 decision), bumping him to the wrestlebacks.
"It took him a little while to refocus," Masters said. "It was a real emotional loss. He felt like all the goals and work he put in, he puts every fiber of his being to get into the finals. He was as down as I have seen a wrestler in a long time, but 15 minutes before he wrestled [in the wrestlebacks] he was a different kid."
Friddle kicked off the wrestlebacks with a dominating win over Zack Stephenson from Vandalia with a pin (1:21). He followed that up with another big decision win over Austin Vincent from Lena-Winslow (7-1).
"Friddle was on a mission after that quarterfinal loss," said Masters. "What he felt, he wanted to make sure everybody else felt that in hte wrestlebacks. He dominated, and that loss rekindled the fire. He was more determined than I have seen him in the last two years."
He would move to the third place match after picking up another pin over Zeke Marshall from Aurora Christian (4:41).
In the third place match, Friddle left it all on the mat, earning a major decision over Caleb Nix from Auburn (14-2).
"The coach shook my hand and told me that I have never seen your kid wrestle like that before," said Masters. "He was on a mission more than I have ever seen him."
Hiles also picked up third in his weight class, and had about the same path as Friddle.
He picked up a first round win over Asher Wiegand from Eureka (10-1 major decision), but wound up falling in the quarterfinals to Noah Villarreal from Aurora Christian (10-5 decision).
While Hiles lost the match to Villarreal, Masters admitted that it was one of the best matches of the tournament.
"In the third period we went neutral, and Jake stood him up on a half of a shot and threw the kid on his back," Masters said. "The whole arena kind of went nuts. I had a feeling like we had to hit him there, or else it would be really tough."
Following the loss, Hiles battled his way through wrestlebacks, picking up wins over Vandalia's Tanner Swain (8-0 major decision), Rockford's Josh Schrank (6-1 decision) and Savanna's Andrew VanKampen (5-2 decision).
In the third place match, Hiles faced Lane Litwiller from Olympia, where he picked up a decision win (11-6).
The final third place medalist was Crawford, who also battled his way through the wrestlebacks after a quarterfinal loss.
"Brock had the best tournament of his life to place third on the stand," Masters said. "He had been beaten by a couple of those guys, and lpaced higher than they did. It was great to see him come back and finish his high school career on a high note."
Crawford picked up a first round win over Gavin Smith from Lawrenceville by pin (1:24) and advanced to face top seed, Niles Ager from Rock Falls.
Crawford lost to the undefeated opponent by a 14-1 major, moving him to the wrestlebacks.
He battled his way back, picking up a win over Olympia's Mason Moore (7-4 dec.) and then defeated Toby Traxler from Tolono in an ultimate tiebreaker (2-1).
"One of the highlights of the tournament was Crawford's win in an ultimate tiebreaker," Masters said. "He had to ride the kid out 30 seconds to win. He was that close from not placing, to getting third. That was exciting."
Crawford picked up another win over Bowen's Marquise Paino (10-6 dec.), moving him to the third place match, where he faced Justin Coggins from Clifton Central. He picked up the win with a 3-1 decision.
The final medalist for the Coalers was Jezik, who was also the only wrestler to reach the semifinals.
"Semifinals for Daniel Jezik, that was huge," Masters said. "He had a good spot in the bracket, wrestled as well as he could wrestle, and then he lost to the eventual state champ. He lost 8-0, but it was the only match the guy didn't pin somebody."
Jezik started his tournament run with two wins, defeating Rueben Cantu from Knoxville (7-4 dec.) and Toledo's Konnir Hinz (5-4 dec.).
In the semis, Jezik lost to top seed, Nolan Baker by an 8-0 major, moving him to the wrestlebacks against Wilmington's Robert Shields.
Jezik lost the match by a 3-0 decision, moving him to the fifth place match, where he suffered his second loss of the tournament, falling to Simon Schuler from Prairie Central (5-0 dec.).
"Our guys competed at a very high level on Saturday," said Masters. "We had nine guys get back into wrestelbacks, and six of them won. Second round, we had four guys win. That second round wresteback was down to eight guys. If TJ Jezik and Bryan Stopka win those matches, they are all staters."
Other Coal City wrestlers that competed at state but didn't place included: Brandon Strnad (106), Lane Kutemeier (126), Ryan Wasielewski (132), TJ Jezik (138), Danny Norton (160), Bryan Stopka (182) and Brendan Nevin (220).
Of the wrestlers that went to state, only three were seniors, proving that Coal City's program is still moving up.
Crawford, Hiles and Stopka saw their high school careers come to an end on Saturday, with two of the three earning medals.
"It was just a hug and letting them know how proud I was of them," Masters said. "I love them, and all the kids know that. I was proud of how they closed their careers out and represented them. Bryan, he did everything he could. He finished in the top eight."
Masters went on to say that from here, the program's only direction is up, as the expecations from his wrestlers are through the roof.
"Anything less than a team championship to these guys is a dissapointment, and it puts a lot of pressure on the coaching staff," he said. "We started off with 35 kids in the program this yaer, and went down to 33. We had every single kid at every practice up until Thursday. Every single kid at practice with only 11 competing."
The season may be over for the Coalers, but the work will continue, as wrestlers will prepare for the freestyle greco club coming up in March. The JV state series will also be held next weekend.
"The kids are going to keep working," Masters said. "We have kids go to Matt Gentry, go to overtime. We encourage the kids to go get coached by somebody else, that is important to get the exposure."
The Wildcats sent eight wrestlers to the state tournament, and had two competitors earn medals.
Wilmington's Robert Shields (145) picked up a fourth, and Nick Pretto (152) earned sixth.
The Comets wound up sending two to state, Bobby Mann (106) and Gabe Nagel (145).
Neither wrestler advanced out of the opening round, but the two qualifiers doubled Reed-Custer's qualifiers from last year.