They did it again. Byron, that is.
After dominating 3A football and currently state-ranked in basketball, the Tiger wrestling team added to the luster with a stunning 196-195 win over Lena-Winslow in regional wrestling.
Other than Le-Win and Dakota, no one else has won this regional since 2011, when Stillman Valley was champion. Byron has to go back to 2002 for its last regional crown.
It wasn’t out of the question for Byron to pull off the win. Le-Win and Dakota were both down from their glory years and the Tigers have always had quality wrestlers.
Still, L-W held a higher state ranking and had beaten Byron 44-21 in a dual meet. They also put whippings on other regional contenders Dakota, Oregon and SV. But, an individual-based regional or sectional meet has different dynamics than a standard dual.
Wrestlers from other schools can cancel out results and strange things can begin to happen. Other examples of strangeness are one-point wins that could have gone either way and lower seeds beating higher seeds.
For Byron, here were six weight classes that made the most difference in the final outcome:
At 285, No. 2 seed Jared Claunch pulled off a 3-2 win in the semis over a L-W opponent and then went on to win the title for the clinching point total. The final match was likely easier than anticipated, as the No. 1 seed from Dakota was upset in the semis.
Kyle Jones got a wild one-point win in the semis to advance to the 190-pound finals against a No. 1 seed from L-W. Jones, a 2023 state qualifier, really got the Byron crowd fired up with a pressure-packed win over L-W to keep the regional title within reach.
Carson Behn pulled out a 1-0 win in the 165-pound semis against L-W for more crucial points. At 138 and 150, No. 1 seeds Will Julian and Brody Stien picked up workmanlike wins over No. 2 seeds from L-W in the championship round.
Due to the wrestle-back format, Damien Palacios had to beat a L-W wrestler for the second time in the third-place match at 113, a 7-4 decision. But, if he had lost after winning the first-round match, no team title for Byron.
Altogether, Byron wrestlers won seven of the 11 contested matches against L-W kids and if any of those one-point wins go the other way, the regional title would have been Le-Win’s. That how close this was.
It should also be noted that one of the officials at the regional is wrapping up a 43-year career in the sport and that is Kevin Barringer of Oregon. A long-time friend of mine and fellow Rochelle grad, Kevin has been officiating the sport since he was 18 and is a veteran of many state meets.
Thanks for your service, Kevin and the excellent work on the mat.
Back to Byron, and no I don’t purposely focus on Byron, as some people occasionally suggest I do. Let’s face it. They got it going there.
Anyway, it was a lot of fun to see the boys basketball team host undefeated Beecher earlier this week.
Beecher won, mainly because they shot better — 41 percent to 34 percent. What I appreciated was how similar the two teams were to each other.
When you bring a faraway opponent in for the first time ever, you never know what you’re going to get. It seemed that Byron got a clone of themselves in how Beecher handled the ball and played defense.
Until this season, Beecher has never been noted much for basketball, but is one of the premier softball programs in the state, with four state titles in last two decades.
Strangely, this town of 4,600 and school of 350 has never had football.
“We have a few farm kids around that would probably be okay, but it would be hard to keep from losing when you start from scratch,” basketball coach Tyler Shireman said. “When you’ve never had something, you don’t miss it as much.”
For the second time in recent weeks, we’ve had local coach pick up win number 300 in basketball. This time, it was Byron girls coach Eric Yerly, who pulled the feat off in 13 years, to go along with a couple state trophies.
As Frank Swingel from Mt. Morris told me once, Eric is going to be a decent coach because of the toughness of being a Hall Township grad. Yes, Frank hails from Spring Valley too.
After playing football against Hall in the old NCIC, can’t fault that argument.
Andy Colbert is a longtime Ogle County resident with years of experience covering sports and more for multiple area publications.