EDWARDSVILLE • As a number of 3A Super Regionals were being formed all over the state to gather teams in an efficient manner for the I.W.C.O.A.’s state series, Edwardsville, who has never been shy with traveling to wrestle, found comfort in being allowed to stay home and host a tournament. By the time the tournament ended, Edwardsville had qualified all fourteen of its wrestlers and felt good about where they were heading into this weekend’s sectional championships.
“I thought we wrestled pretty good,” Head Coach Jon Wagner said. “I think we might have left a few out there; but overall, I think the kids did good.”
Like most schools all over the state, Edwardsville was subjected to an abbreviated season, and facing line-ups that were not always filled. In that, on a number of occasions, some of their wrestlers did not have matches for long stretches. Therefore, coming into the season’s tournament had a different feel.
“We did a lot of [triangular duals],” Wagner explained regarding his season schedule, “and there were a lot of cases where the kids weren’t getting those multiple matches in a day. This was not the prep we were hoping for.
“Even here, at our regional,” Wagner continued, “we did not have a great number of matches. But next week, I expect our guys to wrestle three, four, five matches potentially. So, hopefully, we are preparing them to take a step in the right direction for that. We’ve been trying to simulate preparing for the potential of five matches and for our regional. We’ve been trying to simulate that at practice a little bit by doing the best we can by being really hard on the guys in regard to trying to make these practices equate to matches. I feel we have been headed in that right direction.”
Edwardsville would send eleven wrestlers to the championship finals, and three wrestlers into the consolation finals—no wrestler would place lower than fourth.
Zeke Rhodes would be the first Tiger crowned on the day at 120 pounds. He would win his semifinal bout by fall over Ratayia Bias of Quincy in 1:13, and, in the finals, he would defeat Belleville West’s Tyson Seibel by a 17-4 major decision.
At 126, senior Connor Surtin would follow with a title of his own with a 3-0 decision over Granite City’s Dylan Boyd. “Connor is having a good season,” Wagner commented, “so we’ll see what he brings moving forward.”
The next two weight classes would complete a four-sweep for Edwardsville. Dylan Gvillo (132) would take a 13-4 major decision win over Deontae Forest of Alton, and Jorden Johnson (138) advanced to the finals with a 13-0 major decision over Yaveion Freeman of Alton before winning by an injury default in the finals.
“Jordan Johnson,” Wagner said, “came out his freshman year, and he’s been working really-really hard. I thought, in his semifinal match, it was one of the best matches he’s wrestled so far this year as far as putting things together. He has been a pleasant surprise.”
Senior Drew Gvillo at 170, older brother to Dylan at 132, would be the Tigers final champion of the night. He would take a 9-4 decision over Alton’s Lawson Bruce.
“The two Gvillo brothers, Dylan and Drew,” Wagner explained, “bring their lunch pals to work every day and get down to work and work hard in their matches—I am not surprised they won. We just have a good solid base of kids, all of them, that make a difference.”
Placing second on the day were Olivia Coll (106), Jack Summers (113), Drew Landau (145), Drew Mink (152), Evan Holderer (195), and heavyweight Mason Taylor.
“Jack Summers took second at 113 pounds,” Wagner said, “but he has been coming along really well as a junior, and we are hoping he can surprise some people next week. Evan Holderer wrestled Thomas
Culp from Quincy—who is ranked number one—but he did okay. When [Holderer] was a freshman last year, he wrestled 152 for us. Now he’s stepped in at 195 for us this year and has wrestled solid. He’s got a way to go, but he’s working hard and he’ll be at the sectional trying to work himself into the state tournament, and that’s exciting. I have another sophomore at 145-pounds, Drew Landau, and you could flat out see him getting better and bring it to practice every day. Heck, he even qualified for Fargo atCentral Plains. He’s really stepping up his game and getting stronger.”
The final three medals were earned by Stuart Lech (220), who placed third, and Dylan Snyders (160) and Wyatt Kolnsberg (182) who each placed fourth.
As for what the team can improve upon moving into the sectionals, Wagner said, “We just got to grind a little bit more. We’ve got to be able to win 3-2 matches and ride a guy out when we have thirty seconds left in a match. Maybe get a little smarter—that’s a focus going on for us this week. Getting smarter in our matches on the edge of a mat. Getting a two-point takedown and getting the ride out—the things that are going to win you sectional and state matches.”
With all of the success in a very different season, Wagner looked beyond the medals regarding incredible feats accomplished this season.
“What was remarkable,” Wagner said of his program, “is that I had eleven seniors start and finish. And, to be honest, some of them were backups. But they all got matches in—even though we only had thirteen duals—but just an outstanding group to finish the right way and believe in their teammates and do things the right way at the end of their senior year. They could be off trying to make some money for school and getting focused on getting out, but we had a solid group and it is reflected in our solid season.”
The payoff for the seniors is that by winning the regional, the program will also reap the benefits of qualifying for the I.W.C.O.A. Dual Team State Series in two weeks having more opportunities to wrestle. And, if there is nothing else known about Edwardsville, it is that they are a program rooted in community support. Therefore, they will be not only well represented on the mat, but also in the stands.
“Our kids and parents, our school and parents support us and what we are trying to accomplish,” Wagner said proudly about his community. “It’s not all about wins and losses, but about having kids to things the right way and finish the right way. It is what is expected. I expected those kids to finish and their parents expected them to finish. And, we are fortunate enough to have a group and an opportunity to do that.”
And having this opportunity to finish the right way comes at the hands of a number of people in the I.W.C.O.A. who found a way to create a state series when it seemed almost impossible.
“I think the I.W.C.O.A. stepping in and making this happen really got reflected this Saturday,” Wagner commented. “There were a lot of what-if’s, even in my own situation where we did not even know if we could host [the regional] here, and things just kept going. I think the reaction from the wrestling community when they actually saw these kids competing—and to the kids it was just like another regional—I think it really set in that this group put this together and, it may not be perfect, but it’s going to be pretty darn good. Kudos to them. They’re a bunch of hard workers and people who are trying to give back to what helped them early on in their life—which is the sport of wrestling—so I really appreciate it.”
Additionally, Wagner commented on his community and the surrounding communities even further.
“I am so happy and proud of how the teams down here were able to put things together,” Wagner said, “and I mean all the schools big and small, and all the support and people wanting to help out. Mike O’Dea, one of the I.W.C.O.A. members from down here came out and announced for us—just a great community effort to put all of this together for these kids. We are looking forward to the final weeks here and what comes of it all.”
• TC LIFONTI / tclifonti.com
CONTRIBUTING WRITER FOR ILLINOIS MATMEN