By Mark Gregory
CHAMPAIGN – It is hard enough for a wrestler to win a state championship.
Add in trying to become an undefeated state champion and the task gets even harder.
Now throw into the mix the fact that the school you represent has never had a champion on the mat and the task is a monumental one.
So, it takes a monumental wrestler.
Senior Zach Muller of Westmont became the school’s first wrestling champion Feb. 18 when he pinned Taylor Fleetwood of Fulton in 1 minute, 9 seconds to claim the Class 1A title at 285 pounds.
The win also capped off a perfect 37-0 season for Muller.
“It was nerve wracking and I just wanted to get in and get it over,” Muller said of the title match. “I felt it early on [that I could take control of the match] and I felt good, so I just got after it. [Trying to be an undefeated champion] is stressful. It was a long week of stress and getting through the state tournament has been tough.”
If it was tough for Muller, he didn’t show it on the mat.
He opened the tournament by pinning Tyler Elsbury of Byron in 46 seconds and then pinned Ricky Cantu of Knoxville in 3:22.
His only match that lasted into the third period was a 5-1 win over Ian Kuehl of Lena-Winslow in the semifinals.
“It was a good year wrestling wise,” Muller said. “I have had my ups and downs, but getting out here and getting better at wrestling is always a good time.”
The title only the fourth wrestling medal in Westmont history and first since 1986 when Clint Dvorak (2nd, 185) and Mike Plowman (4th, 132) both medaled.
Muller becomes only the fifth male state champion in Sentinel history and first since Henry Arndt won a track title in 2011.
“It is the first one, so doing something new is always good,” Muller said. “It will be exciting going back to school.”
Westmont also had Jacob Juska qualify at 170, however, he fell by 14-2 major decision in the opening round.
Also in Class 1A, Lisle had a trio of wrestlers advance and one place.
Drew Sonnefeldt (38-5) placed fifth at 138 for the Lions beating Jesse Ellis of Illiana Christian 13-6 in his final match.
Mark Pivek (160) and Kevin Paz (285) also competed for Lisle, but did not place.
In Class 3A, Downers Grove North and South each only had one qualifier for the state meet, but both medaled.
Nate Cummings (39-6) of North placed sixth at 106, falling to Matt Ramos of Lockport by a 14-3 major decision in the fifth-place match.
At 195, South junior Sergio Villalobos (39-6) placed third with a 4-1 decision over Jake Lowell of New Trier in his medal match.
“This feels really good,” he said. “Ending my season with a W is big instead of thinking about that match all next year. All the hard work that I did in the summer and spring all paid off.”