By Mark Gregory
There were times recently where the Plainfield South wrestling team was happy to get three wins in a season.
This year, the Cougars are going for its third-straight Southwest Prairie Conference title.
South took one more step toward that goal last week when it defeated longtime SPC power Minooka 45-18 in a conference dual meet.
“The expectations are not just to get a couple of wins,” said South coach Jason Acevedo. ”Our expectations are to get multiple state qualifiers and place winners. It is not a couple of years ago when we were happy to get a few team wins and five or six sectional qualifiers. We have bigger goals now as a program.”
One of the main goals of a lot of the Cougar wrestlers and coaches is to get the program’s first wrestling state champion.
Senior Eric Johnson made the finals last year and fell one spot short, losing in the finals to place second.
This season, he is ranked first in the state at 220 pounds by Illinois Matmen.
Johnson, however, doesn’t concern himself with rankings or being the wrestler everyone is targeting.
“Unlike other people, I have a different mindset, I am kind of oblivious,” he said. “I hear people talking about who this is and who that is and I really don’t pay attention. I don’t think of it as a target on my back, I just know that when I go out and wrestle who is in front of me, I will win.
“There are a lot of people end up psyching themselves out. There is a lot of hype when you look at rankings, but I feel that if you can clear your mind and just focus on what you have to do, it is a lot easier.”
While he may be oblivious to the hype, he is focused on his goal of winning the state title.
“I am going to cap it off and finish it,” he said. “I made it right there and got to that last step and now I think I can push it up there.”
Johnson’s practice partner and other returning state qualifier, Danny Saracco also wants his teammate to reach his goal.
“Me and Eric go hard in the room and I am trying to get him a state title,” Saracco said. “One of my main goals as an individual is to get him on top of the podium this year. I would like to be up there as well.”
Saracco knows that by pushing Johnson, he is making himself better as well.
He is currently third in the state at 195 and, like Johnson, is coming off a win at the prestigious Dvorak Tournament.
“I know I’m ranked third and I have been wrestling well and just coming off a win at Dvorak, so I am just focused on wrestling my best and beating the guys in front of me,” he said. “I know this is my last year of wrestling because I am playing football in college, so I want to have fun and not worry about winning and losing. I just want to enjoy my last year. Regional, sectional and state are the playoffs and we are preparing each other.”
The two returning qualifiers are hoping to be joined by more this season, like Marc Fleenor, who is fresh off a title at the Granite City tournament.
“After that win, I know I have to come back to reality and get back to winning matches,” he said. “I have never been to state, so that is the main goal, but I have bigger expectations – I want to place at state and be a regional champion. I know I am a senior and this is my last chance.”
Acevedo knows after the holiday tournaments is when the season begins to get closer and closer to the state series.
“It is getting to be crunch time,” he said. “We had good tournaments over the break with a seventh-place finish at Dvorak and a fourth at Granite City and we had some champions there. At this point, we have our last duals and then it is the final push. We have to get the kids peaking at the right time and our first goal is to finish conference on a high note.”
At the Lincoln-Way Central Megaquad, the Cougars went 3-0 on the day.
Wrestlers who went undefeated for the day were Enzo Silva at 106, Marc Fleenor at 132, Erik Santiago at 138, Johnson at 220, Saracco at 195 and Noah Bickett at 113.
Plainfield North finished in third place in the Southwest Prairie Conference with 63 points. Minooka won with 127.
The Tigers also placed third at the SPC meet Saturday with a 6,061 six-game total.
Ryan Carlson placed sixth with a 1,261, Jack Baggs was ninth with a 1,239, Brad Dreyer shot a 1,177, Paul Conrad had a 1,175, Robert Riley recorded a 1,108 and AJ Auriemma had a 1,068.
Baggs took home the overall individual championship combining the regular season with the tournament, while Carlson was also all-conference.
Central was fourth overall with 52 points and fourth on the day with a 6,057.
Travis Oesterle finished fifth with a 1,266, Dakota Fuss shot a 1,244 (7th), Karl Burns had a 1,231 (10th), Canyon Covert rolled a 1,141, Hunter Fuss shot a 1,104 and Tyler Vogen added a 1,031.
Burns and Oesterle made the All-SPC squad.
Plainfield South tied for fifth overall with 46 points and was sixth in the tournament with a 5,884.
Alec Eklove took fourth place with a 1,295, Nick Morris had a 1,216, Nick Smiley shot a 1,088, Zach Kidd had a 1,081 and Christian Knowlton added a 1,079.
Eklove also earned All-SPC honors.
Plainfield East was seventh in the conference with 12 points and shot a 5,485 on the day.
Steve Volling led the way with a 1,186, Darryl Forbes had a 1,066, Bill Foster and Matt Hozian each shot a 1,052, Nick Bailey rolled a 1,044 and Nick Pearson had a 974.