GENESEO — Billy Blaser became the 20th homegrown champ in the last 30 years at last year’s Bi-State Invitational.
This weekend, Geneseo’s senior 285-pounder looks to join an even more exclusive club, with only five previous Maple Leafs winning more than one title in the 44th annual Geneseo-hosted wrestling tournament.
Rock Island junior Victor Guzman, a Bi-State champion as a freshman, and runner-up last season, also is bidding for a place in history at one of the Midwest’s most prestigious regular-season events.
The all-time champion’s list includes 103 competitors to have claimed multiple weight class titles, with 99 Bi-State winners also netting their state’s title.
“It’s a great opportunity to leave a mark,” Blaser said. “Hopefully we can both add our names to the list this weekend.”
The competition again will be stiff.
Of the 20 teams on hand, six are state ranked including the local trio of Geneseo, Moline and North Scott.
Three others in Iowa’s 3A ratings — Fort Dodge and the Cedar Rapids pair of Kennedy and Prairie — also are joined by traditional Illinois state power New Lenox Providence, the event’s defending team champs and a tourney-best 14-time winner.
Multiple state-rated individuals populate each of the 14 weight classes.
“It’s great we’re back,” said Moline senior Jayden Terronez, with the five-time defending Western Big 6 Conference champs attending another tournament in Iowa since 2014. “It means a lot to all of us. We’re going to get to see some great competition, including some that’s in our sectional. It’s a cool event we’ve all been looking forward to for a long time.”
For Guzman, the gauntlet at 132 pounds includes Chicago Stagg's Class 3A top-ranked Domenic Zaccone, a past Bi-State champ and two-time state medalist.
Guzman, ranked No. 2 in Illinois 2A at 132, also is joined by fellow 2018 Bi-State runner-up Conrad Braswell (third in Iowa 3A for Prairie) and Moline’s Isaac Martinez (10th in Illinois 3A).
“It’s a tough bracket, but that’s the great thing about Geneseo,” Guzman said. “You’re getting to see some tough competition before regionals, sectionals and state. This kind of look helps you fix stuff and tighten things up.”
Blaser is counting on just that after receiving nearly a dozen forfeits so far this season.
“I was worried about getting rusty earlier this year,” said Blaser, who finished fourth at 2A state last year. “With the postseason coming up, this will be a good test to see if I’m really ready like I feel I am or what I have to keep working on here the next few weeks.”
The heavyweight challenges includes Josh Vis, the Cedar Rapids Kennedy junior Blaser edged in last year’s Bi-State final. Besides Blaser (No. 2 in Illinois 2A) and Vis (No. 4 in Iowa 3A), Moline junior Cobie Underwood also is state ranked (sixth in Illinois 3A).
“I know there’s a target on my back, but I look at it in a positive way,” said Blaser, bidding to become Geneseo’s first multiple Bi-State champ since current Leafs’ assistant West Cathcart in 2010-11. “I say to myself, `Let’s go out there and show people why there is a target on my back.’ I’m really excited, especially with the home field advantage. I haven’t had a chance to wrestle in front of a home crowd this year. All of our home duals I’ve gotten a forfeit. But that won’t be a problem this weekend.”
Terronez, a state qualifier last year, also is facing a minefield at 152. That bracket includes Illinois 2A’s top-ranked Bilal Bailey of TF North; Iowa 3A’s fifth-ranked Jake Matthaidhess of North Scott; and Providence junior Kevin Countryman, who is receiving honorable mention in Illinois 3A.
“I try not to worry about those things and just go out and wrestle,” Terronez said. “The big thing is just going out there and letting it fly. It’s my senior year, so I’m just trying to soak it all up and have some fun.
“There should be quite a few family members and Moline fans there. That’s exciting. Besides this tournament, we go to Sycamore and Prospect, and so it’s not easy for people to see you wrestle. It’s cool to have something of this caliber only 20 minutes away.”
In other weight classes of note locally:
-- Geneseo's Andrew Rizzo (Illinois 2A 10th) and North Scott's Deven Strief (Iowa 3A 8th) are among a whopping seven state-ranked individuals at 138. Among the biggest title threats is Providence's Josh Ramos (Illinois 3A 4th), who won the Bi-State's 145-pound crown last January. Thornton Fractional North’s Sincere Bailey, who finished third in Class 2A last season as a freshman, also is top-rated at 138 so far this season in Illinois 2A.
-- Moline's Charlie Farmer (Illinois 3A 4th) and Geneseo's Anthony Montez (Illinois 2A 7th) look to survive a 106-pound bracket that includes two other state-ranked competitors.
-- Rock Island's Michael Myers (Illinois 2A 6th) and North Scott's Caleb McCabe (Iowa 3A 4th) are at 126 with two other state-rated foes.
-- Moline's Andrew Burkeybile, currently in the honorable mention category of the Illinois 3A rankings, is in a 120-pound field with two rated foes. Fort Dodge's Carson Taylor (Iowa 3A 4th) finished fifth at 113 at the Iowa State Tournament a year ago. Bethalto Civic Memorial's Caleb Tyus (Illinois 2A 6th) also is a returning state qualifier.
-- United Township's Cade Harris is up against a pair of state-ranked competitors at 170 in Fort Dodge's Kaden Smith (Iowa 3A 7th) and Dixon's Hunter Pate (Illinois 2A Honorable Mention).
-- North Scott's Collin Lewis (Iowa 3A 2nd) is the favorite at 145 after finishing as the runner-up in that weight class last year at Bi-State.