ARGENTA — For new wrestlers taking up the sport, the first few months are the most challenging.
That was the case for Argenta-Oreana's Makail Stanley when he went out for wrestling his freshman year and had to face wrestlers with a decade more training.
But he came into the experience with an open mind and the goal of staying in shape between football and track season.
Two years later, Stanley (40-4), now a junior, will be representing the Bombers at the IHSA Class 2A State Wrestling Tournament beginning Thursday at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
"I walked into a foreign area with no background knowledge — no expectations," Stanley said. "I’m not good at basketball so this is my only option.
"I lost my first seven matches of the season and it was rough at the beginning. I was very doubtful of my abilities but my coaches told me I needed to calm down and learn. They said, 'These kids you are wrestling have been doing it for most of their life.'"
Argenta-Oreana coach Matt Morlock has seen Stanley develop into one of the strongest wrestlers around at 170 pounds.
"Makail's really good on his feet — he’s got really good shots and can move the opponent," Morlock said. "On the bottom, he is phenomenal and it is really hard to hold him down. His top is really improving and all around he is getting better and better."
That improvement was evident during season. Stanley took home titles at PORTA, Clinton, Argenta and Prairie Central.
"It was cool to win those tournaments," Stanley said. "They were my first tournament titles and that was my first goal of the season: To be in the finals every tournament, then state."
Stanley finished third at 170 pounds at the Mahomet Sectional last weekend and his road to state was not without its challenges.
In the semifinals, Stanley faced Caleb Grau from Mascoutah, the eventual sectional champion, with the winner earning a trip to state. Grau defeated Stanley in a major decision 12-2.
"Something you learn when you wrestle is to make your opponent do what you want them to do. (Caleb) was an expert at it," Stanley said. "I would do things and I wouldn't notice but he would take full advantage of them. He would catch me on my back. I really hope I will get to face him again."
Taking a loss that close to punching his ticket to the state tournament was difficult but Stanley has worked on building from a loss.
"That is something I struggle with," Stanley said. "My freshman year and sophomore year I would get angry after a loss. I was upset but I’ve got more control of it.
"I went out and calmed down. I still have a chance, and I’ve still got rounds to go. (Morlock) reminded me that (the match) was in the past and I couldn’t change anything about it now but I could get out there and wrestle like he knows I can."
Stanley prides himself on his endurance, something he also uses as a linebacker and wide receiver on the Bombers' football team and as a 400-meter runner on the track team.
"I think my strength is that I don’t stop, regardless of what’s happened," Stanley said. "I try to do my best and go and move and wear down my opponent and make sure that I am two steps ahead.
"Endurance is something that I’ve been working on and making sure I’m the most athletically sound and fit so I can last longer than the other kids."
Stanley responded to the semifinal loss with a pin at 2:47 against Mitchell Morris of Rochester in the wrestlebacks to earn that trip to Champaign.
"When I got that pin, after the match I was like, 'Thank God,' and looking up to the sky. It was a great feeling," he said. "I couldn’t sleep that night, even though I wrestled three hard matches that day. I got home at 10, it’s now 3 a.m., what am I doing?"
Just a few months after taking up wrestling his freshman year, Stanley attended the state tournament and the experience inspired him and still sticks with him.
"I posted a picture of the tournament's grand march and I wrote: Be here soon, and that was it, nothing else," Stanley said. "Now that I actually get to be in that stadium, in that tunnel, on those mats, I feel like I actually accomplished something major in my life. It’s not something I’m ever going to forget."