According to Illinois Matmen, Morris’ 132-pound wrestler Kenny Baldridge is ranked No. 2 in the state in his weight class.
“I think it’s a fair assessment. I think he should be No. 1, but we’re going to find that out real soon,” Morris coach Jon Lanning said about the rankings. “Besides, the rankings don’t mean a whole lot until you get to the state tournament. It’s all about where you are on that podium at the end of the year.”
Rockford Boylan’s Alex Butler is currently No. 1, even though Baldridge has wrestled – and beaten – him before.
“It does kind of surprise me, then again not,” Baldridge said of being rated No. 2. “I guess it does surprise me because the kid that is ranked ahead of me is a kid that I know I have beaten. Over in the offseason, I know I have wrestled him before.”
Baldridge is currently 19-0 on the season and just came away from a tournament in Metamora last weekend in which he beat the No. 3 ranked wrestler in Class 2A in Casey McWhirter of East Peoria.
“He’s 19-0 this year and pretty much dominated all of his matches,” Lanning said. “In Metamora, he had a tough match in the finals. He wrestled the kid from East Peoria, the McWhirter kid, and beat him 5-1, but I thought he handled him pretty well. He controlled the match. It was a smart match. It was good for him because he was pushed that match.”
Baldridge said he went into the McWhirter match to simply learn.
“I knew [McWhirter] was a good kid because I had seen him in the offseason when we were wrestling, so I knew that he was pretty good,” Baldridge said. “He’s ranked No. 3 now – right below me. I ended up beating him, but if I had stayed on my feet I think I could have beaten him by a lot more. Basically, I was just trying to figure out how he was going to wrestle that way I know how to wrestle him on the way down to state.”
Butler has wrestled McWhirter earlier this year, according to Illinois Matmen, and he won by a 10-9 score. Lanning said the Baldridge/McWhirter bout was similar to one of Baldridge’s other closer wins.
“It was kind of like his match against [Wilmington’s Austin Headrick, a 6-1 win],” Lanning said. “But that kid is a wrestler, too. I think he’s good. I think you’ll probably see him down at state in Class 1A.”
Headrick is currently ranked fifth in Class 1A at 132 pounds.
Last season, Baldridge finished fourth in Class 2A at 120 pounds, but he’s spent a great deal of time this offseason to get to his current weight.
“He works hard in the weight room in the offseason. That was one of the goals for him. Besides, if he is going to go to the next level and wrestle in college, he’ll probably end up a 133-pounder anyway,” Lanning said. “So he felt coming in that if he was going to wrestle in college at 133 pounds that he had to be a 132-pounder this year. He said all year that he wasn’t going to be jumping or dodging around. He’s at 132 and willing to take on any takers. He’s basically said, ‘Come get me at 132.’ ”
Baldridge is particularly pleased to be in that weight division, despite bumping up two classes from his junior year.
“I’m really comfortable with where I am at,” Baldridge said. “I lifted all summer and wrestled 132 all summer and made sure to wrestle in that weight class. I wanted to be sure that it was the right weight class before I chose it. I’m really glad that I chose the weight class that I did.”
Lanning said he likes what he has seen in terms of form and fitness from his senior.
“He’s exactly where I want him to be. He’s really made those little, small improvements that he’s needed to make,” he said. “The biggest thing he’s improved on from last year that kept him out of the state finals is his reshots. He’s recognizing that now, seeing it and scoring with it consistently. The other day in practice he hit a beautiful one and I screamed all the way across the room, ‘That’s exactly how you do it.’ And he did it against Trevor [Allbert], a guy who is 30 pounds bigger than he is.”
All in a day’s work.
“I feel like I am doing pretty well. I’m just doing what I have to do to be ready for the state series,” he said. “I’m pretty excited. I’ve been training real hard lately. Practicing a lot and getting my cardio down. Trying to stay healthy and keep my weight down.”
And the reshots?
“I’ve been working on that more,” Baldridge said. “That gives me more time to take a person down. … It gives me another chance to shoot back in.”
Apparently, Baldridge is right on track for another chance at the top prize available next month at state in Champaign’s Assembly Hall.
“He needs to continue wrestling hard and to wrestle his match,” Lanning said. “He knows how to compete – he does that. He’s wrestling at 100 percent right now. Not only that but he’s focused and poised. We think he’s going to make a run at that state tournament and hopefully end up at the top of the podium this year.”
Baldridge said he’s eager to get back down to Champaign to apply what he learned last year at the state tournament.
“Last year I learned that I need to learn to slow down my pace,” Baldridge said. “That I need to block my shots a little bit better because I’m going to need that when I get down to the state series again. I’m going to need to do that if I am going to get through this year.”
He’s already up on the wall of the wrestling room as a state qualifier and placer. Still, it doesn’t seem like it would be enough to simply pull off that feat again.
“Nah, I’m looking for the championship,” he said.