Five Leafs capture state hardware

Amy Carton
Reaching the Podium at the 2014 IHSA State Wrestling Finals are from left: Hunter Grau, Ryan Pitra and Lane Akre in third place; Nick Verbeck in fourth place and Josiah Cropp in fifth place.

It was another record-breaking showing on the wrestling mats for the Geneseo wrestlers with five Leafs bringing home hardware at the Feb. 20-22 IHSA State Finals in Champaign.

“I am really proud,” said head coach Jon Murray. “I know these guys have worked hard all season and for several years to get where they are at, so I am glad to see them have this success.”

Lane Akre, Josiah Cropp, Hunter Grau, Ryan Pitra and Nick Verbeck all captured medals — Akre, Grau and Pitra, third-place finishes; Verbeck, fourth and Cropp, fifth. All five are first-time medalists, and Akre, Cropp and Verbeck are first- time state qualifiers. Grau and Pitra made their second trip in two years to the state finals.

“We had to take it one match at a time, and every single round we had to be ready to go. That was key,” said Murray. “We needed to go out and get that first take down to gain confidence, and push hard so (our opponent) would lose confidence. Jon Warner and Hunter Grau both lost their first take downs, but I am really proud of how they were able to keep wrestling. I am proud of how they were able to come from behind.”

Grau (126 pounds) claimed his first state medal in third-place. He grabbed a 10-4 decision win over Mahomet Seymour’s Kolton Taylor in the prelims, and went on to pin Lemont’s Egan Berta in 1:42 in the quarterfinals.

Grau was defeated in a 7-0 decision in the semifinals by the eventual champion Lombard Montini’s Kegan Calkins. He bounced back to shut out Oak Forest’s Mousa Jodeh in a 10-0 major decision.

In the third-place bout, Grau pinned Peoria High School’s Rick Stringfellow in 3:35 for third.

“I think the newness of being at state was over, and now it was time for Hunter to get hardware. That was his goal,” said Murray. “His goal was to medal not just get to state.”

Pitra (182-lbs.) earned a spot on the podium with a third-place finish. Pitra began action with a pin of Burbank St. Laurance’s Kyle Tetlow in 2:27, but he was pinned in his quarterfinal match in 5:24 by Springfield’s Harrison Williams.

Pitra rebounded to beat Hampshire’s Anton Krocko in a 4-1 decision in the first round of wrestlebacks; edged out Sycamore’s Christopher Malone, 3-2 in the quarterfinals wrestlebacks, and beat Lombard Montini’s Derrick Curry in a 3-1 decision in the semifinal wrestlebacks.

In the third-place match, Pitra avenged his loss to Springfield’s Williams earlier in the tournament with a 3-1 decision win in overtime.

“Ryan beat the guy who had previously beat him to take third in overtime,” said Murray. “It is a mental battle sometimes as much as physical, and I am proud of how he handled that.”

Akre (220-lbs.) battled his way back from a first round loss to claim third in his first state trip. Akre suffered an 11-7 decision loss to Springfield’s Alex Gelber in the prelims, but responded with three wins in wrestlebacks to reach the third-place bout.

Akre pinned Woodstock North’s Cody Barnes in 2:58 in first round wrestlebacks; defeated Sterling’s Bryant Lilly in a 10-2 major decision, and pinned Crystal Lake Central’s Romeo McKnight in 3:22.

In the third-place bout, Akre got revenge against Springfield’s Gelber, who beat him in the prelims, with a 9-5 decision win to take home third.

“That was great after he lost the first match of the tournament to beat the guy who had originally beat him for third,” said Murray. “It is a long road to work your way back in wrestlebacks. He showed mental toughness, and mental toughness is key.”

Verbeck (285-lbs.) earned a fourth-place finish for the Leafs in his first and final trip to state. Verbeck pinned his way into the semifinals with a pin of Carbondale’s Octavius McCloud in 3:43 in the prelims and Burbank St. Laurance’s Frank Tomaskovic in 3:06 in the quarterfinals.

Verbeck suffered a 1-0 loss in the semifinals to the eventual champion Highland’s Tanner Farmer, but rebounded to pin Taylorville’s Blake Hooper in 3:43 in semifinal wrestlebacks.

In the third-place match, Verbeck was pinned in 1:49 by Chicago Lindbloom’s Deuce Rachal to take home fourth.

“Nick did awesome, and I am so proud of how he has come on the last few weeks to earn this,” said Murray. “He has really worked hard to get here. He lost 1-0 (in the semifinals) to the defending state champ and eventual state champ. It was the best match of the tournament. I am really happy with how Nick is wrestling. He really peaked at the right time.

Cropp (152-lbs.) took home fifth-place honors at state. He won his prelim match with a pin of Chicago De La Salle’s Sal Reyes in 5:01, but was defeated in a 7-0 decision by Mt. Vernon’s Chase Vosburgh in the quarterfinals.

Cropp responded with two wins in wrestlebacks over Woodstock’s Nicholas Sundburg in a 5-4 decision, and Pontiac’s Jake Lanning by pin in 5:37. Cropp later fell in a 15-2 major decision to Chicago Heights Marian’s Jose Champagne in the semifinal wrestlebacks.

In the fifth-place match, Cropp beat Lincoln Way West’s Matt Ryan in a 5-0 decision to place fifth.

“Josiah is very mentally tough and grinds his way through every match,” said Murray. “He is a guy who can stay tough through a full six-minute match, and I am very confident late in a match he will be OK. He has that endurance and toughness that he will keep fighting and then good things will happen.”

Jon Warner (120-lbs.) opened action in his first trip to state with a 6-4 decision win over Chicago De La Salle’s Robert Zebrauskas.

Warner was pinned in his next match by eventual champion Lombard Montini’s Dylan Duncan in 5:13, and suffered a 9-4 loss in the first round of wrestlebacks to Jerseyville’s Brandon Critchfield.

Cole Hunzeker (160-lbs.) suffered two losses in his first trip to the state finals. Hunzeker was defeated in an 8-4 decision in the prelims by Chicago Simeon’s Antoine Cobb, and then lost in a 9-2 decision to Bloomington’s Shawn Safford in the first round of wrestlebacks.

Brandon Mizlo (195-lbs.) fell short of the podium in his second trip to state. Mizlo won his opening match over Westville’s Tyler Dicken by technical fall in 3:44, 19-3, but he was pinned in the quarterfinals by the eventual champion Crystal Lake Central’s Andrew Marsden, 2:31.

Mizlo won his first match in wrestlebacks over Oak Forest’s Nick Graziano in a 13-9 decision, and was knocked out of the tournament when he was pinned by Antioch’s George Bessette in quarterfinal wrestlebacks in 1:32.

“I am very proud and I am just happy,” said Murray. “It is rewarding to watch this team come together and peak at the right time when it counts. This team has a strong team bond, and I feel like they will perform better for the team than for themselves as individuals.”