Byron, Feb. 15 – In the many years the IHSA has hosted a state wrestling tournament, and through the years Mooseheart has had a wrestling team – a Ramblers competitor has never qualified for the state finals.
That changed on Saturday when Joe Feemorlu finished fourth in the 170-pound weight class in the Class 1A Byron Sectional. Feemorlu will be one of 16 wrestlers to start competition for the state title on Thursday at the Assembly Hall in Champaign.
"It feels great – like I made history here," Feemorlu said.
Mooseheart wrestling coach Mark Johnson has led the school's program for 14 years – and mentioned he was still shaking minutes after Feemorlu earned his trip to the state meet.
"We're very proud of (Feemorlu)," Johnson said. "Last year, we had four qualify for the sectional and we had five this year. (Feemorlu) was here last year and we have four other wrestlers who were here – and we hope to have those and maybe more here next time."
Feemorlu opened the day needing one win to qualify for the state meet. Byron's Danny Falconer took an early 2-0 lead and pressed his advantage to lead 8-0 in the second period. Falconer advanced with a 12-0 win that moved Feemorlu to the wrestleback bracket.
"When I lost that match, (Johnson) told me it was do or die time, so I decided to leave it all out there on the mat in my next match," Feemorlu said.
In that wrestleback, Feemorlu built a 4-3 lead on Dakota's Dylon Lydon. Then Lydon rallied to 4-3 before a Feemorlu reversal helped clinch a 6-3 victory. The top four in each weight class advance to the finals, so every wrestler in the day's final round was already a state qualifier.
"(Johnson) told me after the match with (Falconer) what I was doing wrong on the mat, and I went out there and tried to fix it," Feemorlu said. "It worked out and it felt amazing, but I knew I had to go out and wrestle another match."
In that third place match. Feemorlu fell 3-1 to Erie's Nick Williams.
"I think I did well, but there's always something to learn." Feemorlu said.
With five wrestlers in this year's IHSA Class 1A Byron Sectional, Mooseheart showed the improvement that has taken place in the program in recent years.
Pitted against the state's best sectional field, however, the Ramblers struggled in the decisive second day of competition. All five Mooseheart qualifiers suffered two losses on Saturday and were eliminated.
Mooseheart gained two victories in the wrestleback round from wrestlers who lost on Friday night.
At 182 pounds, Humberto Esparza recovered after falling behind 11-1 to Rockridge's Dalton Ray. A late takedown and near-pin brought Esparza to within 11-9 at the end of the second period. Esparza continued to press his advantage in the third period and pinned Ray with 1:07 into that period.
Mooseheart's 220-pound wrestler, Ricky Crawford, wrestled aggressively in his opening wrestleback against Matthew Mammosser from Rock Falls and won by win inside 30 seconds.
Neither of those wrestlers advanced further. Esparza lost 10-2 in the second wrestleback round to Ian Alberstett from Durand and Crawford was pinned by Dakota's Daniel Zimmerman.
"You come here and you hope for success," Johnson said. "This is a tough sectional. If you're thinking you're going to breeze through, you're going to find some obstacles. Those guys came across some tough wrestlers and they lost, but it was good to see them come back and win."
Mooseheart's other two sectional qualifiers – Jeff Leigh and Chris Schwartz – lost their first wrestleback matches and were eliminated. Wrestling at 132 pounds, Leigh was pinned by Rockford Lutheran's Michael Martin. Ramblers' 152-pounder Chris Schwartz was pinned by Byron's Jacob Ellsbury.
Schwartz was the only senior sectional qualifier for Mooseheart this year.
"He's a five-year wrestler," Johnson said of Schwartz. "He started wrestling when he was in middle school and he got the basics and now he's here. He met a couple of tough wrestlers here."