GODFREY — The Alton Redbirds celebrated Senior Night Thursday at AHS by welcoming local rival Roxana and picking up a 45-21 victory.
Alton improved to 14-6 in dual meets this season with the win. The Redbirds recognized four seniors, Jaelyn Watkins, Connor Broyles, Alejandro Lopez and Alecquan Russell. Broyles and Lopez each logged Senior Night wins.
It's starting to sink in for the seniors that their prep careers are reaching the end of the road.
“When the National Anthem played and to think that was the last time I was going to hear it playing in this gym with wrestling shoes on my feet, it really sunk in,” Broyles said. “This is what 8, 9 years of training every single day and it's setting in. I'm really going into (regionals) with a chip on my shoulder. I got something to prove and I'm not where I need to be. I'm just going to start peaking.”
Lopez added, “My whole goal this season is just to get that state qualification and now that it's getting down to crunch time it's definitely starting to sink in. I'm getting a lot more nervous about it. In the wrestling room I'm realizing that I'm trying to push myself a lot harder. I'm trying to get to my peak, to where I need to be to get that state qualification.”
Due to forfeits there were only 10 bouts on the mat and the Shells proved they could hang with the Birds, going 5-5. It left Roxana head coach Rob Milazzo happy with his team's performance.
“These guys are coming around and we always preach that, it's all about the end of the year,” Milazzo said. “This is our last meet against a 3A opponent. We have a 1A exclusive tournament in Litchfield tomorrow and Saturday and then we roll right into regionals. I feel like we're ready to roll and we'll be ready for regionals.
“I give credit to coach (Eric) Roberson, he's always got his kids prepared and they do a nice job. Anytime you can battle with their kids and stay in the matches you've done something.”
Roberson was a little disappointed with the showings of the Redbirds in some of the matches. He didn't think they came prepared to wrestle with the Shells in spots.
“There were some individual matchups we would have liked to win, some key matches,” Roberson said. “I knew their heavyweight (Owen Robinson) was pretty good and (Jarod) Foiles, but really they stole a couple from us where their kids outwrestled us. We looked a little flat and lacked a little energy out there and I don't think we wrestled very well.”
The dual started at 145 pounds on a high note for Alton. Lopez pinned Roxana's Michael Cherry in 25 seconds to put the Birds up 6-0. They followed with forfeit wins at 152, 160 and 182 to take a comfortable 24-0 lead. There was a double forfeit at 170.
Winning handily was a nice confidence booster for Lopez as he mentally prepares for the postseason.
“I just make sure when I do my shots I do them perfect. It's just one more rep in my drilling session of my 1,000 reps,” Lopez said. “It helps me definitely.”
Alton's Reggie Rhines extended the team lead to 30-0 at 195 with a swift 13-second pin over Tyrick Holmes. Roberson was pleased with what Rhines has done as a spot starter.
“He's filled in for (Keyondrick) Russell this week and he's done a nice job for us,” Roberson said. “Reggie's a great guy to have on the team, very reliable, dependable, good wrestler.”
The Shells responded though. At 220 Brett Nyswonger won via a pin in 4:16 over Alecquan Russell and heavyweight Owen Robinson pinned Alton's Ryan Kane in 2:23 to cut the score to 30-12.
The Redbirds then picked up pins by Garrett Sims (106) and Nijel Ward (113) to push it to 42-12. Roxana got a 5-0 win from Blake Whylers (120) and a 6-1 triumph by James Henseler (126) to slice it to 42-18 and set up the premier bout of the night.
Broyles, ranked No. 7 at 132 in 3A, battled Roxana's Jarod Foiles, rated third in 1A. Foiles attempted to stave off Broyles aggressive attack early, but found himself behind 4-0 late in the match. Foiles landed a reversal to whittle it to 4-2, but that's how it ended, as Broyles held him off down the stretch.
“That was a heck of a match. I enjoyed it,” Milazzo said. “We've been working with Jarod. He went through a lull about midseason, but I think we've got him back on track. Obviously Connor is a heck of a wrestler. We never like to lose, but that was a quality loss.”
The dual wrapped up with a Roxana win, as freshman Alex Maguire scored an 11-5 decision over Watkins of Alton.
It was the final regular season dual of the year for AHS. The Birds now prepare for the 3A Quincy Regional on Feb. 6. The Shells are cast in the 1A Althoff Regional, also Feb. 6.
For Roberson, a Roxana High grad, it was nice to face his alma mater. He reminisces of his time with the Shells whenever the two squads meet, especially when it's at Larry Milazzo Gym.
“Once in awhile I'll think about being from Roxana while I'm wrestling them, but not much,” he said. “Once the matches get going I'm all Redbird, but it is still fun to wrestle your alma mater and I actually enjoy going to Roxana and seeing a lot of familiar faces and teachers I had and stuff like that. It's really fun to wrestle Roxana.”