ROCHELLE – Kaneland wrestling coach Monty Jahns could tell early in the season that Dan Goress came back for his senior year more focused after crashing out in the preliminary round of the IHSA State Meet last year. After a summer of work, it was clear that his work ethic had taken a step up and that he had improved in every facet.
But perhaps the clearest indication of Goress' improvement was that Jahns didn't want to get in the ring with him.
“He's that mean,” Jahns said with a smile. “I still did every once in awhile. It just takes longer to heal.”
Goress swept through the 145-pound weight division at the Class 2A Rochelle Sectional on Saturday, securing a return trip to Champaign for the state meet.
He led a strong senior class that sent seven wrestlers to the sectional meet, with Esai Ponce and Zach Theis finishing in the top four on Saturday to also qualify for the state meet. After wrestling together for the last six years, Jahns said all the senior wrestlers needed was Goress' extra push to step up to the next level.
“He's got that intensity about him, and it just carries over to all of these kids,” Jahns said. “You just need one to get going and then they feed off of each other.”
Theis certainly benefited from that boost. He didn't qualify for the state meet last year after finishing sixth in the sectional. But he won Saturday's meet, beating the third-ranked 285-pounder in the state according to llinoismatmen.com, Sterling's Curtis Lilly, in the final.
Just two weeks earlier, Theis lost to Lilly in the Northern Illinois Big 12 title match.
“I was coming in hoping for state, hoping I could make the top four,” Theis said. “I didn't think it'd be like this.”
Ponce finished third in the 132-pound division, and he'll head to the state championship for the second year in a row. After nerves forced him into an off day on Saturday, he hopes to keep calm at state.
“[I'll have] no nerves anymore,” Ponce said. “It's my last year, I need to just go out there and have fun.”
Goress heads back to Champaign with a different attitude from last year's trip. Last season, he looked ahead before losing on the first day.
This year, he knows that he has to have singular focus on each match.
“I was very disappointed with the way my state tournament tournament turned out [last year],” Goress said. “It's anyone's game. It's zero-zero, and that's the truth ... That's what I learned from last year. This year, I'm ready. Last year, I wasn't.”