CHAMPAIGN — Robinson’s Tanner Keeler was waiting for this moment for some time.
As much a part of his life as anything else, Keeler started wrestling at about seven or eight, learning from a half dozen cousins that shared the same passion.
So when Keeler made a late move to jump ahead 5-3 to win fifth place at 220 pounds at the IHSA Class 1A State Wrestling Meet at Assemble Hall, he bolted up the stairs to thank his cousin and inspiration in athletics, Danny Midgett.
“He was always my biggest supporter. Him and his other two brothers, Chris and Jacob were always my biggest supporters,” Keeler said. “Having him here meant a lot to me.”
Midgett, who placed fourth at 160 in 2004, played sports all throughout high school and once Keeler saw his successes, he knew that was the route he wanted to take as well.
“Ever since I was little, I watched my cousin play sports, and after that, that’s all I thought about,” Keeler said. “I was just dreaming that one day I would get to walk out of that tunnel.
“And then I knew, it being my senior year, I wasn’t go to throw the opportunity away.”
Keeler fought from behind nearly the entire match. Facing a taller opponent in Ty Sandy from LeRoy, Keeler repeatedly lost his leg to Sandy’s long arms, but Keeler always managed to power his way out of Sandy’s attack.
“I have no idea,” Keeler said on how he managed to regain his leg five times. “I knew he was really strong, and when he got a hold of it, it was like trying to pry walls apart.
“Half the time I was surprised I got it back.”
Down 2-1 after the first period and then drawing even 2-2, Keeler said the whole match was a complete blur. Going into the third period, Keeler got a bit of a shock looking at the scoreboard.
“I thought the score was 4-2, so I thought ‘I got to go,’ ” Keeler said. “But it was only 2-2. So that whole time I thought I have to score because I don’t want to go out on a loss.”
With the match tied and time slipping away, Keeler finally was able to score his first takedown of the match with 25 seconds left on the clock.
“I don’t even remember how I got the takedown,” he said “All I remember is just being on top and thinking ‘I have to ride him out and get my doubles in, wrist control and not let him get one (back).’ ”
The senior had never made state before, and after losing in the quarterfinals, made a run through the wrestlebacks the past two days that included a fall, a narrow 7-6 win and finally the 5-3 match against Sandy.
“I feel like I went out on a good note,” Keeler said. “This might be my greatest accomplishment I’ve ever done.”
Up until Friday night, Argenta’s Nate Jozsa was undefeated. Even with 43 straight wins though, it still wasn’t the most impressive part of a dominating season.
When Dakota’s J.J. Wolfe scored a takedown on Jozsa, besides ruining his hopes of running an undefeated season and winning the state title, it broke an impressive run.
“Those were the first active points scored on Nate this year,” Argenta coach Gary Cook said. “It’s the first takedown he’s given up. He hadn’t given up a takedown or a reversal or backfall all year.”
It was clear the loss held no effect on his performance on the mat Saturday as Jozsa pinned his first man in 1:17 and then scored a 17-6 major decision on the second. But after he calmed down from the adrenaline, his thoughts afterward still lingered on Friday night.
“I mean, it was a good run, but third place wasn’t good enough I don’t think,” Jozsa said. “I think I could have done a lot better.”
“It felt good to dominate the last day, but like I said, it would have been better to dominate last night.”
There’s still another opportunity for Jozsa, who finished 45-1 on the season, to grab first as the Bomber is a junior. And if he makes a similar jump after what he did last year, Jozsa shouldn’t have much trouble in 2014.
“I mean, that is a big deal,” Jozsa said about having one more year. “I lost to a sophomore, you know, but I think I can get him next year. I’ll take a third place considering I only had one match here last year.”
Mount Zion’s Dalton Coleman squeezed out some revenge on the way to Class 2A 145-pound third place.
After beating Mount Vernon’s Chase Vosburgh in overtime 2-0, Coleman wore down Norridge Ridgewood’s Sam Karim, who put Coleman in the consolation bracket, to take third.
After wrestling him two days before, Coleman said he knew exactly what he wanted to do the second time around.
“I knew he was out of conditioning, I knew I could just wear him down so I kept pushing him at the end so I could take him down,” Coleman said. “It was all planned from the beginning.”
After scoring a late reversal to go up 7-6 heading into the third period, Coleman remained on the attack. With one move called back after going out of bounds and then getting called for jumping early, Coleman got his last two points with 13 seconds left to seal the match.
Coleman, who finished fourth in 145 last year, was satisfied with placing a spot better his senior year.
“I’m just glad I finished third,” Coleman said. “I would have liked to have got first, but I’m cool with third, I’m happy with it.”
Monticello makes history
After a heartbreaking Thursday, Monticello had three wrestlers in medal matches, the most in team history.
None were able to convert on the win, but Sages coach Andy Moore said his team has made incredible strides this season.
Out of the seven Sages who made it to state, only Dylan Knisley had been there before. With a strong senior class leaving last year, Moore said there were plenty of classes to fill at the start of this season.
“Our kids have come so far this year,” Moore said. “Just going from a team that was a little uncertain after our turnover from seniors last year. (We were) hit or miss for the most part throughout the season duals-wise.”
No wrestler finished better than Zach Armstrong, who took fourth in Class 1A 220. After being eliminated in the first round, Armstrong scored two pins, and a major decision in the consolation bracket to rip his way through to the third-place match.
Wrestling three matches on Saturday morning and afternoon, Armstrong said Champaign’s lights were enough fuel to keep going.
“You know, I just love the feeling of wrestling out here,” Armstrong said. “In my other tournaments, I might feel drained after a couple matches, but I’m just so excited to go out there and wrestle at state. I’m not drained. I wish I was still wrestling.”