Thousands of snow geese dotted the fields just outside of Coffeen along the route from Litchfield to Vandalia on Saturday, Feb. 15, but the feathered flocks weren’t the only ones ready for a pilgrimage north in the winter months.
Eight Montgomery County wrestlers were hoping to be northbound as well, to the Class 1A State Finals in Champaign to be exact, as the sectional tournament took place in Vandalia on Feb. 14-15. Ultimately, two would soar high enough to accomplish the task as Litchfield junior Will Carlile and senior Jefferson Thomas finished first and third respectively to punch their tickets to state.
The stories of both Carlile and Thomas had a bit of a redemption arc to them, with one facing a familiar foe who had stopped him from a sectional title the year before and the other hoping to make it out of the blood round for the first time.
Last year, Carlile took second at the sectional, falling to Dayton Hall of Mt. Carmel in the sectional final. He would go on to beat Hall at state, en route to a four place finish, but the Aces’ junior would again stand in between Carlile and a sectional crown in 2020.
After a first round bye, the Panther 132-pounder improved to 35-0 on the season with a 13-3 major decision victory over Darion Miller of Sacred Heart-Griffin. He would then defeat Austin McConaha of Monticello in a close 9-5 decision to set up the rematch with Hall.
In the bout with the Ace’s ace, Carlile would be the aggressor and would score a 10-3 victory to earn his first sectional crown.
“Dayton Hall is a really tough kid and I think he’s going to medal this year, like he did last year,” Litchfield Coach Coy Davidson said of Carlile. “Will showed up for the match. And he needed to. He looked great on his feet.”
In addition to the sectional title, Carlile is also closing in on a school record for most consecutive wins in a season, 39, held by Litchfield Coach Chance Davidson, who set the mark his freshman year.
While Carlile will be making his third trip to state, Thomas will be a debutante at the big dance in Champaign.
Last year, Thomas was one step away from state, but fell in the semifinal wrestlebacks, also known as the blood round. This year, the Litchfield 220-pounder would conquer that challenge, in spectacular fashion.
Like Carlile, Thomas earned a bye in the first round by virtue of his regional title the week before, then won his first match over Aiden Foster of Richland County by fall at the 2:58 mark. Thomas would lose his next match to eventual champion Adam Maxwell of Warrensburg-Latham, but came back strong in the wrestlebacks.
Going up against Adam Bass of Red Bud, who he beat 3-0 in last week’s regional championship, Thomas was near perfect in a 17-2 technical fall victory that came with 41 seconds left in the third period.
“It feels awesome. I’ve been working to get here since sophomore year when I transferred back to Litchfield. It’s an incredible experience,” Thomas said after the win. “Coming from last year when I lost in the blood round to coming back this year, ready to wrestle, and teching my kid in the finals. It’s surreal.”
“He showed up big. We had a game plan and Jefferson stuck to it,” Coach Chance Davidson said. “It worked out for him really well.”
“We couldn’t be happier for him. It couldn’t have been any more fun for us. Just seeing the look on his face was enough,” Coy Davidson added.
To put a cherry on top, Thomas then pinned Grant Albaugh of Tolono Unity in the third place match to widen his smile even more and improve his placement in the state finals draw.
While Thomas and Carlile are the only two wrestlers with guaranteed spots at state, another Litchfield wrestler will be the alternate, one who wasn’t supposed to be at the sectional to begin with.
Freshman Alex Powell finished fourth at the East Alton-Wood River Regional, but made it to sectionals after Auburn’s Gage Lopez missed weight at 106 pounds.
Powell made the most of his opportunity, beating Jordan Wood of Mt. Carmel by fall with 14 seconds left in the first period to move on to the quarterfinals. The Panther freshman would lose his next match to Memphis Lapatas of Goreville, but won his next two wrestlebacks, beating Josh Lenard of Benton by fall in 37 seconds and Chantz Jaegers of Harrisburg by tech fall 17-1, to advance to the blood round.
Powell’s final match of the tournament would be a rematch of the third place match at the regional, unfortunately with the same result as East Alton-Wood River’s Aaron Niemeyer pinned him in 26 seconds.
Usually, the state alternate goes to the semifinalist who loses to the third place finisher, who in this case was Shelbyville’s Calvin Miller. But Miller earned third by virtue of Niemeyer being disqualified after slapping the Shelbyville freshman late in the third place match.
Niemeyer’s disqualification meant that Millers’ semifinal opponent, Memphis Lapatas, would now be going to state, while Powell would serve as alternate. Whether he actually gets the opportunity to wrestle or not won’t be known until the state tournament, but his sectional experience has taught Powell to be ready for anything.
