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Old 12-02-2008
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Three's the crowd for Big Northern wrestling supremacy

By Jay Taft

OREGON — With three of the top teams in the state logjammed into the Big Northern Conference, it sure makes things interesting on a week-to-week basis when it comes to league rivalries.

Harvard, which moved up to Class AA after the conference tourney, won its third-straight league crown last year. Second-place Stillman Valley went on to take second in the IHSA Class A Dual Team State meet. Oregon, the league’s third-place team, finished third at the team state showdown as well, losing to Stillman Valley in the semifinals.

“Harvard has won the last three, so they are always the team to beat in this conference. And Oregon is just tough; they’re always tough,” Stillman Valley coach Ben Morris said. “We have so much respect for those programs, but we don’t want to stop there. We want to be the best in the conference, but we want to be the best in the state, too.”

The league’s coaches have dropped the postseason conference meet, so the final standings will reflect the regular-season dual meets. That’s just one more reason why this league’s head-to-head matchups will have plenty of meaning every week.

“We’ll know a lot more after Christmas, but with 14 returning varsity letter winners from a team that got third, we feel real confident coming into the season,” Oregon coach Nate Rogers. “Our goal: We want to win the conference. But we’re not going to put all our emphasis on that. Our focus is February, and everything up until that point is us working to get better.

“There will be some real interesting duals this year, though.”

West Division
Stillman Valley: The Cardinals lost the conference title by 24.5 points to Harvard but went on to finish second in the season-ending dual meet, and also qualified eight individuals for state. Sophomore Nick Harrison took third at 112 pounds, and senior Cody Brewington was fourth at 135.

Oregon: The Hawks return three state qualifiers — Nick Snyder (189 pounds), Ryan McWethy (160) and Robbie Brink (125) — and seven sectional qualifiers from a young and powerful 2007-08 team. Though they may start slow after the long and successful football season, this team will be peaking once again when the postseason rolls around.

Byron: The Tigers — who have the conference’s lone returning state champ, junior 119-pounder Allen Fish — will have two holes in their lineup but still appear to be a tough tournament team. Even in duals, Byron has already knocked off Boylan (38-36) and blown out Grayslake North (52-12), showing the Tigers are ready for a big year.

Winnebago: The Indians lost two state qualifiers from last year’s team but hope to regroup quickly. They will be led by sophomore Michael Sojka, who placed fourth at state at 215 pounds last year.

Rockford Lutheran: The Crusaders have had five state place-winners in the past nine years but had nobody representing them at the state meet last year. Junior Quinn Johnson is one of those looking to change that this season.

Genoa-Kingston: G-K, in its third year of wrestling, will return its first state qualifier, junior Ronny Sribniak. The Cogs knocked off Richmond-Burton in its first meet of this season last week after winning just one match total in the two teams’ dual meet last year.

East Division
Harvard: Harvard won its third straight conference title under coach Tim Haak last year but return a young and rather inexperienced team. Twelve seniors graduated from last year’s team, and senior Sergio Figuerora, who placed second at state two years ago, is the lone returning state qualifier.

Richmond-Burton: R-B, which along with Harvard will probably be a AA team again this year, will begin its life-after-Jordan-Blanton era. Blanton, who won three state titles, wrestles at Illinois. His former teammate, Joby Body, qualified for state in his first two seasons but missed out on the trip with a loss at sectionals last year.

Marengo: Marengo had four sectional qualifiers last year, but no one went on for a big finish. Second-year coach Mike Crane is expecting bigger and better things this season. Junior Joey Moorhouse was a conference and regional champion last season, and he’ll be looked at to fill the leadership role.

Burlington Central: BC is still rebuilding a bit, but is also considered a league contender by most. The team’s depth will carry it to some big wins in the league this season.

Hampshire and North Boone: The conference’s two newest wrestling programs give the league a full slate of teams for the first time. They will both struggle to contend early on but hope to be in the mix in the next five years or so.
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