SYCAMORE – Austin Culton was anxious all day Thursday.
The Sycamore senior wrestler had heard predictions all over the map for the Spartans’ dual meet against DeKalb. With a conference title on the line, he knew the intensity would be ramped up when the rivals met.
“It’s DeKalb, obviously there were hundreds of people here,” Culton said after the meet. “Sometimes when you’re out there, you can let the crowd get to you, and you can let the crowd dictate how you wrestle. It’s hard to go out there and wrestle your match.”
In an intense atmosphere, the Spartans beat DeKalb, 33-22, winning the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title.
DeKalb coach Mike Pater knew everything had to go perfectly to beat Sycamore, which is ranked No. 2 in Class 2A on illinoismatmen.com, so he strategically moved around his lineup to squeeze every last point out of his wrestlers.
“We knew that we had to win all of the close matches,” Pater said. “We knew that we weren’t going to run away with any of these matches. Things had to go perfect for us.”
Early on, the strategy looked as if it might work. DeKalb senior Doug Johnson wrestled up a weight class at 145 against Dylan Foster, the 12th ranked 145-pounder in Class 2A, and Johnson won by technical fall.
But the Spartans won almost every close match, with 220-pounder Martin Malone and 120-pounder Colin Druck winning by one point each. At 285 pounds, Devin Knight scored four points in the last five seconds of extra time to pull out a 5-1 win.
“A handful of them, we knew were going to be toss-up matches,” Sycamore coach Alex Nelson said. “We got the better of [the close matchups].”
The Spartans have their heads held high with the postseason around the corner. After winning the Badger Invitational in Wisconsin three weeks ago, they finished second at the Sycamore Invitational last weekend.
The Spartans have one more meet on Saturday before they try to defend their Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference tournament title.
Culton hopes his team can ride that momentum to a successful postseason run.
“We’re on a roll right now,” Culton said. “We’ve been working really hard in the gym. To have these kids pull out some really close ones, there were some matches I didn’t think the kids were going to win that did. To have that happen, it was just one of those things that shows that hard work in the room pays off.”