‘Owen’s just a special kid’: Uppinghouse clears first hurdle to state tournament with regional title
QUINCY — Phil Neally has worked with many successful teams and wrestlers during his 20 years as the head coach at Quincy High School, but as the 2023-24 season winds down, he knows his time to witness true greatness is dwindling.
Neally has had a ringside seat for Owen Uppinghouse’s dominating senior season. The QHS senior has won all 50 matches he’s wrestled this season, including three during the Class 3A regional meet at the QHS gym on Saturday afternoon. Uppinghouse has a 95-2 record during the past two seasons, and he finished third at 160 pounds last year.
He plans to be atop the medal stand with gold around his neck on Feb. 17 inside the State Farm Center in Champaign.
Thinking about what Uppinghouse has accomplished — and what he has yet to accomplish — makes the ol’ coach a little emotional.
“He’s a great kid,” Neally said, fighting back tears at the end of Saturday’s action. “He just does a lot for our team and our program. It’s a little emotional for me to talk about this, because in two more weeks, it’s all over with. I could sit and talk about him for hours.
“Going through 25 years of wrestlers, you hope to find the right ones to pick up your program and lead in the right direction. Owen’s just a special kid, and he’ll always have a special place here at Quincy. He’ll be in the (QHS) Hall of Fame someday. I truly believe that.”
Uppinghouse barely broke a sweat Saturday in his three matches, spending 3 minutes and 29 seconds on the mat. He pinned Belleville East’s Eliot Dahm in 51 seconds, Collinsville’s Cody Lutz in 75 seconds and Edwardsville’s Brendan Landau in 83 seconds.
He spent more time tearing down and rolling up mats and directing his teammates to do the same as part of his duties with being a member of the tournament’s host school.
“Setting up and taking down definitely sucks, but it’s the price you’ve got to pay when it’s your senior year and you get to wrestle at home for the postseason,” Uppinghouse said. “It was really cool. I got to see a lot of my family. It meant a lot to me to be at home and catch a regional title for myself.”
Uppinghouse doesn’t want to get caught looking ahead, so he says takes every match the same.
“This year, it’s a little bit different,” he said. “I have a little bit of confidence in myself. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. Every tournament I walk in, I say, ‘This is my title. They can’t take it from me.’ That’s been my mindset all year.”
Bryor Newbold also has plans on returning to Champaign in two weeks, and he took the necessary steps to do that on Saturday by winning two matches and improving to 42-5. He pinned Collinsville’s Michael Tongay in 3:07, then recorded a 7-1 decision over Edwardsville’s Max Miller in the title match at 175 pounds.
“I knew that kid the finals would be pretty decent, but I went in there and imposed my will,” Newbold said. “The wrestler who imposes his will wins 90 percent of the time, and I was part of that 90 percent today.”
Newbold won one out of three matches in the 182-pound bracket in Champaign last year. Reaching the state finals this year isn’t the highest goal he’s set for himself.
“I think about it every day, not placing last year, and how I want to place this year and make the finals and even win state,” he said. “Everyone wants to win state, and that’s one of my goals. But my main goal is to become a college national champion and to win a college national title. If your goals are higher than winning a state title, then a state title just comes along with it.”
Eli Roberts’ goal entering the regional wasn’t quite as lofty. He hadn’t won a single tournament all season, but he won three matches Saturday to claim the 150-pound title and improve his record to 34-14.
After defeating Belleville East’s Brennen Teeter by technical fall in 2:25 and pinning Edwardsville’s K.J. Jamison in 1:30, Roberts upset top-seeded Antoine Phillips from Alton by a 7-1 decision.
“I’ve been waiting so long to be on top of the podium, and it felt awesome,” Roberts said. “I know (Phillips is) a hammer, and I’m looking forward to wrestling him again next weekend in the sectional. Everyone kind of said I was going to lose that kid. He had an undefeated record and is a very good senior, but I just knew what I had to do.
“I had to dig deep. That’s what really what it came down to, wrestle as best as I can. When it gets when it comes down to the postseason, your record doesn’t matter.”
Also advancing to the Class 3A section, to be held at Blue Devil Gym next weekend, was Hugh Sharrow (third at 113 pounds), Wyatt Boeing (second at 120 pounds), Evan Wakefield (second at 126 pounds), Cooper Kamm (third at 132 pounds), Brody Baker (second at 144 pounds) and Todd Smith (second at 285 pounds).
However, the Blue Devils couldn’t catch Edwardsville for the team title. The Tigers had five champions and scored 234 points to Quincy’s 200. Belleville East placed third with 117 points.
“We didn’t accomplish our goal, and that’s disappointing,” Neally said. “But our kids wrestled well. I’m happy with the outcome. We have quite a few moving on to sectionals next week, which is a great thing. They’ve all worked really hard.”
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