The Pekin wrestling team has finished second in the Mid-Illini Conference three straight years.
With powerhouse Washington, two-time reigning Class 2A team dual state champion, in front of them in the conference, the Dragons are justifiably proud of their back-to-back-to-back runner-up finishes to the Panthers.
Making it four in a row will be difficult.
Gone from the Pekin roster are 10 seniors, including seven starters, from last year’s team.
“You can say it. We’re rebuilding,” said Dragons coach John Jacobs. “We have a lot of young wrestlers. And a lot of first-year wrestlers.”
But the cupboard isn’t bare, thanks in large part to the Haynes brothers.
Senior Brody Haynes is back and wrestling at 145 pounds. Sophomore Ryan Haynes, a sectional qualifier last year, is competing at 113. Brody was 25-9 and Ryan was 32-8 last year.
Senior Tyler Siddles has fought his way back from knee surgery that sidelined him for much of last season and prevented him from playing football this fall. He’s wrestling at 195.
“Tyler’s recovery has taken a long time,” Jacobs said. “He’s been very patient. He’s trusted the process.”
Other wrestlers expected to make an impact for Pekin are junior Evan Garland (120), sophomore Jared Dowell (182) and senior Noah Lamb (285), who dropped nearly 30 pounds to get himself into the Dragons’ lineup.
Pekin went 3-4 last week in duals to open its season.
The Dragons dominated Illini Bluffs 72-12 on the road Nov. 28.
Next came Mid-Illini openers Thursday against Washington and East Peoria at East Peoria.
Pekin squeaked past East Peoria 39-36 and lost 57-18 to Washington.
The Dragons traveled to Plainfield South on Saturday for a super duals competition.
They beat East Moline 45-33, but lost 40-35 to Normal Community, 51-16 to Moline and 54-15 to Normal West.
The most exciting moment of the week for Pekin was senior Kosmo Green’s pin of his East Peoria opponent at 152.
Pekin was down 36-33 heading into the match, the final one of the dual. Green’s pin at 1:57, worth six team points, gave the Dragons the victory.
“That was a great senior moment for Kosmo, one he’ll remember the rest of his life,” Jacobs said.
Ryan Haynes had a good day at the super duals, winning all four his matches. Three victories came against tough competition.
Drake Hawkins (120), Brody Haynes and Siddles all went 3-1 for Pekin.
“Moline and Normal West are good teams,” Jacobs said. “We have a lot of inexperience in our lineup, so we’re going to take their lumps early against good teams. But our inexperienced guys will find out what competing against good teams is all about.”
Pekin has only two home dates this season. It will play host to Mid-Illini opponents Metamora and Limestone on Jan. 4 and non-conference rivals Lincoln and Champaign Central on Jan. 9.
The conference tournament will be Jan. 27 at Canton.
Steve Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.