Brett Porter has seen plenty of sectional brackets in his time as a wrestling coach, but this one might be the best he has ever seen.
However, if you looked at this roster at the beginning of the season, you might have not predicted double-digit wrestlers making it this far in the first place.
“To put it in perspective, six of our ten qualifiers started the season with very limited or no varsity experience prior to this season,” said Porter.
Another historic season for Mattoon features 10 Green Wave wrestlers heading to the Highland Class 2A Sectional with state aspirations in mind. Making it to the state tournament has never been an easy task. That is why the select few that qualify are considered the best. Becoming a member of that group will be tough but Porter is hoping that the common theme of hard work and resilience carries over this Friday.
Headlining the group will be Korbin Bateman at 126 pounds, who figures to be a wrestler the entire state has eyes on at the weight class. Bateman is a favorite to win the Sectional in his class and push his way to the state finals. Last year, Bateman finished fourth at 126 pounds as a sophomore and entered the sectional with a 41-1 overall record.
“Korbin has had a solid season,” said Porter. “It will be a huge test for him to attempt to repeat as a Sectional Champion as he has a returning State Champ in his bracket. We try not to look beyond the match in front of us and Korbin will be challenged this weekend.”
Leo Meyer looks to return to the state finals as well. Meyer placed sixth at 220 pounds last season but will have a tough road to make it back to the state tournament. Meyer is 39-4 on the season and will look to join Bateman in the 40-win club this weekend. As for Aidan Blackburn, a returning state qualifier at 152 pounds, he looks to take his 35-5 record up against anyone with hopes of returning.
“Leo Meyer and Aidan Blackburn are both trying to return to the State Farm Center from last season,” said Porter. “Our Sectional this season is probably as competitive and difficult as I’ve seen in my time at Mattoon. They have brackets filled with highly ranked wrestlers and to qualify here would be a huge step towards a possible medal at state.”
Sophomore Ben Capitosti earned All-State status at the Fresh/Soph Championships last year and looks to make a push towards earning those same accolades at the varsity level. Capitosti is 38-6 on the year. Porter believes he can not only make it to state for the first time but also become a sectional champ.
“As a Sophomore, Ben Capitosti has put together an excellent year,” said Porter. “I believe his last loss was in December. He has a great shot to not only qualify but win his bracket this weekend.”
First-time sectional qualifiers Jason Skocy (32-14 at 160 pounds) and T.J. Owens (29-19) is a great story of their own. Both returned to wrestling after wrestling as youngsters. After not competing in high school their first three years, both came back their senior year.
Porter believes their bravery in coming back will help the program in the future for those who once wrestled and want to come back.
“Taking a page from Aidan Spurgeon who returned to wrestling as a senior, both TJ Owens and Jason Skocy decided to give it a try,” said Porter. “I watched both have success in their fall sport, Owens in football and Skocy in soccer and knew they would be competitive. I believe wrestling is the most difficult sport in high school athletics, but both came with a great work ethic. We all can reflect and wish to have more time together, but I am so happy they decided to join the team, even for only a season.”
Tristan Porter (29-10) at 113 pounds, Vincent Gibson (28-9) at 120 pounds, Ean Freeman (13-8) at 145 pounds, and Blaine Powell (15-14) round out the sectional qualifiers. To get to 10 qualifiers, Porter said it’s taken an enormous effort from multiple aspects, not just himself and assistant coach Devin Patterson.
The captains, community, and culture have gotten the program to this point. The team is also thinking about Mattoon youth wrestling coach Mike Bonic, who was inducted into the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame. Bonic has been hospitalized after battling health issues since last month.
“Mattoon wrestling has a very hard-working team this season,” said Porter. “They have come to practice every day ready to work hard and improve. Our captains and leaders do a great job in helping others prepare. Mattoon has an extremely strong and tight community of wrestlers, parents, coaches, volunteers, and alumni. The entire organization has been praying for Mike Bonic, who is definitely the heart and soul of Mattoon Wrestling. Our wrestlers know the battle Bonic has been fighting for his life right now, and many have dedicated the postseason in his honor. They are prepared for competition.”