East Alton-Wood River wrestler Zac Blasioli can boast about something many prep athletes don’t get the chance to do — he went out a winner.
Blasioli won the state championship at 132 pounds at the Class 1A state tournament this season after finishing runner-up at 152 as a junior. The storybook ending to his special career helped earn Blasioli the Riverbend Wrestler of the Year award for the second straight season.
“Every Illinois kid is trying to win state, and if not they’re still trying to place and are grinding for everything, so being No. 1 really made me realize that I put the work and time in and it makes you feel good all the time, it’s not just that day,” Blasioli said. “It makes me feel proud and good about myself.”
Blasioli defeated Petersburg PORTA’s Trey Hild 7-5 in the state finals. He admitted the biggest change from 2nd place as a junior to reaching the top of the podium this year was his mental approach.
“Last year I remember before my finals match, my opponent Garrett Brachbill, he was laughing and joking around,” Blasioli said. “I had my mom with me because it’s always been me and my mom, so it’s just going to be me and my mom now. I was the one nervous, not laughing or talking, thinking this is the world. This year I was the one hugging my mom, laughing, down in the tunnel play wrestling with her and my opponent was stretching and jumping up and down. He was focused, but he was too focused like I was (junior year).
“My mom said ‘I’ve never seen you so calm.’ I told her, ‘It’s my last match and I want to have fun with it. I want to remember having fun with wrestling, not being uptight.’ I just let it go and really that’s what made me feel I left all my high school wrestling out there on the mat. I was calm and collected.”
A commitment to his physical fitness also helped lead him to the state pinnacle. Blasioli wrestled at 160 as a freshman, finishing 6th in the state, and was at 152 last season when he took 2nd. This year he was slim and trim and knew right off it was going to help.
“I actually thought 132 was going to be a better fit the first day of practice and we ran stairs,” Blasioli said. “I just felt lighter. My calves and shins would hurt after running and now I kept running and I felt good. I was energized and felt ready to practice and before I’d be dead and grinding through practice every day. I was faster, quicker and my body didn’t hurt.”
When he thinks back to that chubby freshman one word comes to his mind — “laziness.”
“I had the talent of wrestling, but not having the work ethic that went with it,” he said. “A lot of that came from I was in Class A and growing up in IKWF (Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation) you wrestle some of the best kids in the state. You wrestle the northern kids that go to 2A and 3A schools and I was beating them. Then freshman year came around I thought nothing was going to change. I kind of shunned 1A.”
Now Blasioli leaves EA-WR as its first three-time state medalist and only the second state champion in school history. He joins Josh Bennett, who won state at 106 in 2008-09.
He is taking his talents to Briar Cliff University, a NAIA school in Sioux City, Iowa. The decision to choose Briar Cliff was influenced by Oiler assistant coach Eric Huebner. Blasioli and Huebner have a close relationship and Huebner’s ties to the school helped make the decision for the EA-WR senior.
“Coach (Donaco) Watts (head assistant wrestling coach), he’s good friends with coach Huebner and everyone knows coach Huebner and I are really close. He’s changed my wrestling; he’s taken trips with me; he’s done a lot for me. I felt comfortable around (Watts) because of how I trust coach Huebner. Coach Watts was probably the biggest reason, because he was a real open guy and real easy to get along with.”
Now the new goal is to reach the pinnacle of college wrestling. Blasioli has his sights set high.
“I had a chance to be a two-time state champ and I didn’t do it and I’m definitely not going to let that happen in college. I just can’t,” he said.