BLOOMINGTON – For the first part of Saturday’s IHSA Class 1A Dual Team wrestling finals at the Grossinger Motors Arena, it looked as if Coal City finally might be able to break through and win its first-ever title in the sport.
But just past the midway point of the 14-match dual meet, a team that had ruled Class 1A for several seasons, but had not qualified for the finals in the past few years, began to make its presence felt, and the Coalers were unable to stop that squad’s momentum.
Dakota (24-4), which won four-straight Class 1A titles from 2013-16 not only made its return to the state finals for the first time since then, but also used a strong close to capture its sixth state championship and deny Coal City (39-9) its initial state title.
As a result of winning the final six matches, the Indians captured a 40-19 victory over the Coalers, who were competing for a state championship for the third time in five years.
Coal City used a fall from Daniel Jezik (195 pounds), a 5-0 decision from Gage Leake (220), an 8-3 decision from Logan Miller (285) and a 14-6 victory from Evan Rivera (106) to go up 19-16.
But Dakota followed with a pin from Maddux Blakely (112), a 7-3 decision from Conner Elmer over Derek Carlson (120), a 10-9 win by Phoenix Blakely (126) over Zach Finch (126) and a fall by Tyler Simmer (132) to take a 34-19 lead to wrap up the victory.
“Year in and year out they’ve always had a tough team when they come here, so you know that you’re going to get the best that your team is going to see all year,” said Coalers assistant coach Jim Looper, who was filling in for coach Mark Masters.
“You’ve got to get here to have a chance and all of these kids do is fight and they do everything we ask them to do on the mat. We laid it all out there, but it just wasn’t our day today. Bonus points are a premium and they got a few more than we did, especially early on. Toward the middle, there were toss-up matches and we battled and battled and they just came out on the toss-ups, and that’s what you see in a good dual.”
During its history, Coal City has five second-place finishes, two third and a fourth, with five of six trophies coming in the past six years. But they are still chasing the elusive title.
The Coalers certainly were battle-tested after competing in so many dual meets and tournaments, and most of their defeats came against bigger programs that prepared them well for a second-straight title appearance after placing second last year in Class 2A.
“We definitely prepared for it,” Jezik said. “Earlier this season, we he had a lot of injury problems and having that behind when we got to team sectional we won, 74-0, since we had full-strength of the team. Having that in the back of our heads was a big strength we had. We wrestled well in team sectional and obviously here today, but even though we come out on top, which was our goal, it happens. They’re a great program.”