The high-school wrestling season has reached its midway point, but the real excitement starts tonight when the Western Big 6 Conference duals begin.|
For the first time in recent memory, there is no clear-cut favorite for the league title. Because of that, each dual carries significance in determining a champion. Three -- possibly even four -- teams have a chance to win the Big 6 title, so the next three weeks should be entertaining.
Here is a look at six questions that will make the Big 6 season an exciting one.
Who wins the conference? Back-to-back outright league titles. Fourteen consecutive victories in Big 6 duals. A top 10 state ranking.
Rock Island enters its conference slate with all of that aforementioned momentum, putting it as the favorite. The Rocks' lineup -- by their recent standards -- may not be as deep as the previous two seasons, but their lower weights still are strong and the upper weights are filling in nicely.
However, they still have question marks up top.
Moline is a serious threat, evident by its 26-24 loss to Geneseo last month. The Maroons have some inexperience, but you cannot count out the league's most storied program. United Township's middle weights make it a difficult team to beat as well.
Rocky remains the favorite with a lineup that still has fewer question marks than any other in the league.
What is the toughest weight class? Without a doubt, the toughest weight is 170 pounds. Three individuals -- Quincy senior Dakota Downs (Class 3A), Rocky senior Michael Cole (2A) and UT senior Markus Murphy (2A) -- enter this weekend ranked in the Illinois Best Weekly individual poll. Alleman senior Sean Wetherell and Moline junior Austin Vanscoy add to the depth at this weight.
All four could reach the state tournament.Only one will earn all-conference honors at this weight.
Who has the best chance to win state? From 2008 through 2010, the league produced an individual state champion each year. Since then, there has been no state champion and one finalist. Most likely, the drought should end this season with Rock Island 120-pound senior B.J. McGhee.
The two-time state medalist and Missouri signee carries a 23-0 record into the league slate. On top of that, he's ranked No. 1 in the Illinois Best Weekly poll with a national ranking. McGhee has the experience and accolades to reach the state final.
Plus, he took second last year after losing a tough-to-swallow championship bout against Aurora Marmion's Johnny Jimenez. If the Big 6 produces a state champion this year, McGhee is the top contender to do so.
Who is a darkhorse? Alleman 182-pound junior Connor Doak missed the last two seasons with a knee injury, detouring a career that was decorated at the IKWF level. Doak had tremendous success at the junior-high level, but has yet to wrestle a full varsity season.
Those inside the Alleman wrestling room believe Doak's best days are ahead, making him an a potential darkhorse. Many figured he would win an individual state title in his career, a goal that still seems realistic.
Because of that, it would be wise to keep an eye on Doak the next eight weeks, despite missing two years.
Will a Big 6 team reach the state dual meet? Alleman's runner-up finish in the 2005 Class A state tournament is the only time in the last 13 years that a Big 6 team has advanced to the state quarterfinals. Rocky, the lone regional champion in the conference, fell short the last two years at the sectional each time.
Realistically, the streak will continue.
Rocky has the best chance to win a regional, but must outlast Geneseo to get the crown. The Maple Leafs handed Rocky one of its three dual losses earlier this season, but that was before it set its current lineup. What may help the Rocks, though, is how the regional winner is determined based on a tournament format. Right now, they are a solid tournament team that is improving as a dual squad.
If there is any chance a Big 6 team can reach the state quarterfinals, it will be Rocky.
What is the most intriguing storyline? Not long ago, Alleman coach James Ealy and Moline coach Todd Thompson shared the same bench. Ealy's top assistant during a portion of his tenure as the Moline head coach was Thompson. When Ealy was removed as the Moline coach last spring, Thompson was elevated to the head coach.
Ealy eventually landed at Alleman, putting the two on opposite benches.
When the Maroons host Alleman on Jan. 24, the two former teammates will coach against each other for the first time. That is a storyline that should make that night interesting.
Wrestling reporter Daniel Makarewicz can be reached at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @danmak57
Big 6 wrestling
Moline at Rock Island, 6 p.m.
United Township at Alleman, 6 p.m.
Milan, IL Details
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