IHSA Class 1A Dual Team State Preview
By CURT HERRON
It will be a case of the state's top-ranked team against the defending state champions in the Class 1A quarterfinals on Saturday.
In one of the 11 a.m. matchups, number-one Dakota meets up with LeRoy, which won state a year ago. At the same time, PORTA faces Lisle.
Two hours earlier, Litchfield and Vandalia meet in a southern clash while Plano and Mercer County go at it in another battle between two of the state's best.
The semifinals at U.S. Cellular Coliseum are scheduled for 2:00 p.m. with the championship and third place meet set to begin at 6:00 p.m.
Dakota is back at state for the first time since 2007. that's when the Indians completed a three-year run when they went third, first and third.
Peter Alber coached those squads and is still at the helm of the successful program that's situated not far from the state's northern border.
This year's team bounced back from early losses to Harvard and Mercer County to move past Lena-Winslow as the top squad and brings a 21-2 mark to state.
Leading the way for the Indians are a pair of state champions, Josh Alber (47-0) at 120 and Carver James (44-3) at 138.
J.J. Wolfe (44-7) at 132 and Daniel Zimmerman (47-1) at 220 were runners-up while Brandon Lizer (42-7) took fourth at 145 and Nathan Olsen (29-18) was sixth at 126.
"I would like to say that this team has certainly surprised myself and the coaching staff at Dakota," Peter Alber said. "In the seasons from 2005 through 2007 we qualified and placed in the team state duals three times, but I believe that was more expected of that team.
"These young men have really worked hard and worked together very well to get where we are at today, which makes this a less pressure situation than when everyone expects you to be here.
"We are still very honored to represent our community, our fans and families. We feel we are prepared to wrestle at the level it takes to become champions, we would like to perform at a level that is entertaining and fun to watch.
"We also have the utmost respect for the defending state champions (LeRoy), who we have in the first round. We have studied them and feel we have a good chance to advance to the semifinals. At that time the coaching staff will study and prepare the best lineup for that match; we will take one match at a time."
Doug DeWald has taken LeRoy to state and placed there in four of the last five years. It took second in 2009 and third in 2011.
The Panthers are 17-1 on the season, losing only to Prairie Central in the early going. The fifth place finisher at 120, Austin Matlock (33-10) leads the way.
Sixth-place finishers for LeRoy are Tate Ruffner (32-9) at 113, Caleb Wilson (37-14) at 160 and Ty Sandy (37-6) at 220.
"With the graduation of nine seniors off of last year’s state title team, we knew we had our work cut out for us in 2012-2013," DeWald said. "We made it a goal at the end of last year to build day to day, week to week and month by month.
"We knew that if our kids coming back and the ones coming into the program were willing to put the time and effort in, we would give ourselves a chance to get back to the duals again this year.
"I believe our athletes have that expectation of competing at the end of the season for something meaningful. And, we have been very fortunate to have athletes around here that are willing to put the program first when that time comes. We are excited to see what this group can do Saturday.
"That being said, our draws at the state duals over the years have not been very kind – This year is no different. Dakota is a very talented team and have proven over the course of this season that they are the favorites to win the state championship.
"They have a ton of fire power in that lineup with the ability to put a lot of bonus points on the board quickly. They wrestle a style that is explosive, physical, and mean. They wrestle to dominate. All I can tell you is that we will show up ready to fight. Win or lose, our athletes will compete to the best of their ability."
Also on that side of the bracket are PORTA and Lisle, who've both been away from state for a few years.
PORTA will be making its ninth state appearance in 12 years for veteran coach Jeff Hill, who won his 500th dual meet at the Petersburg school earlier this year.
The Bluejays have put together a 27-9 mark this season in dual meets. PORTA won state in 2010, its last visit, and also has had two fourth-place showings.
Hill's squad had one placewinner this year, Jordan Richardson (44-4), who claimed fourth place at 120.
"We were excited to win our 13th regional in a row over a good Beardstown team and qualify for the dual sectional," Hill said. "After having to wrestle LeRoy for a State berth the last five years we were excited to see that we had a different road to the state duals that did not involve the Panthers.
"Our seniors were freshman on our State Championship team and made it a goal to get back to the duals. We have wrestled Lisle two other times at the state duals and have come up on the short end both times."
Lisle is making its third state appearance, including its first since 2008, when John Davis led his squad to a fourth place finish.
The Lions, who are 16-6 in duals, have placed fourth both times they've been at state. They defeated PORTA both times in the quarterfinals.
Ben Buchelt (37-4) at 138 leads the way for Lisle, which was unable to finish with any placewinners in Champaign.
"The Lisle Lions wrestling team is very excited to compete in the dual team state this weekend in Bloomington," Davis said. "Our win over Peotone was truly a team effort in every way.
"I am very proud of our team and their progress, but it is not over yet. PORTA presents a huge challenge for us, but I feel we will put forth a good effort."
A year ago, Mercer County fell 38-27 to LeRoy in the semifinals and wound up settling for a third-place showing.
Golden Eagles coach Jeremy Finch is hoping that his program's second state trip improves upon last year's effort.
Mercer County posted a 22-3 mark in dual meets. But one of its losses was 34-28 to Plano at the St. Thomas More tournament.
Leading the Golden Eagles are 152 state champ Zach Nelson (42-0). Other placers are Tristen Finch (40-4), who was second at 138, and Jon Ricke (33-11), who took sixth at 170.
"The MC wrestling team is thrilled to be making a return trip to the IHSA Team State Wrestling Finals," Jeremy Finch said. "We took third place in Class A last season and it was our first team trophy in program history.
"Our wrestlers and our fans are very proud to be representing the Aledo Mercer County wrestling program down at Bloomington this weekend.
"Our first round opponent is Plano. We lost a very close dual to the Reapers at the STM Tourney over the Christmas break. We are looking forward our rematch with Plano and know it will be a great dual."
Plano, a school with a rich history, gets the opportunity to compete in the dual team finals for the first time.
First-year coach Joe Kampf has led his squad to a 25-6 record this season. It avenged two dual losses to Wilmington to end the Wildcats' long run at state.
The Reapers are led by 220 state champ Derrick Maisonet (49-1) plus Wes Brown (47-5), who was fourth at 160, and Shaun Wollenweber (36-13), who took sixth at 132.
Litchfield will be making its first state appearance since 1987, when the program took fourth in its last trip to the finals.
This season, coach Brian Lee's Purple Panthers have put together a 27-3 record. Included in that is a 39-21 win over Vandalia.
Leading the way for Litchfield are Devon Fenton (44-9), who was fourth at 126, and Caleb Thompson (36-18), who took sixth at 138.
"Litchfield earned a fourth place trophy in 1986-87 and this will be the third appearance for our school and is something our guys have talked about since their middle school years," Lee said
"Their hard work has paid off but we need to continue and wrestle hard match by match. Every dual is tough, Vandalia is a solid team. Our guys are focused on the team deal and want to finish the year strong."
Vandalia qualified for state for the fourth straight year and for the 15th time in the past 19 years. The Vandals are 20-11 this season.
Jason Clay's program has lost in the quarterfinals in the last four state trips. His first state team, in 2007, finished in second place.
The Vandals had no state placewinners in Champaign. Zach Jackson (42-10) at 160 and Dalton Blankenship (40-9) at 138 are 40-match winners.