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By JARED BELL
The Dakota wrestling team’s reign continued.
After the Indians won last year’s Lyle King Princeton Invitational for the first time since 2016, the No. 4-ranked team in the current GO EARN IT WRESTLING APPAREL rankings bested a loaded and deep field to repeat as PIT champions on Saturday.
“Coming in, we knew we had a shot to win this, but there’s such great competition in this field,” Dakota coach Peter Alber said. “Hopefully, this is us ramping up to the end of the year and where we need to be.”
In a tournament that was highlighted by four of the top-six ranked Class 1A teams – and six of the top 10 – Dakota prevailed thanks to a tournament-high three champions and eight total top-8 placers.
The Indians received titles from 182-pound senior Evan Riggle, 170-pound junior Andrew Wenzel and 113-pound sophomore Maddux Blakely.
Dakota scored 212 points to edge second-place Vandalia (195), third-place Auburn (188), fourth-place Riverdale (153) and fifth-place Coal City (152).
“We knew the rankings and all of that,” Riggle said, “but we wanted to come in, win this and make a statement.”
With Dakota leading entering the medal round, Blakely claimed the Indians’ first title and repeated as PIT champion after he defeated Ottawa senior and top-seeded Riley Hanson by an 18-4 major decision.
Two weights later, Riggle joined the fun as he defeated Monticello senior Matt Kerr by a 4-1 decision, while Wenzel capped an impressive tournament and repeated as PIT champion as he earned a hard-fought 4-2 decision over Riverdale senior Trystan Altensey.
Dakota also received a second-place finish from 160-pound junior Aiden Nardin and a third-place finish from 132-pound sophomore Tyler Simmer and 120-pound freshman Phoenix Blakely.
“As a team, we had a lot of guys gritting it out and wrestling hard in all the matches, including wrestlebacks,” Riggle said. “It’s a great feeling.”
In last year’s 120-pound PIT title match, Ottawa’s Luke Fleming lost to Heyworth’s Gabe Spencer by a 12-5 decision.
It was a loss that stuck with Fleming – until he got his second chance Saturday.
In the rematch in this year’s 132-pound title match, Fleming pulled the upset as he defeated Spencer – a defending Class 1A state champion – by a 3-2 decision.
For his victory, the senior Fleming was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Lower Weights.
“After facing him last year, I learned that I couldn’t stop him from neutral so I knew I had to slow him down and make it my pace,” Fleming said. “It felt really good to get this win and is a big confidence booster.”
While Fleming excelled at the lower weights, Vandalia senior Anthony Enlow made quite the statement as well.
In one of the tournament’s most-anticipated matches, the 285-pound senior – ranked No. 3 in the current GO EARN IT WRESTLING APPAREL rankings – defeated Byron senior and No. 2-ranked Tyler Elsbury by a convincing 10-3 decision.
For his performance, Enlow was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Upper Weights.
“Coming in, I haven’t been making weight, so I knew I’d be rusty not having a lot of matches, but I knew what I had to do,” Enlow said. “We’ve wrestled a handful of times before and we both have experience, so we know what each other likes to do. I’m glad that I was able to pull out the win.”
NO. 1 vs. NO. 2
The PIT had three opportunities for No. 1- vs. No. 2-ranked showdowns in the finals, and two of the three happened.
At 106 pounds, Vandalia junior Jarek Wehrle – ranked No. 1 – topped Coal City junior Evan Rivera – ranked No. 2 – by a 5-4 decision.
“It’s a great feeling to win this tournament,” Wehrle said. “I wrestled him before (at Abe’s Rumble), so I knew what I had to do and that I could win.”
In 220 pounds, Riverdale junior Bryan Caves – ranked No. 1 – edged Byron senior Peyton Lind – ranked No. 2 – by a 4-2 sudden victory.
“To be completely honest, I had no idea he was ranked No. 2,” said Caves, who missed last year’s PIT due to pneumonia. “I don’t really look at the rankings, and I just try to leave it all out on the mat.”
The PIT featured seven Class 1A kids ranked No. 1 at their weight in the current GO EARN IT WRESTLING APPAREL RANKINGS, and five won titles.
In addition to Wenzel winning 170 pounds, Wehrle winning 106 pounds and Caves winning 220 pounds, Rockridge had a pair of wrestlers uphold their rankings.
First, 145-pound senior Nolan Throne claimed a title with an 8-2 major decision in the final and then 138-pound senior Dallas Krueger won his title match by an 18-2 technical fall.
However, not everyone was as lucky as two top-ranked wrestlers fell Saturday.
Heyworth 120-pound senior Levi Neuleib injury defaulted in the semifinals and didn’t wrestle again, while Alleman 152-pound junior Jack Patting lost to Newman senior Kyle Tunink by a 5-4 decision.
Illini Bluffs sophomore Cameron Clark won the 120-pound title, GCMSF junior Cale Horsch won the 126-pound title, LeRoy junior Ty Baxter won the 160-pound title and Coal City senior Daniel Jezik won the 195-pound title.