While the Morris football team's extended season goes through Saturday and the IHSA Class 5A State Title game, the area's wrestling teams have been getting in its workouts in preparation for the coming winter season.
Several key performers from throughout the area will be hoping to position themselves once again for a run down at Assembly Hall in Champaign. No less than 13 individuals will be making that endeavor having made the trip last year. Also, as with every season of recent flavor, the pressure will be on Minooka to once again get its team to Bloomington to wrestle as one of the state's best teams.
Morris returns three state qualifiers this year from a team that went 10-13 under Redskins coach Jon Lanning. Both Kenny Baldridge and Nik Countryman finished sixth at state last winter and Justin Barkley joined them as a state qualifier.
Baldridge was 36-8 last year and Countryman 37-7 while Barkley was 31-14. They will likely be wrestling at the 126, 132 and 182-pound classes, respectively.
"All of them had great offseasons and are ready to go," Lanning said. "Though Countryman may have a bit of a slow start due to an extended football season."
Lanning thinks his team will be competitive in the lower to middle weights this year due to the experience he has there. That includes wrestlers such as: Jake Crowther (106/113); A.J. Vota (120); Lemar Griffin (138); Mitch Dite (138/145); Drake Dryfhout (145); Cody Decker (152); Trevor Allbert (160) and Josh Garrett (170).
The big key is getting some production out of the upper weights according to Lanning.
"We should have won 13 to 15 dual meets last year if we would have taken care of business in the upper weights — or just not getting pinned," Lanning said.
Those who are anticipated to fill out the upper weights include: Collin Grogan (195), Nick Lerma (195/220), Preston Miracle (220), Andrew Faught (220), Anthony Majcen (220), Dalton Ness (220), Craig Claire (285) and John Guistat (285).
"We will once again have a tough schedule this season, competing in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East Division that features some of the best teams in 2A," Lanning said. "Individually we will be solid and we hope to put at least three on the medal stand this season."
The Indians will have its third different head wrestling coach in as many years when the season gets going. Still, the name and face of Jeff Charlebois is a very familiar on in Minooka. Charlebois, who has been coaching at Oswego for the past couple of years, returns to replace Paige Schoolman — one year after he replaced Bernie Ruettiger.
Ruettiger will back on the team again this year in an assistant-coaching capacity. Last year the Indians were 20-4.
"We will need to display a desire to compete at a high level and show continuous improvement from Nov. 5 through Feb. 23 if we want to achieve our goal," Charlebois said.
That goal is to win a state championshipp as a team and to have multiple individual state placers and a state champion or two.
Corbett Oughton finished fourth at state a year ago and he was joined in Champaign by teammates K.J. Minor and Oswego transfer Frank Yattoni.
"They will provide quality leadership," Charlebois said. "We need the underclassmen to develop and be prepared for competition."
While Minooka has traditionally been the king of the Southwest Prairie Conference hill the past decade or so, Plainfield Central stole some of its luster last winter.
"Plainfield Central is the team to beat after winning the conference tournament last year," Charlebois said. "Everyone else needs to be chasing them."
SENECA FIGHTING IRISH
Sage Friese (38-8), Tommy Lovett (27-16) and Brandon Webb (30-14) will be the ones trying to get back to state and get on the stand again this year.
"We have a lot of experienced wrestlers returning and the most state qualifiers returning in the history of the program. We have depth in the middle weights and that will be our team strength with the varsity," Seneca coach Todd Yegge said.
Other projected starters this year include: Tyler Williams (106); Cole Klicker (126/132); Baley Lejawa (132); Jake Leake (138); Bryce Coyle (138); Zach Russell (138); Gary Wantroba (145); Lucas Altobella (152); Joey Rasmussen (152); Dalton Coyle (160); Jonah Lamboley (170) and Ed Lowers (285).
"We are excited at the prospect of this year as we have some very solid wrestlers with experience at the highest level and a number of other talented wrestlers that are still working hard and learning," Yegge said. "We have a great group of seniors to lead this team and a really good freshman and sophomore class to build on for the future."
In regards to the Interstate Eight Conference, Yegge sees an extremely tough schedule ahead once again.
"Year in and year out the conference performs well at the state tournament," Yegge said. "Wilmington, Sandwich, Plano and Coal City are always tough as a team and I believe Peotone and Herscher have a chance to be very good this year."
COAL CITY COALERS
Coal City coach Mark Masters' team is coming off a 14-10 season and returns two fifth-place finishers and a state qualifier. Both Cody Minnick (39-7) and Casey Brown (31-4) were each fifth and Ryan Naples (17-13) was the other state qualifier.
"Our strengths this year will be our lower weights and the senior class," Masters said.
In addition to Minnick and Brown, Corey Jurzak as back a year after being a sectional qualifier. Jake Czaja was also a sectional qualifier at 138 with a 27-13 record. His brother Michael (24-14) also returns to fill the 145-pound class. Both are seniors.
Terry Blondin at 195 was also 23-14 and a sectional qualifier last winter.
Concerning the I-8 Conference, Masters likes Plano, Sandwich and Wilmington.
"Plano has everyone back and Sandwich has several starters back," Masters said. "And Wilmington has the tradition over the last 10 years."
Masters also estimates that his team is still "trying to get over the hump" and that Lisle is always solid.