GENESEO — There was a wealth of high hopes for 12 Times-area Class 2A wrestlers who advanced out of regionals last weekend.
Then came the Geneseo 2A Sectional, and the bottom simply fell out for the locals on Friday and Saturday except for one sturdy soul who proved to be the lone area competitor who will make his way to the IHSA State Individual Meet later this week in Champaign.
Ottawa junior Riley Hanson managed to find his way through the well-touted sectional chalked full of highly-ranked talent to earn his first state berth at the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois starting this Thursday.
Hanson went 3-2 during the two-day gauntlet, winning his fourth match at 113 pounds which automatically qualified him for state before dropping the third-place match to finish in fourth place.
Still, Hanson was the only one out of six Pirates, five Sandwich wrestlers and one Streator grappler that survived the intense and high-powered two-day event in order to punch his ticket to the bright lights of Champaign.
"It feels very good, because in grade school I finished in fourth place in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, then last year as a sophomore lost in the blood rounds and didn't get to state," Hanson said. "I'm so excited about finally getting there to see all the lights, the big room, the people, and all our fans that will be there.
"It's mind-blowing, because I've dreamed about this since I was little. Now I've got my shot."
Ottawa had two other wrestlers — junior Luke Fleming (120 pounds) and freshman Cedric Fairrow (170) — within one match of state qualification before both fell, as did Sandwich junior Jackson Murphy (160).
Other than those three 2A Times matmen and Hanson, the stifling sectional grind didn't allow the remaining eight area wrestlers much success.
"This is a very tough sectional, and it is every year, but this season it seemed even tougher with just a bunch of high-caliber wrestlers," said veteran OHS coach Pete Marx. "We did our best, but unfortunately the ball didn't bounce our way in most of our matches.
"We're certainly glad to get Riley down to state, and we're very proud of what he accomplished here. We've got one more weekend, and hopefully he'll come back with a medal from Champaign."
Hanson (31-8) won his first two matches on Friday including a 14-13 thriller over Freeport freshman Markel Baker. He then fell to eventual 113-pound sectional champion Abraham Hinrichsen (43-4) of Washington in the semifinals Saturday before beating La Salle-Peru junior Zach Plackett in wrestlebacks with a 12-3 major decision that qualified him for state.
Hanson would face Baker (31-7) once again in the third-place matchup, but this time dropped an 8-2 decision after jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first period.
On the cusp of state qualification, Fleming (36-5) dropped a heartbreaking 3-2 decision to Sycamore senior Trevor Boryla (37-8), while Fairrow (30-14) did so as well with a tough 4-1 loss to junior David Papach (41-9) of Coal City.
Ottawa also saw Bradley Ruger (Sr., 132, 21-12), Nick Stehl (Sr., 160, 20-5) and Brandon O'Brien (195, 18-20) — the last added as an alternate after his fourth-place regional finish a week prior — fall out of the mix in earlier rounds.
For Sandwich, Jackson Murphy (34-6) had the best shot to get to state but suffered a heart-wrenching 2-0 loss to senior Marcus Linwood (36-11) of Bartonville-Limestone that kept the Indians without a state qualifier.
"That was tough, but I'm not going to let that take away from what was a great year for Sandwich wrestling," said SHS coach Kris Cassie. "We had five qualify for sectionals and four are coming back next year, so that's great. Looking at the big picture, the future for Sandwich wrestling is very bright. It's going to be fun to watch the next few years."
After Jackson Murphy, the Indians claimed strong efforts from Evan Riley (Fr., 106, 21-5), Aiden Linden (Fr., 126, 29-10), Cael Schindlbeck (Jr., 138, 34-4) and Wyatt Murphy (Sr., 182, 29-9).
Streator's lone sectional competitor, Alex Granadas (Sr., 285, 20-12), put together a nice run and posted two wins and two losses.