Last month, Hillsboro High School senior Jake Hefley wrapped up an superb wrestling career with a trip to the IHSA State Finals. Now, it's his younger brother's turn.
Gunner Hefley earned a spot in the IKWF State Championships on Saturday, March 2, with a runner-up finish in the Novice 101-pound class.
After getting a bye in the first round, Hefley defeated Brayden Pate of Centralia WC by fall at the 2:19 mark to advance to the semifinals. There he would beat Evan Francis of Gladiator Elite by a 4-1 decision to earn a shot at the title.
While he would be defeated by Coy Bender of Crawford County WC by fall at the 4:10 mark, Hefley's success at the sectional was enough to move him on to the state tournament, which will be held at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford on March 7-9.
Hefley's first opponent will be Cole Latimer of Dekalb WC, with the winner moving on to wrestle Ricky Ericksen of Vittum Cats of SKT. This is Hefley's first trip to state and the Hillsboro Junior Toppers' first qualifier since Tanner Clayton also made it in the Novice 101 class in 2017.
Clayton and four other Junior Toppers would join Hefley in the sectional, which was held at Highland High School.
In the senior division, both Clayton and Griffen Hughes would make it to the quarterfinals before bowing out. Hughes, wrestling at 101 pounds, would fall to Owen Miller of Vandalia by fall at the 1:29 mark, while Clayton lost an 8-4 decision to Braden Kelly of Granite City Wrestling Association in his quarterfinal match at 130 pounds.
The other three wrestlers all competed in the intermediate class. Kohl Fuller would be defeated by Aiden Evans of Vandalia, by fall in 41 seconds in the 62 pound class, while Tucker Wilson lost by fall at the 1:22 mark of the 79 pound quarterfinal against Brayden Learned of Team Mascoutah WC. Landon Zbinden would lose by injury default in his first match against Jaxson Mathenia of Waterloo, then would lose to Corbin Meyers of Vandalia by fall in 32 seconds.
The six Junior Toppers all advanced to sectionals by finishing in the top four at the regional, which was held at Lincoln Middle School in Edwardsville.
Clayton would finish first, while Hefley and Wilson were both second. Hughes and Zbinden would each finish third, while Fuller was fourth. Travis Lentz also wrestled in Fuller's class and was defeated by his teammate in the consolation semifinals 10-4. Earlier, Lentz won a quarterfinal match over Leland Pepper of Bulls WC by fall at the 2:56 mark, before losing to Avery Jamie of Bulls WC by tech fall.
Two Bantam weight wrestlers also competed for Hillsboro. Gage Vedder would finish second in the Bantam 4 class after getting a forfeit win over Korben Finnegan of Edwardsville and falling to Davin Chester of Bulls WC in the championship match by fall at the 2:08 mark.
Hudson Wright would win his final match of the day, finishing third in the Bantam 8 class. Wright would lose by tech fall 19-4 against Zachary Vandevord of Bulls WC, but rebounded with an 11-2 major decision victory over Gunner Pendergraft of Edwardsville WC.