CARBONDALE — The 57th annual Murdale Wrestling Tournament hosted by Carbondale Community High School opens today at 4:30 p.m., with the first three rounds in pool play to determine the seeding for the quarterfinals that will start at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
“This is a very strong field,” said Carbondale coach Dennis Ragan. “There were a lot of weight classes with state place winners, undefeated records, state qualifiers that were very tough to seed. I’m expecting a good strong tournament and very good competition among wrestlers who haven’t met this year yet.”
Twenty-one state ranked wrestlers lead one of the strongest fields in history, led by four wrestlers who are ranked No. 1 in their weight class.
“We have a solid 24 teams and have added Lincoln and Goreville, who just started their program,” Ragan said.
The 24-team, 264 wrestler field features the defending champion and Class 1A eighth-ranked Belleville Althoff, and the 2A eighth-ranked team, Civic Memorial.
Belleville Althoff’s Chase Bittle will attempt to become only the fourth wrestler in the tournament’s history to win four titles after winning the 113-pound weight class his freshman year, the 120 weight class his sophomore year and the 126 weight class last year.
Bittle comes in ranked No. 1 at 126 with a 23-2 record, and if he succeeds, he will joins former Carbondale Terriers Zane Richards (2009-12) and Larry Long (1981-84) and former Herrin Tiger Jake Holliday (2005-08).
Carbondale senior Zach Williard (19-0), who is ranked third at 126, is going for his third title after winning at 113 his sophomore year and 120 last year.
Althoff senior Danny Braunagle, who comes in undefeated at 24-0 and is ranked No. 1 at 160, is also going for his third title after winning at 145 two years ago and 152 last year. His brother Zac is the top ranked wrestler in 182 with a 22-1 record, and is the defending champion at 170.
The Crusaders also sport third-ranked sophomore Matthew Minick (18-6) at 106 and third-ranked junior Max Kristoff (22-4) at 138.
The most competitive weight class is at 152 led by Anna-Jonesboro senior Arieh Hart, who is ranked No. 1 with a 20-0 record, along with second-ranked senior Garrick Walker from Chatham Glenwood (17-0), fourth-ranked senior Martell Boone from Cahokia (11-0) at 152, and fifth-ranked Carbondale senior Kolbi Caffey (17-2).
Boone is the defending champion at 145 and East St. Louis Senior senior Anthony King is the defending champion at 106 and is the ranked fifth with an 11-1 record at the same weight this year.
The next highest-ranked local wrestlers are third-ranked Carbondale sophomore Aron Taylor (15-3) at 145 along with fourth-ranked Murphysboro senior Ryan Chambers (7-1) also at 145 and sixth-ranked Marion senior Michael Cantrell (14-2) at 220.
Sparta senior Clayton Sheldon comes in undefeated at 20-0, as does Civic Memorial freshman Caleb Tyus (20-0) at 113 and Mt. Zion junior Kooper Loehr (13-0) at 120.
Harrisburg also features junior Kody Cavender (13-1) at 138, junior Landon Hicks (15-2) at 120, senior Chandler Bowling (13-4) at 145 and junior Jimmy Hicks (15-5) at 152.
West Frankfort brings in a strong team led by senior Lucas Willmore (19-7) at 120, sophomore Connor Eaton (17-4) at 170 and senior Brandyn Kahl (17-3) at 195.
Other outstanding local wrestlers are Marion sophomore Gage Owens (12-2) at 106 and Carterville freshman Zeke Hernandez (7-0) at 138.
The tournament also features three female wrestlers in Althoff senior Grace Kristoff (3-3) at 152, who along with her brother Max are the grandchildren of former CCHS all-state wrestler Larry Kristoff, along with Harrisburg junior Autumn Millis (5-3) at 113 and Hart’s younger sister, freshman Amiyah Hart, at 106.