GENESEO — Eddie Villalobos had his back against the wall after suffering a tough loss during his first match in the IHSA Class 2A Sectional at Geneseo this past weekend.
After earning a first-round bye, Villalobos faced East Peoria’s Tristen Westbay in the quarterfinals of the 138-pound bracket Friday evening. The Rochelle senior had a slim lead late in the third period, but a 1-point penalty and a takedown by Westbay in the final seconds earned him an 11-9 decision over Villalobos, sending the Hub wrestler to the consolation rounds.
With nowhere to go but forward, Villalobos surged through the wrestlebacks on Saturday, winning four consecutive matches including the consolation final bout to finish third and qualify for the IHSA Individual State Championships. The senior will head to Champaign for a third consecutive year, becoming the first Hub in school history to reach the state championships three times.
“I feel there’s a lot of pressure off my shoulders,” Villalobos said. “My main goal was getting to state after being out for six weeks with my back injury. My first match didn’t go as planned and I was upset. Things weren’t looking good for me, but I wrestled hard and I earned my spot.”
Villalobos (14-6) began his consolation run by pinning Clifton’s Nick Panozzo in 1:58. The senior then pulled off an impressive fall victory over Sandwich wrestler and regional champion Cael Schindlbeck in 1:57 before cruising past Sterling’s Mauricio Garcia by 17-2 technical fall to advance to the consolation finals. In the third-place match, Villalobos pinned Coal City’s Brandon Strnad in 1:42 for his third fall win of the tournament.
“That first match put me in a state of mind that I didn’t want to be in,” Villalobos said.” I focused on myself and blocked everything else out. I told myself that I needed this and that I want this, and I think that woke me up. I definitely think that loss helped me, and I realized what I’m still capable of.”
Sophomore Ben Harvey will join Villalobos at the state championships this year after Harvey finished second in the 182-pound bracket. Harvey (41-3) received a first-round bye before pinning Geneseo’s Eli Allen in 20 seconds to reach the semifinals.
Harvey faced Peoria’s Damar Bradford, a regional champion, for a spot in the championship match. With the match tied 2-2 in the second period, Harvey reversed Bradford to take a 4-2 lead. Despite conceding an escape to Bradford late in the third period, Harvey held on long enough to win by 4-3 decision and clinch his first-ever individual state championship appearance.
“I watched him wrestle the night before I faced him,” Harvey said. “I had a lot of confidence, and it was a close match but fortunately I came out on top. It was a good feeling to know that I made it to state. I feel like there’s more room for me to improve, and I know there’s a lot more that I can do.”
Harvey faced two-time Class 1A state qualifier Daniel Jezik for the title, with both wrestlers going all the way to the first tiebreaker before Jezik escaped Harvey to win 2-1. The state championships will begin on Thursday at the State Farm Center in Champaign, with Harvey slotted to face Carbondale’s Colin Bybee and Villalobos scheduled to meet Marian Central Catholic’s Bryce Shelton in the opening round.
“I knew the title match was going to be tough,” Harvey said. “That kid placed second at state last year, and that match showed me I’m right there if I can wrestle to the best of my abilities. It was tough, but I realized those are the type of matches I’ll have to wrestle for the rest of the year.”
Juniors Gavin Ansteth (26-15 at 195), Zeke Horn (18-24 at 160) and Keegan Davis-Carter (18-22 at 132) also represented Rochelle in the sectional tournament. Ansteth lost by 7-3 decision to Coal City’s Cole Garcia before winning one wrestleback over Sycamore’s Jaden Johns by 14-4 major decision. Ansteth then fell by 5-0 decision to Morton’s Alex Ford. Both Horn and Davis-Carter went winless at the tournament.