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Territory familiar, foe is not for Sycamore grapplers

Experience will provide the Sycamore wrestling team with vast knowledge. But it will only go so far. 

The Spartans will know their way around U.S. Cellular Coliseum at the Class 2A team duals state tournament quarterfinals at 11 a.m. today. Four consecutive trips to team state, highlighted by a third-place finish in 2011, make the tournament seem like a berth rite for most in the Spartans’ lineup. 

Nerves shouldn’t be a factor because Sycamore has been in a massive arena where all eyes follow their every move. Lockerroom locations, weigh-in stations and the trip to and from the hotel are part of the Spartans’ rote memory by now. 

What won’t be familiar is Sycamore’s quarterfinal opponent: Taylorville.  

“It’s tough to find film on wrestling teams,” Sycamore coach Alex Nelson said. “It’s not like football where there is a film exchange. We don’t see a lot of southern teams and don’t have any common opponents. So I’ve looked at the tournaments they’ve been in to develop a plan.”

The upstart Tornadoes are in the Central State Eight and have racked up a 62-5 record over the past three seasons. 

While Sycamore has a lineup of 2013 state champion Kyle Akins (113), runner-up and 2012 state champion Austin Culton (152) and 2013 third-place finisher Jake Davis (195), Taylorville makes its first appearance at team state. Brock Letcher (34-3) won the Tornadoes’ first sectional championship two weeks ago and was 1-2 at the individual state tournament as their lone state qualifier. 

It’s been an impressive three-year run for Taylorville under coach Lee Mateer, and the Tornadoes are ranked No. 14 amongst 2A teams on Even though No. 2 Sycamore won’t know much about the upstart Tornadoes, the Spartans have honed their craft against top-tier competition all season. 

“We wrestle a tough schedule and our guys participate in a lot of offseason tournaments and face many different styles, so there shouldn’t be any surprises,” Nelson said. “I think we’ll be well prepared. It comes down to wrestling the guy in front of you, hard, for six minutes.” 

An opening-dual win could set up a potential meeting with five-time defending state champion Montini. The Broncos are No. 11 on the Inter Mat Fab 50 National Rankings, despite not having a nationally ranked wrestler. 

Montini qualified eight wrestlers in last week’s Class 2A individual state tournament and has stood in the way of the Spartans’ advancement in the state football playoffs for several years now.

There’s a budding rivalry and motivation for Sycamore. But Taylorville is senior Marty Malone’s first focus. The 220-pounder doesn’t want to repeat last year’s 36-29 quarterfinal loss to Yorkville.

“We definitely want to walk away with some hardware this year,” Malone said. “Our loss last year to Yorkville definitely motivated us to beat them on Tuesday. It was a letdown last year to lose in the opening dual. We didn’t want our season to just end after one match.”  

A win against Taylorville could set up a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 semifinal dual by’s Class 2A rankings. 

If that situation emerged, too bad a state title wouldn’t be at stake.  

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