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Sycamore's Armstrong believes his ‘time has come’

Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com Austin Armstrong spars with teammate Chris Malone during practice at Sycamore High School on Tuesday, February 11, 2014. Armstrong continues his bid to qualify for the state championship after winning a regional title last weekend.

Sycamore wrestling coach Alex Nelson had waited for Austin Armstrong to arrive. 

As a freshman, Armstrong wrestled at 125 pounds. But with good size in his family, Nelson figured Armstrong would grow into an upper-weight class wrestler.

So, Nelson waited. 

A year later, Armstrong returned to the mat room after surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder that prematurely ended his freshman campaign. It took a year for Armstong, who had grown six inches over the summer, and now was 160 pounds, to regain his strength and confidence.

So, Nelson waited.   

Armstrong’s junior year was a mental grind. He was in the 170-pound weight class against opponents naturally bigger and had to adjust his skills, which had developed at the lower weight classes, to fit a weight class filled with wrestlers who are known to approach matches like a middle linebacker sheds a block: With full on ferocity.

So, Nelson waited. 

But just as the Class 2A Pontiac Sectional arrives today and Saturday, so to has Armstrong’s game.

Fully developed into a 170-pound senior, three years removed from a shoulder injury and fully versed in how to manipulate opponents using a combination of the single leg attacks and shots he honed growing up in lower weight classes and brute force, Armstrong (21-1) is a top seed on the verge of his first trip to the state tournament. 

“Not a lot of guys make the same leap that Austin has made in weight classes,” Nelson said. “He went from a small guy to a bigger guy. Most big guys don’t wrestle like him. They aren’t accustomed to the quick shots that he is capable of making from the outside. It’s to his advantage that he can get in leg attacks that his opponent’s don’t usually see in a match.”

In the offseason, Armstrong became a student of the game. He had the speed and skills of a lighter wrestler. But, to reach his goal of being on a podium in the state tournament, he knew he needed more offense.

“This year I asked myself several questions,” Armstrong said. “Why not me? Why can’t I be the guy on the podium? Why can’t I have my name on the walls at school?

“So, I learned to set up my shots. I improved my hand fighting and worked to add a high crotch to my set of moves. It was a big transition to move all the way up in weight classes. At 125 pounds, it was me and a lot of younger wrestlers. I would use a single leg and snap down. As a sophomore at 160, I was amongst the men. It takes a lot to get used to that.” 

In December at the Mid-States Tournament in Wisconsin, Nelson said Armstrong made a transition from talented wrestler to potential state qualifier. He qualified for the finals. It was a huge step, but the battle in the semifinal match would portend positive results the rest of the season.

Armstrong enters the Class 2A Pontiac Sectional on a tear. His last loss was in the finals at Pontiac. He since has won the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference tournament and last week’s Class 2A Belvidere Regional. 

“Mentally, Austin arrived at Mid-States,” Nelson said. “To be in the finals of a 50-team tournament was the moment he got over the hump. He knew physically and mentally he belonged. Now, it’s just all about him putting together a string of matches to get to state.”  

Finally, Armstrong is comfortable and the wait is over.

“I am at the right weight class,” Armstrong said. “I know where I should be on the mat and the moves I should use. I’ve grown into my body. I think my time has come.”  

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