CHICAGO | It's hard to imagine the expectation for a high school wrestler to be any higher than for those who captured their first state title as a freshman.
Perhaps expectations might go through the roof if a wrestler also won that first state title as a freshman with a fractured big toe, or if part of that season was missed due to a neck injury, but how many wrestlers would fit that criteria?
Meet sophomore wrestler Bryce Brill of Mount Carmel, big toe, neck and all. Brill, the state's top-ranked Class 3A wrestler at 145 pounds, defeated wrestlers ranked third and fourth in the state in successive matches last weekend to capture the De La Salle Sectional title on Saturday.
By placing in the top four at De La Salle, Brill earned a trip to state and a shot at another state title. Unlike last year, when he wrestled for Marmion Academy, Brill said he is totally healthy this season and looking forward to re-capturing that feeling only a state title can bring.
"Winning state is a different experience than one gets in national tournaments," said Brill, who now lives in Beverly. "The joy, the excitement, is something you have to feel for yourself to understand."
Last year, Brill missed two early weeks of the season due to a neck injury, then fractured his left big toe two days before the Class 2A state draw. He overcame the broken toe to win the championship match as a freshman at 135 pounds by major decision over Connor Bass of Yorkville. Brill finished last season with a 39-3 record. The effect of the toe fracture was compounded by the fact that Brill prefers to wrestle on his feet.
"It was hard for me to shoot and to plant for throws," Brill said. "Throughout those matches at state, it nagged me."
Brill transferred to the Caravan this season, joining first-year Caravan coach John Kading, who has coached Brill in club wrestling at Overtime Wrestling since Brill was 8.
"He's easy to work with," said Brill of Kading. "He's worked with me since I was a kid, so he knows where I succeed and where I struggle."
There have been few struggles for Brill this season. He enters the state draw with a 42-1 record, his only loss coming in the semifinals of the Cheesehead national tournament in Wisconsin during holiday break to Jake Short of Simley, Minn., 3-2. Short went on to capture the championship of the prestigious tournament.
"I try and not let that get to me," Brill said of the loss. "I just focus on the goals set for me and not worry about what other people have to say."
Kading said it is work ethic and attitude that have set Brill apart from most wrestlers since that first year at Overtime Wrestling.
"What is different about Bryce is he truly has a love for the sport," Kading said. "At practice, away from the parents, we can see that. And he approached wrestling the same way in the third grade as he does now."