SYCAMORE – During his first few matches last year, Sycamore wrestler Kyle Akins had a constant fear on his mind. A torn labrum forced him to sit out half of the season, and he couldn’t help but question whether it would tear again.
Heading into this season, that fear has dissipated.
After finishing fourth in the Class 2A 113-pound weight class at the state championships last year, Akins improved over the summer by competing in meets, and he’s more confident in his shoulder. The junior beat state qualifier Stephen Gust by technical fall on Thursday in Sycamore’s 55-16 win over Kaneland.
“This year, I’m confident like, ‘It’s not going to tear,’” Akins said. “All summer, I worked so hard to get where I’m at, and I’ve really taken a step up. I’m more confident than I was last year. I think on my feet.”
Self-assurance is in no short supply on Sycamore’s roster.
Austin Culton, who also won by technical fall on Thursday, brings back a little extra swagger after winning the 152-pound division at last year’s Class 2A state meet.
Even though he didn’t wrestle as much this summer as he had in previous years, instead focusing on football, Culton feels like he’s already back to his old self.
“I didn’t actually know how good I was going to be,” Culton said. “Obviously I had confidence from winning state last year, but I didn’t have my technique down. It took a while to get it all back, but thank God I did.”
The Spartans won the first three bouts before Austin Armstong and Colton Burns won by fall, while three Spartans won by forfeit. Sycamore won eight of the 11 bouts that took place.
Kaneland 138-pounder Sonny Horn and 285-pounder Zach Theis each won by fall, and Dan Goress won the 145-pound bout. But the Knights, who were missing returning state qualifier Esai Ponce and key contributor Connor Williams, couldn’t make up the early deficit.
“We came out a little bit timid, I think, for our first conference meet,” Kaneland coach Monty Jahns said. “Sycamore’s got a great team, but we wrestled a little bit flat overall. We didn’t have the attack going. I feel like we didn’t have the full-out attack going like we’ve had going for the last couple of weeks, but we’ll get it going.”
With a top-heavy lineup, the Knights may be more competitive come tournament time. But the Spartans showed they’re a team to beat in the conference right now.
Sycamore returned three state medalists, and Akins thinks this team is better than last year’s squad that qualified for team state for the third consecutive year.
“I think we’re better as a team,” Akins said. “We talk amongst each other, we get along better, we’ve got kids filling in the lineup where we lost kids.”