By Blake Faith
Mattoon junior Jeremiah Jones says he wants to go out with a boom.
Sophomore Brady Foster says he’s ready to get after it.
Sophomore Kiefer Duncan says he’s learned to settle his nerves.
And junior Ricky Wright says records don’t matter in state competition.
These four Green Wave wrestlers will test their words starting this afternoon when they compete in the Class 2A IHSA state tournament at Champaign’s State Farm Center.
Mattoon wrestling coach Brett Porter said his squad is ready for today’s opening-round matches that begin at 2:15 p.m. Winners bracket quarterfinals are set for 6:45 p.m.
“I just want them to do the best that they can,” Porter said. “They all have their own goals set so they’re trying to accomplish it. And all four have separate goals. We’re just trying to do our very best that we can, take it one match at a time and end on a positive note.”
Charleston senior Trey Pearcy will also test his mettle – in the 126-pound division after having competed primarily at 132 pounds this season. Pearcy (38-4), visibly upset after a loss to the state’s No. 4 wrestler in regionals, battled back to qualify in that meet. He then also fought through two wrestleback matches at sectionals, defeating Mattoon’s Logan Blackburn, 10-5, and East St. Louis’s Zion Wilhite, 16-3, to qualify for his third state tournament.
Pearcy, the lone Charleston qualifier, faces off with Oak Forest sophomore Tyler Evitts (29-7). The winner moves on to likely wrestle defending state champion Joey Cape (14-2), a junior from Washington.
Mattoon, meanwhile, is sending four wrestlers to Champaign: Foster (31-2, 106 pounds), Wright (20-9, 120 pounds), Jones (22-7, 138 pounds) and Duncan (21-5, 132 pounds).
“They’ll be dealing with stress whether it’s falling behind in a match or having to come back from wrestlebacks,” Porter said. “There’s stress that you get from all over, and it’s how you handle it.”
Porter stated that this week they’ve been dealing on ways to handle stress related to competing in a large arena like the State Farm Center where 15,000-plus fans regularly watch Illinois basketball. More so, Porter is helping his squad focus on their own abilities.
“I don’t think you can look at any rankings at all,” Porter said “Everybody at this tournament is super tough and all four know how tough it is. You don’t look at rankings. You look at who’s across the mat from you.”
Foster was one of the three to battle out of wrestleback position last week at sectionals, coming back from an 8-4 second-round loss to Morton’s Connor Kidd. He responded to that loss by posting pins of 14 seconds and 3 minutes and 54 seconds, won an overtime match and then took third by a technical fall when he went ahead by more than 15 points.
Sherrill says Foster’s first-round match against Crystal Lake South sophomore Amador Castro (28-7) ought to be the toughest early matchup in the 106-pound division. The winner of that match will likely meet Washington freshman Kannon Webster (42-0), a regional and sectional winner.
“It definitely brings a lot of pressure on you, because that’s an expectation that everybody expects you to meet,” Foster said. “If you don’t meet it you kinda feel like you let everyone down and let yourself down. I’m ready to just get after it, go, wrestle, and do what I do.”
Duncan took second place in the sectional, rolling through his championship matches before losing 16-5 in the title match at 132.
“Last year, I lost in the blood round and that really stunk,” Duncan said. “This year, I’m coming back and want to place and make it to the podium.”
The blood round in wrestling refers to a match tat determine whether one goes on to compete for a state qualification or a medalist honor.
“Last year as a freshman, I beat some tough guys that I shouldn’t have beat and it would’ve been huge for a freshman, but I lost and didn’t get to place,” Duncan said. “This year, I think the nerves are going to settled coming into Champaign and I’m just going to wrestle and try to place.”
Duncan faces St Laurence senior Mike Archer (22-9) in his opener.
Wright, at 120 pounds, returns to the tournament for the second time. Wright also emerged out of the wrestlebacks.
“This weekend in Champaign, I gotta make sure that I take it to every single one of my opponents,” Wright said. “Records don’t really matter. I just gotta know in my abilities and be able to wrestle to the best of my abilities.”
Wright will compete against Antioch senior Alex Barbarise (40-2).
Jones said it felt really good to make it back to state after battling through the wrestlebacks. Jones says he’s prepared by weight lifting and working hard everyday in practice.
“I just wanna go out with a boom,” Jones said. “Like if I don’t win, I want to go out with a decent amount of points.”
Jones will take on West Marian junior Bryce Shelton (38-2) first this afternoon.
Porter believes that his team is ready to go and compete in the state tournament. Says Porter: “Hopefully, (we) come back with some hardware.”
“They’ve already surpassed what I feel like I can be proud of what they’ve done,” Porter said. “They’ve had a great season so far this year so this is on them.”