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The prep wrestling career of Austin Hedrick and Austin Upton was bound to end by mid-February.
For the two St. Joseph-Ogden seniors, it will. At the pinnacle of the sport.
The state finals at Assembly Hall in Champaign.
Hedrick and Upton, along with freshman Wesley Kibler, will represent the Spartans once the Class 1A state meet starts on Thursday, with the ultimate goal of wrestling on Saturday night under the glow of a state championship match.
"Anytime you can get a wrestler to the state tournament it means a lot," said head coach Richard Vetter. "The fact that we got three wrestlers means even more. It means that as a program we are taking steps in the right direction. We are putting in the work and it is paying off."
Neither three won a sectional championship last weekend at the two-day Stanford Olympia Sectional, but all three managed to garner a top-four finish to assure themselves of a spot at state.
Upton placed second at 170 pounds, losing a 8-4 decision to Pittsfield's Zach Abney in the championship match. Upton won his semifinal bout by pinning Macomb's Tyler Arnold in 3 minutes, 14 seconds, which came after he opened up his sectional with a 5-1 quarterfinal win against Alex Wheat of Clinton
"Austin Upton just needed to keep wrestling like he has all season. For the most part he has been a very consistent wrestler. He has a goal of medaling at state and has kept working for that goal," Vetter said. "Although he lost in the finals this past weekend he wrestled the top ranked kid at 170 very well."
Upton (41-2) will open the state meet against Litchfield's Bryce Thornton (20-10).
Hedrick finished third at 152 in Stanford. He pinned Quincy Notre Dame's Blake Schutte in 2:31 to place third, which came after he beat Eureka's Jeremy Beal via a 14-9 decision in a semifinal wrestleback match. Hedrick opened his sectional tournament with a pin of El Paso-Gridley's Hunter Santamour in 1:34 before losing an 8-6 decision to David Acosta of Beardstown in the semifinals.
"It was nice to see Austin bounce back and win a tough match to get back to state," Vetter said. "I know he was disappointed about losing in the semi-finals, but he knew what he had to do to get back to state and he took care of business."
Hedrick (35-7) begins his state meet against Argenta-Oreana's Brock Elliott (26-1).
Kibler took fourth place at 182. The freshman opened up with a pin of Eureka's Camren Ryan in 4:17 before losing 20-4 by technical fall against Olympia's Garrett Kelson. Kibler wasn't deterred, however, and won his next three matches — a 10-1 major decision against Sam Asmus of Heyworth, a pin in 4:35 against Jake Shubert of Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher and a 15-3 major decision against Logan Miller of Monmouth-Roseville. The win against Miller qualified Kibler for state, despite his 22-6 loss by technical fall to Kelson in the third-place match.
"As a coaching staff we knew that Wesley would have a chance of making it to state if he wrestled well," Vetter said. "Wesley was able to keep his head, which is impressive especially sense he is a Freshman, and focus on one match at a time. Each match that we won, he seemed to gain more confidence and remained focused throughout. As a coaching staff we were very excited that we had a third qualifier going to state!"
Kibler (27-14) will make his state tournament debut against Grant Park's Devin Mahnke (32-0).
SJO had five other wrestlers compete at the Olympia Sectional, with freshman Gage Haga (20-14) at 132 going 2-2 and sophomore Gunnar Meeker (21-12) compiled a 1-2 record at 160. Freshman Corbin Wolken (19-21) at 106, freshman Shane Skinner (20-25) at 113, junior David Trewyn (23-25) at 126 and junior Ryan Koss (21-18) all went 0-2.
"The other six guys who wrestled and did not make it to state gained some valuable experience and they saw what it is going to take to make it to the next level," Vetter said. "Although we only advanced three our of nine guys; the other six guys seem determined to improve on their finishes this season. Looking at the inexperience of those other six guys, we should be able to have another strong season next year and hopefully a better showing at the state tournament. "Success breads success" and that is what we are counting on for future seasons."