Coalers the top pick for return to state

MICHAEL GONZALEZ gets a pin at 285 pounds during the state individual finals on Saturday. He will be among the Coal City seniors leading the team into the dual teams finals on Friday in Bloomingtøn.
Photo by Jeff Chumbley

Eric Fisher

The outcome of Tuesday night’s dual team sectional championship was unknown as of press time, but we’re betting that the Coal City wrestling team won and will advance to state.
The Coalers were to face Chicago Hope Academy in the Wilmington sectional, a team that didn’t advance anyone to the state individual tournament while Coal City had 14 qualifiers.
Hope Academy won their own regional with a 12-man roster, without wrestlers to fill in the 106 and 113 weight classes. The best wrestler on the roster is 132-pounder Sammy Saez with a 28-4 record. He is among six of the 12 wrestlers for Hope with a winning record. With the other half of the team with losing records, it’s a surprise they won their Chicago regional by 40 team points.
While Coal City may not have crowned any state champions on Saturday in Champaign, as a team they are tough. They’re ranked No. 1 in Class 1A with a 39-2 record, tied for best in school history.
The Coalers have made dual team state five of the last seven times (none in 2021 due to Covid), placing second three times and third twice.
For Coach Mark Masters his best crack at winning state was in 2016 with a 31-3 team that lost the championship 31-30 to Dakota.
“I would say that we probably are better than that team was, top to bottom,” Masters commented. “There's been other teams for us with the same star power but overall, this team probably has them beat. They go out there and they are just pinners. This group has really taken it to the next level.”
Masters knows he’s fortunate to have above average talent at every single weight class and there are a dozen more underclassmen who are eager to step in if needed.
“Everybody's pretty focus-driven. They all hang out together. Winning makes it easier to hang out and be good friends but we’re talking freshmen through seniors hanging together. It's a great group of kids.”
Masters noted that the freshmen come from the first group of kids that got started when the Little Coalers youth wrestling program started. And the seniors were in fourth grade, all having the right coaches at the right time, at the right place.
“That is what has gotten our high school program to where it is right now. Making state five times since 2015 says a lot about the Coalers. You have to have talent, and we have some talented kids and some athletic kids, but the Little Coalers program gives them a huge jump on things.”
Masters likes it that all his Coalers are multi-sport athletes.
“We don't have any specialization. All of our kids either played football or soccer. We’ve got a bunch of kids that are playing baseball. There's some guys who run track in the spring. I don't know how many three-sport athletes we have, but we have quite a few. This is just part of life for these guys, going from one sport to the next, to the next sport,” Masters said.
But what makes this group stand out more than the rest?
“They spent a lot of time at it in the off-season. And when they get done with practice here, the majority of our kids go to the gym in town to get an extra workout. And they’re doing it together, as a group. These guys are doing all the extra stuff to try to put themselves in the best position.”
Masters knows that having 14 qualifiers for the individual state tournament makes them the team everybody wants to beat.
“It’s the ‘let's get after Coal City attitude’”. When you have success you become a bigger target, we know that.”
He notice that during the sectional held in Coal City.
“When we won, it was pretty loud. We're dealing with obviously a big following being at home and all. But when we lost, there was a lot of cheering going on too. So it's just one of those things...everybody wants to knock off the guys at the top.”
Coaler confidence is running high for a state dual team bid and let’s hope they get the chance on Friday to make it to Bloomington. The tournament will be held in the Grossinger Motors Arena with six mats for 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. quarterfinals. Exact time was unknown depending on whether Coal City was in the top or lower bracket.
If they win on Friday they stay for Saturday when the semi-finals will be held at 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. depending on bracket placement. The championship and third place meets will be at 6 p.m. Saturday night.