While the season continues for the trio of Panthers, five other Montgomery County wrestlers ended their season in Vandalia. Litchfield’s Ashtin Carver would join Powell, Thomas and Carlile in the blood round at 113 pounds, after going 3-1 with three pins in his first four matches. Going up against Vandalia’s Owen Miller, Carver would lose a close 8-2 decision to end his season with a 28-11 record.
Carter Powell would advance to the third round of the wrestlebacks at 126 pounds, with wins over Dylan Ritter of Richland County and Keenon Lindsey of Murphysboro, before losing to Mathew Olbert of Roxana. The Litchfield junior would finish the season with 32 wins and 10 loses.
Two other Litchfield wrestlers, Brady Davidson and Dylan Maxwell would bow out in the second round of the consolation bracket. Davidson went 0-2 to finish the year 13-9, while Maxwell beat Garrett Cardwell of Benton before a pair of losses gave him a 16-14 year-end record.
In addition to the seven Litchfield wrestlers, Hillsboro’s Jonah Harkins also competed at sectionals. After a loss to Bryce Lingle of Anna-Jonesboro, Harkins rebounded with a win over Bradyn Whiting of Harrisburg by fall at the 1:23 mark. Unfortunately, the Topper senior’s day would end there with an 8-4 loss to Tiler Worker of Vandalia, two matches away from a state berth as he finished 29-14 on the year.
While the others reminisce on the season that was, the focus now is on state for Carlile and Thomas.
“I’m going to go up there and represent Litchfield to the best of my ability and see if I can bring home some hardware,” said Thomas in anticipation of his state debut.
Thomas’ opening match will come against Joel Baer of Eureka, who enters the tournament with a record of 22-2. The winner will get the winner of Gavin Mason of Seneca (34-14) versus Gage Leake of Coal City (34-2).
Carlile’s journey starts against Joe Lashuay of Oakwood, who is 27-6 after sectionals. The winner of their match will face either Josh Fowler of Nazareth (24-11) or Marey Roby of Lena-Winslow (40-7).
If either Thomas or Carlile medals at state, it will be the third year in a row a Litchfield wrestler has been on the podium, with Carlile finishing fourth in 2019 and Cam Lee finishing fifth in 2018. Overall, the Panthers have 20 individual state medals, with Carlile having the opportunity to become the fourth Litchfield wrestler to pick up multiple medals, joining his coaches, Coy and Chance Davidson, and their uncle, Brady Davidson’s father, Thad Davidson.
Feb. 14-15 at Vandalia
Class 1A Sectional
106: Alex Powell (32-16) - def. Jordan Wood (Mt. Carmel) by fall at 1:46; lost to Memphis Lapatas (Goreville) by dec. 16-9; def. Josh Lenard (Benton) by fall at :37; def. Chantz Jaegers (Harrisburg) by tech fall 17-1 at 5:08; lost to Aaron Niemeyer (East Alton-Wood River) by fall at :26
113: Ashtin Carver (28-11) - def. Dalton King (Auburn) by fall at :43; lost to Chris David (Pinckneyville) by dec. 9-5; def. Caleb O’Linc (Monticello) by fall at 1:03; def. Logan Helm (Mt. Zon) by fall at 1:13; lost to Owen Miller (Vandalia) by dec. 8-2.
120: Brady Davidson (13-9) - lost to Elliott Stifle (Robinson) by fall at 3:34; lost to Gavin Mann (West Frankfort) by fall at 4:48
126: Carter Powell (32-10) - def. Dylan Ritter (Richland County) by dec. 9-4; lost to Tristin Garrett (Mt. Zion) by fall at 1:49; def. Keenon Lindsey (Murphysboro) by tech fall 16-0 at 4:00; lost to Mathew Olbert (Roxana) by dec. 7-3.
132: Will Carlile (37-0) - def. Darion Miller (Sacred Heart-Griffin) by maj. dec. 13-3; def. Austin McConaha (Monticello) by dec. 9-5; def. Dayton Hall (Mt. Carmel) by dec. 10-3 to place first
182: Dylan Maxwell (16-14) - def. Garrett Cardwell (Benton) by fall at 5:02; lost to Matt Kerr (Monticello) by fall at 2:43; lost to Nick Eby (Robinson) by dec. 6-4
220: Jefferson Thomas (34-7) - def. Aiden Foster (Richland County by fall at 2:58; lost to Adam Maxwell (Warrensburg-Latham) by fall at 3:39; def. Caleb Bass (Red Bud) by tech fall 17-2 at 5:19; def. Grant Albaugh (Tolono Unity) by fall at 4:52 to place third
160: Jonah Harkins (29-14) - lost to Bryce Lingle (Anna-Jonesboro) by fall at 3:27; def. Bradyn Whiting (Harrisburg) by fall at 1:23; lost to Tiler Worker (Vandalia) by dec. 8-4