SYCAMORE – For the second straight year, the Sycamore wrestling team has won the Northern Illinois Big 12 championship.
In a sport where individual prowess trumps teamwork, Sycamore wrestler Jake Davis thinks the Spartans' togetherness helped them defend their championship.
“Last year, we didn't really have a team connection,” Davis said. “We were kind of selfish and we didn't really care what happened to each other. This year, we're picking each other up when we need to.”
Davis saw that team connection help first-hand last week.
After falling to one of the top wrestlers in the nation for his first loss of the season, he said teammates and coaches counseled him after the loss in a way they wouldn't have last year.
Davis came back this week to win Saturday's 195-pound division at the NI Big 12 tournament, leading his team to the championship alongside individual champions Austin Culton, who won the 152-pound division, Martin Malone, who won at 220 pounds, and 113-pounder Kyle Akins.
With 198.5 points, Sycamore beat second-place Yorkville by 2.5 points, and DeKalb finished in a tie with Kaneland for fourth place by scoring 117.5 points.
The Spartans finished in the top six in 12 of the 14 weight classes. Even with four individual champions, coach Alex Nelson pointed Andrew Larsen's comeback to finish fourth in the 138-pound division after losing his opening match as a turning point.
“Kids battled back,” Nelson said. “Andrew Larsen lost his first prelim match and battled all the way back to [fourth]. It was matches like that, guys like that that needed to step up if we were going to be able to win the tournament.”
For DeKalb, 106-pounder Parker Stratton and 132-pounder Doug Johnson won individual championships and 126-pounder Jackson Montgomery and 152-pounder Matt Macarus finished second.
But the Barbs couldn't quite together the team effort that Sycamore exhibited.
“Doug was dominant in the finals and it's nice to see a young kid like Parker hopefully follow in the footsteps of some of these older kids who are doing well,” DeKalb coach Mike Pater said. “Overall, I think we need to wrestle better after a loss. I think that's one of our biggest problems.”
Nelson was worried early in the day after a few close matches didn't go Sycamore's way. With a few of his top wrestlers out with injuries, the Sycamore coach was nervous at the start.
But the Spartans are a resilient group, and that's why they're conference champions once again.
“We started out a little slow, and it had me worried in the prelims,” Nelson said. “Guy after guy stepped up. They all fought hard.”