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Ottawa junior Cyrano Rayfield (right) wrestles during a match earlier this season. Rayfield finished fourth at last year’s Lyle King Invitational at Princeton, but Ottawa coach Peter Marx said he thinks his 220-pounder can place in the top three this season. NewsTribune file photo/Amanda Whitlock
PRINCETON — The Lyle King Princeton Invitational Tournament is celebrating a milestone.
When some of the state’s top small-school wrestlers descend on Princeton this weekend for one of the best small school tournaments in Illinois, they will be competing in the 50th edition of the PIT.
“It’s real exciting to be part of it, and I think a lot of my kids feel the same way,” PHS coach Steve Amy said. “When it started, there were only like four or six teams, so to be able to see how it has grown is amazing. It is the 1A tournament in the state, and really it’s tougher than the state tournament because our sectional is so tough that (top-ranked) kids don’t make it to state.”
This year’s tournament starts at 4:30 p.m. Friday and continues at 9 a.m. Saturday with finals scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday.
The 2013 PIT includes the tournament’s largest field with 31 teams, including the host Tigers and Ottawa.
The rebuilding Tigers will send out wrestlers who hope to learn and make some noise.
Princeton is led by its lone senior Ryan Gann (2-11 record) and junior Caleb Dickens (7-5) — both of whom figure to wrestle somewhere between 145-160 pounds.
Sophomore Drew Pranka (10-3) also could make some noise in the 145-160 group if his dislocated knee is healed.
“With a team full of freshmen and sophomores — not many of whom have wrestled in Tiger Town (Tanglers, Princeton’s youth program) or anywhere before — this will be a huge learning experience for them,” Amy said. “For the most part, this will be their first varsity tournament.”
The Pirates, however, have wrestlers who are aiming to place.
The Ottawa grapplers are led by 220-pound junior Cyrano Rayfield, a state alternate last season who finished fourth at the PIT and is currently 13-3 entering tonight’s triangular at La Salle-Peru.
“I expect Cyrano to finish in the top three, and maybe even higher than that,” Ottawa coach Peter Marx said. “He had a great tournament last year, and that was kind of the turning point in his season. He’s wrestling a lot better this year, and I think he can build off that.”
The Pirates also have high hopes for 138-pound sophomore Daniel Close (15-2), 132-pound junior Devon Jones (11-7), 195-pound junior Alex Fuentes (7-1) and 285-pound junior Sean Taulbee (13-3).
The PIT field is again expected to be top notch like last season when it featured 10 of the eventual 14 Class 1A state champions, three other state finalists, 39 state medalists and 80 state qualifiers as well as the 2012 dual team state champions and three more dual team state qualifiers.
Four state champions return in this year’s field, including Sterling Newman 160-pound senior Brian Bahrs — a two-time state champion — and Dakota 120-pound junior Josh Albers — a two-time state champion who in mid-December was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the prestigious Dvorak Invitational.
Also at the event is Byron 120-pound junior Nelson Baker — a returning state champion — and Newman 126-pound junior Jake Snow, who won a state title in 2011.
The PIT features eight No. 1 state-ranked wrestlers by IllinoisMatmen.com, while three weight classes have the top two ranked wrestlers and 11 of the 14 have at least two of the top four ranked wrestlers.
Also at the event is Mercer County, ranked No. 2 in 1A, as well as No. 3-ranked Wilmington and eight other teams that are currently state ranked or honorable mention.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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