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Sycamore's Akins wins elusive wrestling state championship

CHAMPAIGN – A Sycamore state wrestling champion, runner-up and third-place winner shared a room at a Drury Inn this weekend.

In their arrangement before Saturday's finals, 195-pounder Jake Davis enjoyed the pullout couch to himself while Kyle Akins (113) and Austin Culton (152) slept on opposite ends of a king size bed.

No word on whether Akins got more room to spread out after taking the Class 2A crown at the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall. After defeating Montini senior Tommy Pawelski to cap a 40-1 campaign, the junior seemed agreeable to just about anything.

Culton finished second after a dramatic ending to his bid for a second successive state title, while Davis, a fellow senior, rallied to place third. Naturally, the trio spent much of its hotel time resting, but that didn't mean they were unproductive.

"We just kind of relaxed and then we got to the arena, and just tried to stay confined the whole time," Akins said.

Sycamore will look to channel its individual success when the team faces Northern Illinois Big 12 East rival Yorkville in the Rochelle dual team sectional at 6 p.m. Tuesday. A win there would send the Spartans to the dual team state tournament in Bloomington on Feb. 23.

Moments after Culton (43-1) allowed a go-ahead takedown to Richmond-Burton's Garrett Sutton with 25 seconds remaining in their title bout at 152, Spartans coach Alex Nelson offered quick perspective. The Northern Illinois-bound Culton didn't have to let his season end with a 5-4 loss in Champaign.

"He's got nothing to be ashamed of. He works hard. He's a great kid. He's going to do well next year at NIU," Nelson said. "It can't be a black eye. I mean, he had a great career and I hope for great things for him."

Just ahead of the Culton match, Kaneland senior Dan Goress downed Montini senior Michael Sepke, 3-1, for 2A 145-pound title before beginning to deliver a series of cliches. He lived a dream. His hard work paid off. While trite, that much was true. Still, Goress undoubtedly turned those phrases and his parents' daily reminders of his ability to accomplish whatever he put his mind to into currency.

The medal that dangled from his neck was one thing. The lifelong affirmation was another.

"You can tell yourself, 'I'm going to be a state champ,' but if you don't do anything about it, it ain't ever going to happen," Goress, 42-3, said. "And it starts every day with waking up. Running, your diet. Practice. Watching film. That's what it comes down to."

Akins, whose lone loss came against Cary-Grove's Michael Cullen (sixth in 3A) controlled Pawelski from the beginning in his first career encounter with him.

He scored a takedown about a minute into the match, and that was all the offense he needed.

"After my first couple shot attempts, I knew that eventually I was going to get one, because he wasn't fighting them off very well," Akins said.

"I knew if I wanted to hang in there and be in the match, I needed to take him down right away. I felt confident on top. If I got that takedown, I was going to ride him out."

Davis showed similar resolve in the late stages of his own resounding victory in the third-place bout.

Trailing Nazareth Academy senior Pat Vitek, 3-0, entering the third period, Davis escaped in the first 30 seconds before shifting into ultimate attack mode. Davis (38-2) tied the match on a takedown with about 15 seconds to go before maneuvering for the go-ahead takedown just before the buzzer sounded.

Referees raised Davis' hand after a 5-3 victory, and Davis immediately scurried to salute the Spartans' cheering section that had situated itself behind Mat 2.

"I just worked as hard as I could, just pushed myself past the limits of being uncomfortable and just kept driving forward and going on from there," Davis said.

DeKalb senior Doug Johnson closed his career with a sixth-place finish at 132 in 3A.

After losing a 3-2 decision to eventual state champion George Fisher of Marmion on Friday, Johnson (41-4) fell in both of his Saturday matches. In the fifth-place bout, Glenbard North's Johnny Gosinski – who Johnson edged, 4-3, in Friday's quarterfinals – grabbed early control en route to a 10-1 major decision victory.

"When you're expecting to win a tournament and then fall a little short, you know, sometimes it's a little hard to bounce back emotionally," Barbs coach Mike Pater said. "It's a tough, emotional letdown and it's one of the toughest things, I think, to recover from."

With senior 285-pounder Zach Theis' fifth-place run coupled alongside Goress' success, Kaneland sent two athletes to the podium for the first time since the early 1990s, Knights assistant Jeremy Kenny said.

Theis (36-8) effectively employed his cradle once again to secure a fall against Northside's Ben Mauk-O'Connor early in the second period of the fifth-place bout.

"I came into the season knowing I had the chance to get to state," said Theis, also an all-state offensive lineman during football season. "I got to state and just thought I might as well do some damage. See what I can do."

Sutton had similar words after handing Culton – a one-time cohort on a Team Illinois program in grade school – his first loss of the season. Culton, who had been denied an apparent takedown early in the bout, was nursing a late 4-3 lead when Sutton shot and grabbed hold of Culton's ankle.

“I saw an opportunity open up and I took my shot,” Sutton said. “That’s when it really hit me I have a chance to win this match.”   

As Nelson said, Sycamore has the chance to win several others in the coming week.

"We'll turn our attention to team state soon," Nelson said, "but for now, it's a great day to be a Spartan when you can get kids taking first, second and third."

That would be Akins, Culton and Davis, a powerful group of roommates if there ever was one.

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