COLLINSVILLE — With Thursday's 45-28 win over Collinsville, the Alton Redbirds are off to their best start in the Southwestern Conference under head coach Eric Roberson.
The Birds moved to 8-1 overall and 3-0 in the SWC with the victory over the Kahoks. Roberson has directed the wrestling program since it returned to Alton in 1996.
Last week's triumph over the Granite City Warriors, the first for AHS since 1938, helped the cause. Roberson was quick to point out the conference schedule is far from over with top-notch teams lurking in the New Year.
“It's a great start, but we've got some teams coming quick,” Roberson said. “Belleville West is on the horizon, not to mention Edwardsville and O'Fallon. The second half of the season in conference is going to be brutal, but all we can do is get them ready.”
The Redbirds were ready on Thursday, utilizing six pins to log some important bonus points in the win. The deciding win via pin came from sophomore Nolan Wosczynski, who stuck Collinsville's Tawon Swinson in 53 seconds at 160 pounds.
“I was nervous that I was going to lose and cost us the match, but then I just started calming myself down,” Wosczynski said. “I think I'm doing better since the beginning of the year. I lost my first two matches and now I'm starting to get pins and work harder.”
The other Alton pins came from Garrett Sims (106 in 1:40), Courtney Wilson (126 in 34 seconds), Connor Broyles (132 in 1:16), Alejandro Lopez (152 in 5:27) and freshman Andre Shaw (182 in 3:26) in his first varsity match.
“Collinsville, (Tom) Blaha has already got his team ready for us,” Roberson said. “We've had quite a rivalry over the last few years, we've beaten them, they've beaten us. To get those bonus points, I didn't expect so many pins on our end and it certainly did help widen the gap in the team score, but I just knew that was going to be a tight dual.”
Broyles pin over Jake Blaha of the Kahoks at 132 was a big swing. Broyles is ranked 11th in the state at 138, while Blaha is a honorable mention at 132 in the state. Both wrestlers only had one loss entering Thursday. Collinsville coach Tom Blaha thought it was a great learning experience for his grappler.
“Their kid Broyles was a good matchup for my son and we'll get better because of that,” Tom Blaha said.
Broyles admitted every point is crucial in SWC duals, emphasizing the importance of the bonus points.
“One match can mean the whole dual,” Broyles said. “Our 120 (Hunter Hobbs) was one point away from getting a tech on him, but he didn't give it up and you never know if that one point could make up the entire dual. That's why the biggest measure is your amount of heart. Every conference match is huge for us and we go out there and put everything on the line. That's all we ask of our guys.”
Roberson jockeyed his lineup around to pick up extra points, too. He bumped up his wrestlers in the first three matches of the night, moving KeOntay Holmes to 195, Keondrick Russell to 220 and Alecquan Russell to 285. He also bumped Lopez from 145 to 152 later on. All those matches resulted in wins.
“We made some moves,” Roberson said. “In the heavies I bumped everybody up to get the best matchups and thank goodness it worked out for us. I was just trying to maximize our number of wins in the 14 matches. (Lopez) was another thing I thought about doing. I wasn't sure I was going to do it, but I just wanted to get a favorable matchup for the dual meet score. I stress to these guys that our dual meets aren't about your individual success. We just do what we can do to win as a team.”
The Redbirds won in spite of forfeiting matches at 113, 145 and 170. They were open at 170, Nijel Ward at 113 was out and bumping up Lopez left the void at 145.
Blaha was disheartened by the forfeits from AHS. He wanted to see matches in those holes.
“The disheartening thing is three of my kids didn't get to wrestle all because someone wants to win a dual meet,” Blaha said. “I get it, it's important, but I'm here to get matches for my kids for the future. We all like to win, but I also like to get my kids matches so when you start missing matches because people are bumping around to win duals it's disheartening and there would have been some good matchups.
“Coach Roberson does a great job with his program and he likes to win duals and I like to get kids ready for state, that's what we're trying to do. I just want everybody to get a match.”
Alton raced out to a 15-0 lead through four matches, but led just 27-22 before Lopez and Wosczynski logged consecutive pins at 152 and 160 to seal the deal.
Collinsville's wins on the mat came via a 15-1 major decision by Jevon Pargo at 120 and a pin in 3:56 by Cole Zabala at 138.
Both the Redbirds and Kahoks now turn their attention to the Mascoutah Invite, which begins Friday and concludes on Saturday.