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By JARED BELL
DW Nation is back on top.
In Saturday’s star-studded 56th annual Lyle King Princeton Invitational, Dakota reclaimed its title as the Indians bested the field to win the team title in Class 1A’s toughest regular season tournament.
“Our goal coming in was to win it, but I didn’t know what our chances were,” Dakota coach Peter Alber said. “I’m proud of our kids because everyone did contribute, and the bonus points were big. We wrestled really tough.”
It was Dakota’s first PIT team title since 2016. The Indians finished with 170.5 points to edge second-place Orion (158) and third-place Dixon (148). Coal City (147.5), Vandalia (140) and Auburn (116) rounded out the top 6.
“Before the final round, coach pulled all of us who had a place match aside and told us we had a chance to win but that it was close,” Dakota 170-pound sophomore Andrew Wenzel said. “We had to get our wins, and that’s what we did.”
Dakota had a pair of champions and five placers as every wrestler it brought won at least one match.
The Indians – ranked No. 4 in the current GO EARN IT Illinois Matmen 1A team rankings – won two of the first three title matches to all but seal the championship.
With the PIT title matches contested out of traditional order, Wenzel claimed the night’s first title. He upset the weight’s top seed in the semifinals and in the finals defeated Dixon sophomore Hunter Pate by pin fall at 2:12.
“He’s tough and he’s such a hard worker,” Alber said of Wenzel. “The kid has no flash and no athletic ability to really speak of, but he just works hard. He loves the sport and is very disciplined.”
Dakota’s other individual title came from 106-pound freshman Maddux Blakely. Not a top seed, Blakely upset the No. 4 seed, No. 1 seed and the No. 2 seed to claim his championship.
“I wasn’t surprised (that he wasn’t a top seed), but I knew he was close to a lot of the top kids here,” Alber said. “He’s worked hard and earned this.”
Dakota also had a third-place finisher and two fourth-place finishers.
Second-place Orion has seven placers, while third-place Dixon had six. Fourth-place Coal City and fifth-place Vandalia each had five placers.
Coal City 132-pound senior Alex Friddle joined an exclusive club Saturday as the Coaler star breezed to a PIT title, which was the fourth of his career.
Friddle became the third wrestler in history to win four PIT titles and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler at the lower weights.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Friddle, who won at 106 pounds as a freshman, 113 as a sophomore and 120 as a junior. “Only three guys have ever done it, so it’s just a really big honor. It’s really cool.”
He joins Dakota alumnus Josh Alber (2011-14) and Coal City graduate Cody Minnick (2012-15) as the only wrestlers to win four PIT titles.
“Going in to the match, I knew of the history,” said Friddle, who’s ranked No. 1 at 2A 132 pounds in the current GO EARN IT Illinois Matmen rankings. “I kept a close eye on it, of course. I always had that goal in the back of my mind since my freshman year.”
A STRONG DEBUT
Orion 285-pound senior and Iowa football recruit Logan Lee had quite the season debut.
After he missed the final few weeks of football season with a Grade 3 lacerated spleen, Lee made his season wrestling debut at the PIT.
After the former 1A 220-pound state champion eked out a 5-4 decision in the semifinals, Lee earned a thrilling 3-2 decision in riding time against Vandalia’s Anthony Enlow to win the title.
“I’ve never been in overtime before, so it was pretty weird having to go that long,” Lee said. “I’ve been working hard to stay in shape, but it’s not the same until you actually go out and wrestle.”
Lee had only eight practices before the PIT but still prevailed. For his efforts, he was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler at the upper weights.
“It was very difficult (to miss the end of football) and having to sit on the sidelines and having to watch all of my teammates successes and struggles, Lee said. “It was difficult to go through this process, but I’m very bless to have been able to bounce back like this.”
THREE TIMES THE FUN
Having just started a wresting program eight years ago, Heyworth made quite the impression Saturday.
The Hornets had not one but three PIT champions, which was the most by any team at the event and the most by one school at one PIT since Dakota had four PIT champions in 2016.
Heyworth’s 113-pound junior Levi Neuleib – ranked No. 1 in 1A 113 pounds in the GO EARN IT Illinois Matmen rankings – won by a 9-6 decision in the finals. Then 120-pound junior Gabe Spencer – ranked No. 2 at 1A 120 pounds in the GO EARN IT Illinois Matmen rankings – prevailed by a 12-5 decision.
Finally, 138-pound senior Andrew Sims – ranked No. 2 at 1A 138 pounds in the GO EARN IT Illinois Matmen rankings – earned a thrilling last-second 3-1 sudden victory in his championship showdown.
PINNING HIS WAY TO A TITLE
Clinton 182-pound junior Micah Downs pinned his way to a PIT title.
A returning state runner-up and ranked No. 1 at 1A 182 pounds in the GO EARN IT Illinois Matmen rankings, Downs had four pins en route to his title, including two first-period falls in the quarterfinals and the semifinals.
“It means a lot,” said Downs, who won his title with a pin at 3:35. “We haven’t had a champion at Princeton for several years until last year, so it’s nice to get another one for my coach.”
It was an impressive showing for Downs, who missed two weeks in December with pneumonia.
“I felt like I needed to get my matches done quick since I’ve been sick,” Downs said. “In the matches later in the tournament I wasn’t sure if it would happen, but it did.”
Host Princeton made history Saturday as 220-pound senior Chase Tatum won a PIT title. He was the first Tiger to win a PIT title since Ty Taylor won in 2008. Senior teammate Dallas Hill placed second at 195 pounds as he lost via sudden victory.
In addition to Friddle, Coal City 152-pound senior Ryan Wasielewski left with a bracket board after his win.
Vandalia senior Tanner Swain won the title at 126 pounds, while Rockridge junior Nolan Throne won the 145-pound title. Riverdale junior Trystan Altensey won the 160-pound title, while Monticello junior Matt Kerr was victorious at 195 pounds.