CHAMPAIGN — On any given year in the past, local wrestlers Cody Minnick, Corey Jurzak and Casey Brown of Coal City and Sage Friese of Seneca would have been the first four wrestlers taking the floor in succession down at the IHSA State Wrestling Tournament.
Since it's inception, the State meet has started with the lowest weight class (106 this year) and ended with the heavyweights. That changed this year and a blind draw started the action at the 170-pound class. After waiting five weights, things didn't go exactly as planned for the four finalists.
At 106, Minnick was injured against Anthony Luis of Harvard and ended up losing by an 11-3 final; Jurzak lost by a 7-0 count to Brandon Briggs of North Boone 7-0 at 113 and at 120 and 126 both Brown and Sage Frieze lost decisively to defending state titlists.
Still, those four gave the local faithful much to appreciate deep in to Saturday down at the Assembly Hall.
Runner — Up
Coal City - Cody Minnick - 106
Minnick's only loss of the season came to Luis in the finals after suffering a cut and smash to his head.
"I've said it time and time again - anything can happen down here and it usually does," Coal City coach Mark Masters said. "We witnessed that. Sometimes you get an injury ... but that's athletics in general.
"After he got cut in the head, he got bounced. He was awfully foggy. He just wasn't him. You could definitely tell. Even the other coach acknowledged it. Obviously we were concerned if he was OK, but Cody battled through it and toughed it out. We think it would have been different had there not been an injury. But that's why you compete - because anything can happen and it usually does."
Minnick ends the year 47-1 after beating Josh Schaidle of Eureka 8-1, Brandon McCullough of Erie by fall in 2:23 and Will Luce of Warsaw by a 6-4 count.
Coal City - Corey Jurzak - 113
Briggs finishes the season with an undefeated record (38-0) after beating Jurzak.
Jurzak ends the year at 42-5.
"He was dominant ... he wrestled a great tournament. I know it doesn't make a difference how much you win by at State, but he really came out and dominated kids," Masters said. "Once he scores a quick takedown, he's like a leach when he's on top. Even our own guys get frustrated when he is on top. That's exactly what he did, even in the semifinals. He got out to an 8-0 lead and then we played it conservative and he got the win. He's a kid who stays in a good base and doesn't get turned."
Jurzak opened with an 8-4 win over Justin Kinney of Monmouth, he beat Chance Teel of Sherrard 13-1 and defeated Antonio Quintana of Beardstown 9-6.
Coal City — Casey Brown - 120
Brown lost to Josh Alber of Dakota 14-6 in the finals. It was Alber's third straight state title.
"In our opinion, the only way to get to the finals this year was to be on the opposite side of the bracket than Josh Alber. But when we got that, it was like 'we should be careful what we wish for'. You have a wish list and sometimes you regret it. When you look at that side of the bracket, it was absolutely loaded," Masters said. "The only one missing was Josh Alber.
"Without a doubt, Casey had a phenomenal tournament. Then went out and when after Josh, and from what I've heard he gave up the first takedown of the season. Reversed him and got some legitimate escapes. You could tell that Josh was upset by the score and that had a lot to do with Casey. Casey's the one that pushed the issue and scored. Casey accomplished a lot of things that a lot of people didn't think he could accomplish. He's taken things to the next level."
Brown finishes the season at 45-4, but not before beating Dylan Donner of Gibson City by fall in 5:55, Nelson Baker of Byron by fall in 4:34 and Jose Abituba of Stillman Valley 1-0.
Seneca — Sage Friese - 126
Friese lost the finals to J.J. Whaley of Stillman Valley by a 17-1 major decision. Whaley won the finals last year and was third as a freshman.
It's not the only state champion Friese had to wrestle in the tournament.
"Brandon (Webb) and Sage got off to a hot start with two pins. We were really happy with that kind of start to the tournament. At that point we felt both would have an opportunity to place," Seneca coach Todd Yegge said. "That was exciting. On top of that, they both got first-period pins. At that point, there were right where they needed to be.
"Went to the second round and Sage has to wrestle the State champion from Sterling Newman. Obviously that kid was very, very good and Sage came away with a 9-3 win. He wrestled a super match. He was very hungry and wrestled well.
Friese won by fall in :50 over Jake Wiegand of Knoxville and then defeated Jake Snow of Newman 9-3. He then beat Jack Lucie of Warsaw by fall in 2:34 to advance to the finals.
"Sage got a big stick, a defensive fall in the semifinals. That was exciting," Yegge said. "Obviously that made him our second ever finalist in school history, and the first one since Mike Kinsella in 1999. He ended up with a two-time state finalist. He had a tough, tough weight no doubt. But him being down here as a sophomore, I couldn't be happier."
Others area wrestlers from Class A
In addition to the little, big three from Coal City, seniors Jake Czaja and Ryan Naples also made it to the big dance this year.
Czaja (39-10) beat Omar Delgado of Kewanee 9-5 before losing to Brandon Lizer 4-2. In the wrestlebacks, Czaja defeated Tyler Dahen of Vandalia 5-4 before being eliminated by Talon Paul of Stillman Valley by fall in 2:44.
Naples lost to Jon Ricke of Mercer County in the preliminares by fall in 5:34 before beating Jarod Noel of Bismarck Henning 6-0. He then lost to Zach Groen of Illiana Christian by fall in 1:40 to end the season at 27-13.
"I told the boys that they have to make the most of the opportunities they are going to get because they don't know if the opportunity is going to come around again. I told them to relish in the moment and enjoy it," Masters said. "The mark of a true champion is how you come back. Any time you have adversity and come back, that's what people remember. I told Cody that 'if you ever win a State title, you'll probably remember this more'."
"Jake's one of those kids who I have coached from youth football on up. I've been his teacher and coach and he's a family friend. It's phenomenal for him to be a part of this. Both he and Ryan. There's a lot of wins that those guys are leaving."
At 220, Webb (40-9) started by winning by fall in 1:05 over Tucker Harn of Beardstown before losing to Kevin Roper of Carlyle 16-9. In the first round of wrestlebacks, Webb lost to Bobby Lincoln of Mercer County 10-5.
"Brandon ended up with a tough kid in the quarters. That kid went on to finish third. After that, we came back with the next round and Brandon ended up not wrestling real well against another tough kid," Yegge said. "In hindsight, moving Brandon up a weight class may not have worked out the way we'd have liked. Turned out that everyone moved up a weight class and that made a big difference. At 195, a lot of those kids that are placers are kids that Brandon beat. Hindsight's 20-20, but he's had a great season with 40 wins."