Another highly decorated Washington senior class makes its curtain call at the State Farm Center in Champaign, beginning Thursday at the individual state wrestling tournament.
The five Panthers seniors competing for top medals enter the state finals with a combined record of 182-20 this season. Three of those — Tyler Delaware (37-4 at 132 pounds), Blaize Punke (38-2 at 145), Dalton Jensen (38-2 at 152) — enter ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes, with a pair of state medals already in hand.
Jared Head (36-5, ranked No. 4 at 160) and Garrett Rich (33-7, No.4 at 170) will be looking for their first state medals.
“It’s a pretty special group, no doubt about it,” Washington coach Nick Miller said. “Anytime you get a guy being a state medalist, it’s a pretty big accomplishment. And we’ve got three of them with multiple state medals.There’s not a lot of schools that get the luxury of saying they’ve got that.”
Delaware won a state title in 2016 and finished second last year. Punke was fourth as a sophomore and second last year. Jensen earned a third-place medal as a sophomore for LeRoy/Downs Tri-Valley in 1A, before getting fifth last year at 145 for Washington.
“The thing with those three guys, is their success spins out beyond their own individual success,” Miller said. “We have a lot of guys in the (wrestling) room here who in the next weeks, the things they’re going to accomplish at the state tournaments, those three guys definitely had a strong hand in that.”
WEIGHTY TRADITION: A year after Kendrick Green earned a fourth-place medal at 285 pounds, Marques Cox continues the tradition of Peoria High heavyweight Division I football recruits to reach the state wrestling finals.
The 6-foot-5 Cox was a key two-way lineman on the Lions’ state title team a year ago and an all-area performer as a captain for Peoria High’s playoff squad this season.
The Northern Illinois football recruit wrestles to keep in shape. But he’s done more than just keep in shape this season, going 33-4 and taking a No. 6 state ranking into the final weekend.
“Going to state is icing on the cake,” said Cox, who finished fourth at the Class 2A Sycamore Sectional. “I wrestle for fun. I like being competitive, so I’m taking it one match at a time. I’m just going to enjoy every single minute of it. It’s going to be fun.”
Cox’s four losses include a 3-1 sudden-victory setback against No. 1 Jace Punke of Washington in the regional title bout. At sectionals, he was pinned in the first round by Joey Beaudoin of Sycamore in the quarterfinals, only to come back and battle Beaudoin to a 3-2 loss in the third-place match.
“Heavyweight is a lot of one-point matches that could go either way at any point in time,” said Cox. “You just have to have the mental mindset right to wrestle and you’ll be fine.”
So while he’s on the University of Illinois campus, Cox hopes to get some mental mindset, state-tourney tips from current Illini football player Green.
KNIGHT MOVING UP: Richwoods senior Jason Gardner made an impressive run through the Class 2A Sycamore Sectional, winning the 220-pound title to become the Knights’ first state qualifier since Jake Hoelzel in 2011.
“Jason is a hard worker and committed to this state run at the end of his sophomore year,” Richwoods coach Rob Penney said. “He has spent numerous hours practicing and lifting in the off season. As for his sectional, he is peaking at the extra right time. His practices had been outstanding and focused. I think he will upset a few wrestlers this weekend at state very much like he did at the sectional.”
SMOOTH TRANSITION: Notre Dame junior Leo Mushinsky smoothly bumped up two weight classes, after a fourth-place state finish at 126 last year. Now he’s among the favorites at 138, entering this state tournament ranked No. 3 with a 40-3 record.
“The whole year I’ve been waiting for the moment and now I really think I have that shot this year and I’m looking forward to capitalizing on it,” Mushinsky said.
Two of Mushinsky’s losses came early in the season to No. 1 ranked opponents -- 1A top-ranked Joey Bianchini of Elmhurst IC and Blaize Punke of Washington (at 145).
“With Blaize and Joey Bianchini, they’re like completely different styles, so they’ve really given me a viewpoint of what I need to work on,” Mushinsky said. “I think I’ve gotten better since those matches and they’ve helped me get better.”
NOBODY GETS THERE ALONE: Deer Creek-Mackinaw senior Joey Regnier credits wrestling partners Cade Foffel and Kyle Reese with getting him prepared for his first state tournament.
“They push me really hard,” said Regnier, who won the 220-pound title at the Olympia Sectional. “Matches are really hard, so they push me just like I’m in a match every practice. And, I listen to my coaches and I do basic technique stuff.”
Regnier’s tougher battles may be ahead. After graduation, he plans to join the Army National Guard, in one of the infantry fields.
“It’s something I felt strongly about,” Regnier said. “I want to serve my country and get free college.”
Regnier (35-4) and teammate Wes Girardi (35-11) become the first multiple Dee-Mack state qualifiers, as well as the first not with the last name of Thomas. Coach Tim Thomas’ sons Taylor and Trace Thomas were the only state advancers prior to this year.
Stan Morris can be reached at 686-3214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @stanmorrispjs