Geneseo's Hunter Grau, Brandon Mizlo and Ryan Pitra punched their first-ever tickets to the IHSA State Wrestling Finals with Top 4 finishes in the Feb. 8-9 Rochelle Sectional.
"We wrestled well, and we had a lot of other guys who were so close (to qualifying)," said head coach Jon Murray. "We did a great job of getting in position to be that far, and I am really proud of how they wrestled."
Grau (120-pounds) pinned LaSalle-Peru's Max Kurkowski in the first round in 42 seconds, and went on to defeat Belvidere's Adam McConnell in a 9-7 decision.
Grau beat Sandwich's Jesse Wood in a 15-9 decision to advance to the championship bout where he fell by technical fall, 17-2 to Morris' Kenny Baldridge to place second.
"Hunter did what he does and went out and fought every match," said Murray. "He only knows one way and that is all out and that is why he gets where he is. In his quarterfinal match, he was down 7-3 midway through and came back to win. He has that never-give-up attitude. He is one of a very few freshmen to ever qualify for state from Geneseo."
Mizlo (170-lbs.) opened action with a pin of Burlington Central's Craig Kein in 3:14, and beat Streator's Ryan Sedlock in a 3-0 decision. Mizlo was then defeated by Rock Island's Michael Cox in an 8-2 decision.
Mizlo bounced back to beat Peoria Notre Dame's Luke Barkley in a 16-5 major decision, and defeated Peoria's Martez Cox in a 2-0 decision to take third.
"Once you get to sectionals, all the easy matches are out of the way and you have to be ready every single time," said Murray. "Brandon had his back against the wall, and I was proud of how he was able to deal with it and come back for third. When the pressure was on, he responded well to that. I was proud after a disappointing loss he was able to bounce back and do what he needed to do to get to state."
Pitra (160-lbs.) started action with a 9-1 major decision win over East Peoria's Tony Hall and a 6-3 decision victory over Pontiac's Alex Friedman. Pitra fell in his next match to Boylan's RJ Johnson in a 6-1 decision.
Pitra rebounded to win his next match over Sycamore's Austin Armstrong in an 8-1 decision to send him to the third-place match. In the third-place bout, Pitra was defeated in a 3-0 decision by Pontiac's Friedman to place fourth.
"He did his job to qualify," said Murray. "He had a really good win against a Pontiac kid ranked No. 3 in the state earlier in the tournament, which put him in position to qualify, but then lost to the same kid in the third-place match."
Page 2 of 3 - Just missing out at a spot at the state finals were Mitch Miller and Jon Warner, both placing fifth.
Miller (182-lbs.) received a first round bye, and then beat Peoria's Isaac Tudor in a 6-0 decision. Later, Miller fell in a 11-9 decision to Morris' Nik Countryman, and in a 3-1 decision to Freeport's Armond Hollins.
Warner (113-lbs.) also received a first round bye, and started with a 6-4 decision win over Kaneland's Stephen Gust. He later pinned LaSalle-Peru's Blake Bilig in 2:56, and beat Sandwich's Dan Emma in a 7-1 decision. Warner fell to UT's Jeronnie Steward 4-2 in sudden victory in the first period.
Jarred Bruce (138-lbs.) lost his opening match to Peoria's Elliott Smith in a 7-1 decision, and received a bye in the next round. Bruce fell in a 4-1 decision in his next match to Dixon's Kylian Lally.
Josiah Cropp (145-lbs.) received a bye in the first round, but was then defeated by Pontiac's Vaughn Hobart in an 8-4 decision. He pinned his next two opponents — Galesburg's Jake Ferguson in 5:43 and Canton's Jake Harris in 5:03. Cropp was then pinned in his next match in 1:53 by Sandwich's Jarrod Johnson.
Joey Medina (152-lbs.) began action with an 11-4 decision over Streator's Austin Lopez, but was defeated by East Peoria's Drew Foster in a 14-10 decision in the next match. Medina rebounded to beat Peoria's Wesly Neal in a 15-10 decision, but fell to Yorkville's Gunnar Hjorth in an 8-2 decision.
Lane Akre (195-lbs.) was pinned in his opener in 3:27 by Sandwich's Tyler Sebby, and then received a bye. Akre beat Morton's Joe Geiger in a 7-2 decision, but fell in his next match in an 18-10 major decision to Rock Island's Keith Lawrence.
Cameron Panicucci (220-lbs.) received a bye in the first round and then was defeated by Ottawa's Cyrano Rayfield 6-4 in sudden victory in the first period. He responded with a pin in 5:00 of Rock Island's Nick Niles, but was edged by Sycamore's Martin Malone in a 3-2 ultimate tiebreaker.
Nick Verbeck (285-lbs.) pinned his first round opponent, Washington's Steeler Trout in 2:31, but later fell in a 6-1 decision to Kaneland's Zach Theis. He bounced back to beat Yorkville's Joe Katula in a 6-1 decision, and then fell to IVC's Calvin Campbell 5-3 in sudden victory in the first period.
"I am not disappointed in anybody," said Murray. "Win or lose you make mistakes to learn from. They all performed with a great effort to give themselves that shot."
Grau, Mizlo and Pitra will compete in the IHSA State Finals in Champaign Feb. 14-16, and then the Leafs will compete at the Rochelle Team Sectional at 6 p.m. Feb. 19 against East Peoria.
Page 3 of 3 - "(At state), they can expect a tough match every single time and, at the same time, I want them to feel confident because anything can happen," said Murray. "They need to be tough, smart and ready every single match. That is the key.
"We hope to win it (the team sectional). We are definitely capable of winning it and everyone needs to give their best effort. We have the potential to win and go to state (as a team) for the first time in school history."