The experience at the state wrestling tournament was nice last year. 

Aidan Blackburn appreciated the feeling of running out of the tunnel.

The crowd, the atmosphere.

However, the Mattoon junior also remembers losing both of his matches at the state tournament. That part was a bummer.

This week, Blackburn wants to be more than a two-match state qualifier. 

“I did better at the sectional than I did last year, so my hope is that I can make it past the first day,” said Blackburn. “That didn’t work out last year. I’ve worked a lot harder in practice and felt like I am doing everything right and trying to play it smart.”

Blackburn finished third at the sectional in the 145-pound weight class. He had to win two matches in the wrestlebacks to make it to the consolation finals where he lost to Bryce Griffin, the eventual sectional champion, in the semifinals. 

“There were a couple of times I didn’t think I would make it to state after losing that semis match,” said Blackburn. “I had a lot of people give me confidence and help me make it through.”

Blackburn specifically credited coaches Brett Porter and Devin Patterson.

“It’s the coaching, for sure,” said Blackburn. “They have helped give me more confidence than last year. It’s a great support system. They focus a lot on what you need to work on. They both care about the wrestlers and helping us towards our goals. Coach Porter is always focusing on what adjustments we need to make. Coach Patterson comes in every day and wrestles with us and tries to beat us up a lot.”

With that confidence boost, Blackburn is hopeful that he can make it to the second day. If that happens, Blackburn would join the 40-win club this season. Blackburn is 38-6 so far this season. At state, he opens against Santino Tenuta (21-6) of Montini. 

If Blackburn wins, he will take on the winner between Tristan Willoughby of Rock Island (29-19) and Johnny O’Connor (41-5) of Lemont.

Blackburn, though, said he has not looked at the bracket too hard. 

“Honestly, I’m just going to worry about myself,” said Blackburn. “Whoever I have, that is who I have.”