The 2020-21 IHSA wrestling season began April 19 and concluded June 12.
No postseason activity was involved. Just practices and a series of dual meets, triangular meets and quadrangular meets to make up for the lack of a traditional season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
So the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association stepped in.
The organization has been conducting a freshman/sophomore state tournament since 2011 and a girls’ state tournament since 2017. The group held its latest girls’ event Monday — potentially its final one as the IHSA prepares to start its own such tournament next year — and concludes its two-day frosh/soph showcase on Wednesday.
Beginning Thursday — for the first and possibly last time — the IWCOA will hold its own version of IHSA state wrestling. Class 1A action will happen Thursday, followed by Class 2A competition on Friday and Class 3A matches on Saturday.
Wrestlers in these meets had to qualify through super-regionals and sectionals earlier this month, versus the frosh/soph event, which individual athletes can sign up for as long as they’re of a certain age.
“One of the overtones we’re going to take from this point forward, as kids remember this COVID era, is that you can’t take it for granted. You can’t say next year, because next year might not happen,” Mahomet-Seymour coach Rob Ledin said. “It’ll definitely give a little more meaning to what practice is to what a tournament is.”
The News-Gazette coverage area will be well represented during the 1A and 2A tournaments at Springfield’s Bank of Springfield Center. Thirty athletes will put on a singlet and vie for a state championship — 20 in 1A and 10 in 2A.
This follows a quartet of prep girls earning state medals Monday: Mahomet-Seymour freshman Izzy Leyhe (eighth place at 113 pounds), Unity sophomore Ava Vasey (fifth at 132), Urbana senior Kira Buford-Rucker (seventh at 160) and Argenta-Oreana senior Delanee Miller (third at 195).
On the boys’ side, M-S leads all local programs with eight qualifications for Friday’s 2A meet.
“We’re excited,” Ledin said. “Got a couple of seniors that really want to end on a good note. Then having the underclassmen ... who are going to return next year, this is a great stepping stone for what’s to come.”
Both Oakwood/Salt Fork and LeRoy/Tri-Valley possess four qualifications for Thursday’s 1A tournament.
“We were super excited,” Oakwood/Salt Fork coach Mike Glosser said. “The state brackets are loaded (with) competition. In my opinion, it’s still pretty high-level. We’re treating it like a normal state tournament.”
O/SF is in the midst of a strong stretch of success. Senior Gage Reed, the reigning News-Gazette All-Area Wrestler of the Year, won the 2020 IHSA 1A state championship at 113, and sophomore Reef Pacot placed sixth at 106 in the same 1A meet.
Both will compete Thursday — Reed at 113, Pacot at 120 — alongside junior Joe Lashuay (160) and freshman Grant Brewer (145).
“We’re fortunate this year to have a lot of high-level guys at similar weights, so we could turn our wrestling room into a war zone-type mentality,” Glosser said. “If you didn’t come in ready to work your butt off every single day this year, you were going to get your butt kicked. Everything we’ve done is to prepare them for this Thursday.”
Ledin’s Bulldogs posted a perfect regular-season duals record, won a super-regional team title and placed second in their sectional behind Bethalto Civic Memorial. With such domination, it’s not surprising to see them nearing double digits in athletes advancing to IWCOA state.
Senior 220-pounder Daniel Renshaw is coming off a fifth-place state effort at 220 in 2A last season.
“He had a smile on his face about going into this week,” Ledin said. “He feels really good about where he’s at in his wrestling and what he needs to do.”
Fellow M-S seniors Logan Hillard (138) and Peyton Myers (160) also will be state participants, joined by junior Braeden Heinold (152) and sophomores Caden Hatton (106), Brennan Houser (182), Mateo Casillas (195) and Colton Crowley (285).
“We feel pretty good about all our guys,” Ledin said. “We’ve been right on that fringe to take ourselves to the next level, and a season like this can do it.”
The IWCOA state meets won’t have quite the same feel as the IHSA state series for a couple key reasons. Beyond not taking place in Champaign’s State Farm Center.
Each class’ action is confined to a single day as opposed to all three classes’ matches being spread out over the course of three days. Wrestling will begin at 9:30 a.m. and end with a Grand March and championship bouts at 5 p.m.
“To be quite honest, I think I’m going to like it,” Ledin said. “I can’t speak for (the athletes), but we prepare them in practice for multiple matches (per day).”
And not all of the state’s biggest names will be involved. That includes three of the area’s four former and still-eligible IHSA champions — Prairie Central’s Logan Deacetis (1A 170) and Brandon Hoselton (1A 195) and Westville/Georgetown-Ridge Farm’s Hayden Copass (1A 285) — while local powerhouse programs Unity and Monticello each are sending just one wrestler to IWCOA state.
But, as Glosser mentioned in looking at brackets, there’s still plenty of talent converging upon Springfield this week. And still one more opportunity for kids to earn state championships before the 2021-22 school year kicks off.
“You never wrestle who you think you’re going to wrestle at the state tournament,” Glosser said. “The sky’s the limit for these guys. ... I have super high expectations for all of them.”
Entering their final battle
Here’s a look at all of the local qualifiers for this week’s Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Class 1A and 2A state meets, held in Springfield on Thursday and Friday, respectively:
106 — Garyson McBride (Soph., Westville/Georgetown-Ridge Farm).
113 — Gage Reed (Sr., Oakwood/Salt Fork).
120 — Josh Sexton (Sr., LeRoy/Tri-Valley); Reef Pacot (Soph., Oakwood/Salt Fork).
145 — Owen Gulley (Sr., LeRoy/Tri-Valley); Grant Brewer (Fr., Oakwood/Salt Fork); Billy Tay (Sr., Ridgeview/Lexington)
152 — Kaden Gream (Sr., Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher); Justin Jones (Jr., Hoopeston Area).
160 — Joe Lashuay (Jr., Oakwood/Salt Fork).
170 — Abel Colunga (Jr., Hoopeston Area); Tyson Brent (Soph., LeRoy/Tri-Valley).
182 — Grant Sant Amour (Sr., LeRoy/Tri-Valley); Ryan Vasey (Sr., Unity); Craig Johnson (Soph., Westville/Georgetown-Ridge Farm).
195 — Connor Steidinger (Soph., Prairie Central); Keddrick Terhune (Jr., Rantoul/PBL); Owen Birt (Soph., St. Joseph-Ogden).
220 — Riley Jones (Soph., Monticello); Evan Antonio (Jr., Ridgeview/Lexington).
106 — Caden Hatton (Soph. Mahomet-Seymour).
113 — Trevor Schoonover (Fr., Centennial).
138 — Logan Hillard (Sr., Mahomet-Seymour).
152 — Braeden Heinold (Jr., Mahomet-Seymour).
160 — Peyton Myers (Sr., Mahomet-Seymour).
182 — Brennan Houser (Soph., Mahomet-Seymour).
195 — Mateo Casillas (Soph., Mahomet-Seymour).
220 — Daniel Renshaw (Sr., Mahomet-Seymour).
285 — Scottlind Sims (Sr., Centennial); Colton Crowley (Soph., Mahomet-Seymour).
Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.