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Old 12-24-2012
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Small-school phenom Alber earns OW at Dvorak

By CURT HERRON
Illinois Matmen

It's obviously safe to say that there were a whole lot of deserving candidates for the Outstanding Wrestler Award at the 25th Al Dvorak Memorial Invitational.

Jered Cortez won a major decision against defending Dvorak and state champ Jordan Northrup and Jordan Ellingwood did the same against nationally-ranked Blake Blair.

Or Bryce Brill and Brian Murphy, who each won their third Dvorak titles after beating nationally-ranked opponents, Edgar Bright and Markus Scheidel, respectively.

And team champion St. Edward of Ohio certainly could have been honored by having a pair of its highest-ranked winners, Domenic Abounader or Dean Heil, recognized.

But America loves an underdog and in the vote that mattered, the coaches picked the guy from the smallest school after he beat a higher-ranked national opponent.

Josh Alber had obviously already made a name for himself after winning back-to-back Class 1A titles and going unbeaten in over 100 matches in two-plus seasons.

But the junior from little Dakota provided inspiration for all small schools in Illinois when he edged Johnny Jimenez 3-2 for the Dvorak title at 120 pounds.

Marmion junior Jimenez, who won consecutive Class 2A titles, was ranked sixth in the latest Intermat national rankings, while Alber received the 14th spot.

Alber's takedown with 1:10 left in Sunday's title match electrified the big crowd at Harlem and Jimenez was unable to score more than an escape after that.

As if that victory wasn't impressive enough, Alber handed Glenbard North's Jon Marmolejo his first loss of the year when he edged him 4-2 in the semifinals.

In a tournament that has showcased the best large-school programs in Illinois for years, it was a welcome addition to see a small-school talent get his due.

And as a bonus for Dakota, junior Daniel Zimmerman also claimed top honors at 220 to give it two champions, the same number as Glenbard North and Marist had.

Not bad, considering that programs like Montini, Marmion, Harlem, Lincoln-Way Central, Hononegah, Libertyville, Lockport and St. Rita won no championships.

"There's been a lot of buildup coming into the tournament and people didn't know how I was going to do," Alber said. "I was confident in myself and knew that I just had to come out and wrestle. It feels great to get it over with and it's a relief.

"I put a lot of hard work in during the summer and I've been working hard this season. I started the tournament with two pins and then got a good win in the semis against a really tough kid. I wrestled my match and did what I had to do in the finals."

Alber, who is coached by his uncle Pete and his dad Tony, understood all too well that he was not only carrying the hopes for Dakota, but also for teams in 1A.

"I'm starting to realize that it wasn't just about me," said Josh Alber, who is now 21-0 on the season. "I had a lot of people in the 1A community who were backing me and it feels great to be able to give them this title.

"Coming into the tournament we knew that we weren't going to get a ton of respect since we're small in Class 1A and none of these teams see us throughout the year so they don't know what we have, but we knew what we were capable of doing.

"We kind of set our goals of finishing in the top 10 and we missed that by a little bit (they finished 11th), but I thought everyone wrestled pretty well. And our 220-pounder is so tough and he brings it every time."

Dakota is hoping that it can accomplish more big things but also realizes that the path through the state series in Northwestern Illinois will be challenging.

The Indians host a brutal regional featuring six top-25 teams in it. That group includes #1 Lena-Winslow/Stockton, #4 Byron, #6 Dakota and #9 Stillman Valley.

Then they'll run into #2 Mercer County and #5 Harvard, amongst others, at the Oregon Individual Sectional, where a large number of ranked individuals will be.

So getting a lot of individuals to Champaign and qualifying for dual team state for the first time since Dakota's glory years of 2005-2007 will be difficult.

"This was a big part of our season," Josh Alber said. "We had our goals set pretty high here and we feel like we did a lot of good things. We just have to keep moving forward now and hopefully we can try to get a team state title."
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Old 12-25-2012
ILWrestle ILWrestle is offline
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Great article Curt!
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Old 12-25-2012
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Nice article, very well put.
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