Pekin wrestling coach John Jacobs has been raving all season about his senior class.
He's talked about the seniors' perseverance, dedication and work ethic, and the fact that they're good people off the mat.
Three of the seniors -- Blake Harris (132), Ian Gibbs (160) and Matt Bleeker (182) -- have advanced to this weekend's Class 3A Normal Community individual sectional.
They'll join freshman teammate Ryan Haynes (106) at the sectional, where the top four finishers among 12 wrestlers in each weight class will advance to the individual state tournament Feb. 16-18 at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
It's the third trip to sectionals for Harris (27-9) and the first for Gibbs (30-10) and Bleeker (32-1). Haynes is 31-6.
Jacobs said Harris is consistent, steady and a hard worker every day.
Harris said he's looking forward to returning to sectionals after going 0-2 there in each of the last two years.
"I'm not underestimating the other wrestlers at the sectional, but I think I can hang with them better this year," he said. "I've had more experience this season competing against higher level wrestlers."
Gibbs won a pressure-packed match last weekend at the Rock Island Regional. The top three finishers in each weight class at regionals move on to sectionals, and Gibbs found himself in a third-place match against Minnoka's Alec DuFour.
Win, and Gibbs advanced. Lose, and his high school wrestling career was over. That's pressure.
Gibbs pinned DuFour in 3:00 in a dominating performance.
Jacobs said Gibbs didn't wrestle well in his previous match even though he won. The coach told Gibbs that in no uncertain terms, and reminded Gibbs what was at stake in his match against DuFour.
"I told Ian to do his moves as hard as he could for as long as he could and he wrestled his best match I've ever seen him wrestle," Jacobs said. "He sure picked a good time to do it."
Gibbs said he felt the pressure of the situation, and did what his coach said he needed to do.
"I'm so glad I won that third-place match," he said. "I got to have another hard week of practice, and the opportunity to do my best to get to state."
Jacobs said Gibbs is a special wrestler for him because he convinced Gibbs to start wrestling when Jacobs was Gibbs' gym teacher at K-3 Dirksen Primary School.
"I had a casual conversation with Ian's mom during a parent-teacher conference and she said she'd like Ian to get involved in a sport," Jacobs said.
"She also said Ian really wanted to do a pull-up in my gym class. He was a skinny kid then. He's so strong now that he probably could do 100 pull-ups without stopping."
Gibbs said he's enjoyed wrestling the past nine or 10 years, back to his Kids Club days.
"It's a tough sport," he said.
Injuries ended Bleeker's season before sectionals when he was a sophomore and junior.
He hurt his shoulder in the regional when he was a sophomore and he couldn't finish the tournament. He never made it to regionals last year after suffering a deep tissue calf contusion in practice the day before the competition.
"I'm glad I qualified for sectionals, although my big goal this season was getting 30 wins," he said.
Bleeker began this season wrestling at 195 pounds.
That's where he suffered his lone loss. It was a 14-4 major decision to Washington's Jacob Warner, who is ranked No. 1 in the country in the weight class. Bleeker is 14-0 since he dropped to 182.
"I'm happy to be at 182. That's my natural weight," he said.
Everyone in the Pekin contingent is glad about having four wrestlers in the sectional.
Senior Devin Poole (138) also will be at Normal Community as an alternate after his fourth-place finish at the regional.
"Having teammates there pushing you keeps you focused," Harris said.
Alex Bleeker joined Harris at sectionals two years ago, and Noah Justi and Zane Ortega were there with him last year.