Maple Leafs have a solid foundation on the mats

Chris Steele
Billy Blaser, top turns up the pressure during the 285-pound title match at the NIB 12 Conference meet.

The Geneseo wrestling team returns two state qualifiers and a group of potential breakout candidates this season.

Maple Leafs’ Coach Jon Murray is optimistic about the Maple Leafs season returning fourth-place heavyweight Billy Blaser and state qualifier Andrew Rizzo.

Blaser’s fourth-place state finish tied him for the highest finish for a Geneseo wrestler in the 285-pound weight class at state.

Geneseo’s Blaser earned Class 2A Sycamore Sectional championship match, and Rizzo finished runner-up in the 138-pound bracket last season.

Taking aim at even loftier goals this year, Blaser has trained to put more of an emphasis on offense this season.

“That was the piece of the puzzle he was lacking,” Murray said. “He’s doing a good job of working on that. I think he can take it to a whole new level this year.”

A senior, Rizzo returns from his first state berth in great shape after an impressive cross country season.

Rizzo, Blaser, Anthony Montez and Jayden Erdman all had strong offseasons placing at the Midwest

Nationals tournament at the Shirk Center in Bloomington over the summer.

With two strong senior pillars in place in the Maple Leafs’ lineup, Murray likes what he’s seen from a few athletes who were on the cusp of qualifying for state last season.

Geneseo’s Luke Henkhaus won a regional title as a freshman, and he finished third at the NIB 12 tournament and at regionals last season.

Murray believes Eli Allen and Bruce Moore are two others who have shown the potential to step up to the next level.

The Maple Leafs’ Anthony Montez will be a newcomer who can make a difference.

A freshman, Montez wrestled his way to a berth at the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation State tournament in Rockford last season.

With two duals, a quadrangular and a tournament to start the in four days to start the season, Murray believes the team will learn quickly just what they can do.

“It will expose our weaknesses which is what we need,” Murray said. “After the first meet of the year, we always have some glaring issues. We go back to the practice room and work on it to get better.”