BY JOSH RIZZO
Herald Whig Sports-Writer
Zach Abney wants to reach the top of the 170-pound weight class in Class 1A.
After finishing fifth last season, others are inclined to believe the Pittsfield senior wrestler has the potential to earn a spot on the top of the podium.
Ranked No. 1 by Illinoismatmen.com, a website dedicated to tracking Illinois high school wrestling, the target is already on Abney's back for the 2012-13 season. Those lofty expectations haven't rattled Abney.
"Being the last year here and everything, you set your goals high," Abney said. "I'm looking for first place and going (to state) and wrestling in that match. I'm going to get it. I'm working hard and have my mind set."
The Saukees last state champion came in 2010 when Devon Johnson won at 189.
In Pittsfield's wrestling room, there is little mention of the task ahead or preseason rankings.
"I don't think he looks at those things to be honest," Pittsfield coach Randy Butler said. "He works hard and tries to get better. There's a little bit of pressure on him, but we don't talk about ‘Hey, you need to win a state title.' The season is tough. There are a lot of ups and downs throughout the year."
Looking to build his confidence, Pittsfield freshman Wade Thiele has stepped up to help Abney train. Thiele, who will wrestle at 152 pounds this season, saw an opportunity to gain experience.
"It's helped me a lot because he's stronger than I am, faster and more talented," Thiele said. "So it helps me know what kids better than me are going to do."
Abney is one of several local wrestlers with high aspirations for this season. Quincy senior Dakota Downs (170) is confident he can make his first state appearance in Class 3A after falling short at regionals last season.
"I've been wanting to make it to state for my high school career" Downs said. "I think this might be the year I make it. Last year, I had a bad season because I got knocked out in regionals. This year, I have this feeling it might be the year. I've been training hard and working hard."
West Hancock junior Jack Lucie, who placed fifth at 113 pounds last
season, is ranked No. 3 in Class 1A at 126 pounds.
Titans coach Jonathan Minnis expects his wrestlers in the lower weights to be competitive.
"Jack's very, very aggressive," Minnis said. "He's a hard worker and spent all summer working with a lot of good coaches. He's bumping up two classes from 113 last season. He's gotten a lot stronger."
Quincy Notre Dame has three returning state qualifiers in Gage Stevens (132/138), Jeffrey Haley (195) and Darren Stevens (120).
Hannibal returns five state qualifiers, including Jake Borgmeyer (195), who finished third in Class 3 in Missouri and Chandler Fohey (106), who placed second.
Pirates coach Derek Greening said Borgmeyer could find his way to the top this season.
"As a sophomore he finished second, and last year he lost in double overtime in the semifinals," Greening said. "I think he knows he should be standing on top of the podium, and he's working darn hard to get there. I'm not sure there's anything he needs to do better. He's always been an exceptionally hard worker."
Abney hopes to live up to his expectations.
"Not any less comfortable then what I did last year," Abney said of the pressure he's facing. "You come in and work and take it match-by-match."