EDWARDSVILLE — The Edwardsville Tigers are the cream of the crop in the Southwestern Conference for wrestling, but the Alton Redbirds made their presence felt Thursday at the Jon Davis Wrestling Center.
Through seven matches the Redbirds were within 17-14 vs. the Tigers, but ultimately fell 44-21 to SWC-leading EHS. In the other leg of the triangular Alton defeated Althoff 42-36. The split leaves the Birds at 10-3 overall and 3-2 in the SWC. Edwardsville topped the Crusaders 57-11 and improved to 18-2 overall and 5-0 in the SWC.
“Clearly they're an outstanding team,” AHS head coach Eric Roberson said of the Tigers. “They've shown that with the conference results so far, but we battled in some matches and came out ahead on a few. I knew the match of the night was 182 and we would have liked to get that one, but we'll have another shot at them there.”
The premier 182-pound match featured Alton's KeOntay Holmes, an honorable mention in the state, against the eighth ranked James Watters of EHS. Holmes raced out to a 5-1 lead in the second period, but Watters landed an escape and a takedown to cut it to 5-4 and ultimately pulled out a 9-6 win.
Roberson thought Holmes relaxed a little when he got in front.
“With a 5-1 lead he's got to be able to battle and stay ahead,” Roberson said. “Against a good wrestler you can't relax and he relaxed a little bit and he ran out of gas. The conditioning factor really came into play late in the second and in the third period. I was disappointed to see that because we've been pushing and pushing. We know what we've got to work on.”
Edwardsville coach Jon Wagner believed Watters' experience in big matches from throughout his career helped him overcome the deficit. He wrestled patient while clawing out of the hole.
“James has been in those matches before,” Wagner said. “He's been in some matches up at the Cheesehead (Wisconsin) where he was behind, too. I really liked the way he chiseled back and didn't try to get it all in one scoop. A lot of guys down 5-1 try to throw their opponent and end up on their back down 9-1. He got away, 5-2, chiseled back with a takedown and now we're right back in the match. I think that has a lot to do with his mat sense. He's been around wrestling for awhile and he knows how to come from behind, he knows how to win.”
Alton racked up 5 wins out of 14 bouts vs. Edwardsville Thursday. Nijel Ward nailed down an 8-1 major decision over Dylan Wright at 113 pounds, while Connor Broyles pinned Devion Yancey in 3:10 at 132, Alejandro Lopez logged a 23-8 tech fall vs. Baylor Montgomery at 145, Keyondrick Russell won 13-3 over Riley Scheffel at 195 and Alecquan Russell prevailed 2-1 vs. Cole Mikulait at 220.
“We knew we'd match up with them well at a few weights and be competitive,” Roberson said. “The guys that won were supposed to win, but we want to steal some too. That's what we come in here to do. You want to get some good matchups and have some kids step up and maybe win a match that technically they weren't supposed to win.”
The win over Althoff leaves Roberson at 298 wins in his career at Alton. He should reach 300 by the end of the regular season. If he does, he will be the third SWC coach to reach a career benchmark this season. Collinsville's Tom Blaha secured his 200th win earlier in the season, while Wagner reached 400 wins at EHS in '15-16. All three are SIUE wrestling products who wrestled together in college.
“I think Eric has shown some good longevity there and a lot of dedication to the program,” Wagner said. “He's dedicated himself to Alton wrestling and they've been real competitive. Tom Blaha has done the same thing with Collinsville and all those guys are my friends. We all went to college together. Everyone is backing their own team and working hard. We like what we do in Edwardsville and we're going to keep doing it. (Roberson) graduated a lot of good guys last year, but he's got some good ones coming back and every year there is going to be a good one and we kind of got the best of them tonight.”