The Western Big Six Conference is changing things up for its wrestling season finale.
For the first time in WB6 history, individuals will compete for a conference crown in a traditional tournament format. In years past, the six schools wrestled a series of duals against each other.
With the addition of Sterling and Geneseo to the WB6 lineup, the conference decided to move to a bracketed tournament to determine all-conference honors and championships, with Geneseo hosting the first-ever event Saturday.
"It will be a fun event, but I have a wait-and-see attitude about it," Quincy High School coach Phil Neally said. "It's a little different because you won't go through a voting process. You don't have to worry about that. You just go and if you're the champ, you're the champ, and if you're second, you're honorable mention."
It will be a competitive field as 17 total wrestlers are ranked in the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association rankings.
The team championship will be equally competitive as five of the WB6 teams are also ranked by the IWCOA, with Geneseo at No. 7 in Class 2A, Rock Island No. 14 in 2A, Sterling No. 20 in 2A, Rock Island Alleman No. 19 in Class 1A and Moline an honorable mention in Class 3A.
"I think we are a pretty strong conference of wrestling," Galesburg coach Greg Leibach said. "To win a medal from Saturday's tournament will be something to be proud of."
Blue Devils junior Thomas Culp is dead-set on bringing home a medal. Culp is currently ranked No. 5 at 182 pounds in Class 3A, the only ranked wrestler at that weight class in Saturday's field and he is the third-highest ranked wrestler in the WB6 regardless of weight class or classification.
"I'm really hoping I can go out there and show my team I'm the best in the conference," Culp said. "I want to support my school, get Quincy some Western Big Six Conference champs. Maybe we can even get a team title this year. That would be great."
Last season, Culp finished the regular season with four victories in the WB6 quadrangular, and he used that momentum to make a run to the Class 3A state quarterfinals. He's hoping for a similar result this season.
"This is the last of anything before postseason," Culp said. "I've got to go out there and I've got to win. If I don't win, it will get me in a bad mood for the whole week and I won't wrestle as well. If I win, that will set a good tone for the whole week. We can get some good practices in and hopefully a good tournament next weekend."
The lineup at heavyweight figures to be one of the most competitive of the tournament, and QHS senior Xai Benjamin will be in the mix. Benjamin will have to fight through five ranked wrestlers, headlined by United Township's Simon Wilson, who is currently No. 2 in Class 2A.
"I just have to go in there not too cocky and just wrestle," Benjamin said.
Benjamin has the confidence of a victory over one of his ranked opponents, too. Last weekend in a tournament in Clinton, Iowa, Benjamin defeated Sterling's Cade Lyons in a 4-2 sudden-victory decision. Lyons is ranked No. 7 in Class 2A, the second-highest ranking for any WB6 heavyweight.
"I just have to keep my head high," Benjamin said. "I'm coming off of a win, and I've got to keep rolling."
No matter the results, the Blue Devils are using the weekend as a primer for next week's regionals.
"I would say right now we are trying to gear ourselves up for the postseason," Neally said. "When we are in the room for practice, we are going after it and trying to make them work a little harder. We're going an hour and 15 minutes and really getting after things, just mentally preparing them."