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Mooseheart 120-pound wrestler Sammy Strickland (left) struggles against Rockford Lutheran's Caleb Micho in their first round wrestleback match. Micho pinned Strickland with 10 seconds left in the first period.
Mooseheart 182-pound wrestler Junior Smith (left) works for a takedown in the third period of his opening wrestleback match with Port Byron's Brandon Mizlo. Smith lost the latch 11-3.
Feb. 11, BYRON – As it does in all sports, experience plays a key role in success in wrestling. Experience was a subtext to the performance of both Mooseheart's sectional qualifiers at this weekend's IHSA Class 1A Byron Sectional.
On one hand, there was the advance in experience for juniors Sammy Strickland and Junior Smith, each making his second trip to a sectional wrestling meet. But experience played a factor in the wrestlers' performances on the mats as each came up against wrestlers with much more knowledge in the sport thanks to years of club as well as high school competition.
“They all have great talent but this is what most of these kids have been doing here since forever,” Strickland said. “For me, this is my third year of wrestling and most of the guys I've wrestled have been wrestling they were around 4-years-old. It's a big challenge.”
Strickland's match against Rockford Lutheran's Caleb Micho lasted 1:50 before Micho won by pin.
“I've just got to come back next year and work harder and push myself to go farther than where I got this year,” Strickland said.
Byron's sectional is one of the toughest in the state with ranked wrestlers in throughout every class.
“There's a lot of great wrestlers here,” Strickland said.
Strickland qualified for the sectional meet as a sophomore and, like Smith, sought to become the first state qualifying wrestler from Mooseheart in Johnson's tenure as coach. The Ramblers have never had a wrestler place at the state meet.
“It's an experience here,” Mooseheart coach Mark Johnson said. “Each time you get out there in a higher-level wrestling match, like this one, you're going get experience. It's not necessarily about winning or losing. It's about getting on the mat and being able to wrestle with these guys. The more times they get out there, the more experience that they'll get.”
Smith took the mat against Port Byron's Brandon Mizlo with his right shoulder bandaged to help provide relief following an injury suffered on Friday night. Of more importance was the fact that he, like Strickland, knew nothing less than a 4-0 day of wrestling would see them fail to advance to the state meet.
Mizlo gained the first takedown, led 2-0 after the first period and was ahead 8-1 entering the third period. Smith wrestled aggressively and gained a takedown early in the period but the match ended in an 11-3 loss.
“After yesterday, I knew it was going to be tough,” Smith said. “Injuries happen. I just had to overcome it when I got out onto the mat.”
Johnson said he was pleased to see Smith's work rate through the entire match.
“When you get behind like he did, you're going to have to fight back and get as many points as possible,” Johnson said. “He fought back and unfortunately he fell short a little bit. The shoulder might be bothering him a little bit. It's a distraction. But he gave it all he's got.”
Smith advanced to the sectional meet as a freshman but failed to do so as a sophomore. His junior season was blighted by a lingering injury from football season that kept him from wrestling until after the New Year.
“This is a really great place to learn,” Smith said. “Just in my bracket alone, we have the first place, second place and fourth place wrestlers from state. Wrestling against these guys or watching them is a great experience for when next year comes.”