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Smith: No lack of storylines on Saturday at IHSA State Wrestling championships

Considering that the Morris Daily Herald area had four wrestlers in the state finals Saturday, you might find it as no surprise that there were volumes of information to be gathered that day. My trusty digital voice recorder was working overtime that evening at the State Farm Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

Two of the four wrestlers – Kenny Baldridge of Morris and Cody Minnick of Coal City – won championships. Corey Juzak and Casey Brown of Coal City finished as runner-ups.

Indeed, a huge weekend for the local grapplers.

However, the biggest story of the day was that of Josh Alber, of Dakota. That’s who beat Brown on Saturday in the Class 1A, 132-pound weight class. Alber defeated Brown, 16-5, to finish his career as a four-time state champion. Oh yeah. After beating Brown he also capped off an undefeated high school career, which is something that never had happened before in the state.

“Before my match I was in a position nobody has ever been in, really,” Alber told me. “That was a lot of pressure, but once I got into it and started wrestling, it was like another match. After I won, it was the greatest relief I ever felt.”

Alber said that he had his share of close shaves over the years, including a 5-3 overtime win over Jered Cortez of Glenbard North this season.

“That is the marquis matchup of my career. He was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time,” Alber said. of Cortez. “He’s one of the greatest high school wrestlers.

“My freshman year I had a big come-from-behind win. This year, I had two overtime wins.”

For those who don’t know, Cortez also won on Saturday at state in Class 3A in the 132-pound class. He also now is a four-time state champion.

If you are unfamiliar with the format these days, there are three mats in the center of the State Farm Center arena with the title bouts of Class 1A, 2A and 3A going on simultaneously. That means that both Alber and Cortez were wrestling and winning a fourth title and in the middle was Baldridge winning his first title.

Considering all the electricity in the area at that particular weight class, I had to ask Baldridge how he was able to tune everything out.

“I blocked it all out. I felt really comfortable throughout this entire tournament,” Baldridge said. “It felt like another tournament where I was going to go out and win. I stayed positive. I waited in a calm room while I was waiting to come out and when I did come out here I just blocked everything out, and did what I had to do.”

Which was beat junior Alexander Butler, of Rockford Boylan, by fall in overtime.

Flying under the radar of that particular moment was Casey Brown. In addition to being Alber’s final victim Saturday, Brown also had the dubious distinction of losing to Alber in last year’s finals at 120-pounds, not to mention two years ago in the 120-pound semifinals.

Alber said he had a great deal of respect for the way Casey went after him over the years.

“Casey is a great competitor. I have a ton of respect for him,” Alber said. “Some guys try to stall out on me or will back away, but he came at me. I have a ton of respect for him. What he did was noble to come at me like that. He was not afraid.”

“This year I went in to go full throttle because this was my last year,” Brown said. “I just went out and went for it.”

Indeed, the best way to go out.

“I told Casey that regardless of what happens in his match, that there is going to be a standing ovation. If it goes one way, everybody is going to be standing,” Coal City coach Mark Masters said. “If it goes the other way, everybody but a large section of Dakota fans will be cheering. I told him that he had nothing to lose and to go out there that way. He went after him. He didn’t stand around to try and keep it close. He tried to score on him. He didn’t back down the entire time.”

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