QUINCY, Ill. (WGEM) -- It took 28 years for the Quincy Notre Dame wrestling team to qualify four individuals for the state tournament.
They ended that drought last February and now this season they have repeated that feat.
The Raiders were void of any sectional champions over the weekend, but for the second consecutive campaign four of their top grapplers head to Champaign later this week in hopes of earning a medal.
The group includes 138-pounder Gage Stephens who made program history becoming the first QND wrestler to qualify for state three times.
"I've always tried to push myself to do something that hasn't been heard of. To go ahead and be the first person to do that means a lot to me, but right now I'm more focused on getting my medal and then celebrate," he told WGEM Sports.
Stephens says wrestling at state is unlike anything he's ever experienced.
"It can be pretty nerve racking, it's pretty unreal. You look up and see there's like 10,000 or 20,000 fans out there and then you feel pretty small. But as soon as you step foot on the mat all the nerves, all the noise, and all that kind of zones out, and you just focus on what you need to do."
Gage is joined by his cousin Darren Stephens who's back at state after a third place sectional finish at 120 lbs., as well as two-time qualifier Jeffrey Haley in the 195-lb. weight class and first-timer Blake Schutte who wound up fourth at sectionals at 152 lbs.
Both Darren Stephens and Haley claim having wrestled at Assembly Hall a year ago will only help this weekend.
"It's a huge difference," Haley explained. "Last year I had a little bit of nerves going (to state) being a sophomore and this year knowing what it's going to be like it's going to be a little easier I feel."
According to Darren, "This year I think I'm going to have a better feel of what it's going to be like, and I'll be a little more prepared this time. It's going to be more difficult than if I would have got first in sectionals and I would have been seeded, but I feel like if I keep my head right and wrestle good I should have no problem."
Along with the QND contingent, 10 others from the area, including Quincy High's Dakota Downs, have qualified for the state meet which begins on Thursday.
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