After two years of wrestling competition, it's pretty obvious that the Northern Illinois Big 12, specifically the East Division, looks like it can be one of the premier Class 2A wrestling conferences in the entire state.
Just look at what the league accomplished in 2011-12.
Yorkville made it all the way to the Class 2A Dual Team State Final in Bloomington this past Saturday, losing to an All-World Montini Squad, which probably would have won Class 3A. The Broncos are currently ranked No. 27 in the nation by Intermatwrestle.com.
In the quarterfinals, the Foxes beat another NIB 12 East school — Sycamore, which was making its third straight trip down to U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
This season, the NIB 12 East was all over the Illinoismatmen.com rankings. DeKalb, which moved down from 3A this season, and Kaneland were also ranked.
Wrestling in the Southwest Prairie Conference, Morris always had to deal with powerhouses Minooka and Plainfield Central. Despite that, Redskins coach Jon Lanning says that as far as depth goes, the NIB 12 is superior to the SPC.
"That conference, it was going to be Minooka and Plainfield Central. Basically, third-eighth, ninth place is going to be for grabs," Lanning said. "I think the NIB 12 probably has a bit more depth, although the [Southwest Prairie] is getting better. ... Some of those teams were in their building process when we were getting out. [The NIB 12]'s probably a little bit deeper, I would say.
Lanning knows that on both sides of the NIB 12, depth is never an issue.
"Minooka was always good and Minooka's going to be good for a long time. Plainfield Central has great coaching, they get kids that want to wrestle for Plainfield Central there. You have those two teams, but beyond them two it's kind of opened up," Lanning said. "Here in the NIB 12 it's open to everybody. For us, it makes it a little more interesting. You could end you first, you could end up 12th. That's how much depth there is in all the different programs."
Morris didn't have the strongest showing in the league this season after finishing in a tie for second place a year ago, yet Lanning is confident that despite the depth of the conference, his team will be up near the top eventually.
"It's a good move for us (going to the NIB 12). It's a good, quality conference," he said. "It hurt this year a little bit because we had such a young team. We weren't as strong in the NIB 12 East as we were the year before. As the young guys stick with the program, you'll see us back up near the top of the conference at one point."
While Yorkville did take second place, the landscape has changed since the IHSA went to three classes for the 2009 postseason. That's part of the reason that NIB 12 has had the success that it's had.
"You can look and say well powerhouse Yorkville got second in state. They got second in state in 2A," said Morris athletic director George Dergo, who was at the helm of the Redskins' wrestling program from 1990-2006. "I'm not taking anything away from anybody. That's great, I love that. It's different. The 2A champion, Montini, I don't know if anyone in the state could have beat them, it's hard to tell."
Not dodging anyone
Counting the Redskins' non-conference schedule, Lanning says his team wrestled over 20 ranked programs, and thought that the 2011-12 slate was one of the tougher schedules Morris has ever had.
The Redskins went against teams like Wilmington, a perennial Class 1A power that was beat by LeRoy in the Class 1A quarterfinals, and Marmion, which took second to Yorkville at the Class 2A Marengo Regional, but had five individuals win sectional championships. Not to mention top 3A programs like Buffalo Grove, Lincoln-Way East, Machesney Park Harlem and Marist.
"I would say (2012 was) probably one of the tougher schedules Morris has had," Lanning said. "I know (George) Dergo had a pretty tough schedule (in 2005) when he had John (Dergo) and (Brenton and Brandon) Valentine. ... It does hurt our record a little bit, but at the same time it does help us."
Even though the Redskins struggled in dual meets, Morris still had three state qualifiers, and two placers in Kenny Baldridge (113 pounds) and Nik Countryman (170).
Lanning says his team will continue to wrestle the tough non-conference competition in addition to the NIB 12 gauntlet.
"As long as everybody wants to stay wrestling us, we're going to stay with the tough non-conference schedule," he said. "We've got some guys that are working hard in the offseason now. Come regional and sectional time it pays off. You can get a kid that doesn't get any matches and he gets into a tough match and he doesn't know what to do, versus my guys that were in a tough match pretty much every single time out."