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CHAMPAIGN -- One of the last things George Tolbert expected Thursday morning was to hear his name announced on the public address system at Assembly Hall. Fortunately for the senior from Hinsdale Central, he was there to hear it.
Tolbert came to Champaign to cheer on teammates Juwon Edmond and Brian Allen, who were participating in the Class 3A state wrestling meet. Tolbert appeared in last year's state meet, but did not qualify after placing fifth at the Shepard Sectional Saturday. Only the top four finishers advance to state. The fifth place finisher in each sectional is considered an alternate.
But Tolbert earned another opportunity anyway to wrestle at state with plenty of luck on his side.
"There was a remote possibility in my mind that I would be wrestling," Tolbert said. "But it was a big shock when I was called down there (for weigh-ins)."
New Trier senior M.J. Pritchard (39-5) was withdrawn from the tournament by his coach, Marc Tadelman, which forced IHSA officials to fill in the spot due to Pritchard's absence at 120 pounds. Tadelman refused to comment on Pritchard's status. Pritchard placed third at the Barrington Sectional to advance to the state meet with a 3-2 victory over Cary-Grove junior Logan Hanselmann (34-10).
Pritchard was the only Class 3A state qualifier who did not compete in the state meet when it began Thursday night.
On Thursday, as state qualifiers lined up for weigh-ins at noon, fifth-place finisher and alternate Dylan McElmore of Harlem from the Barrington Sectional was called, but McElmore did not make the trip. Officials then called for Tolbert and Joliet West junior Cory Winchill, the fifth-place alternate from the Moline Sectional. Both Tolbert and Winchill were at Assembly Hall.
With officials needing one wrestler to replace Pritchard, their names were placed in a hat. A judge selected a slip of paper with Tolbert's name on it.
Tolbert was not completely ready to wrestle when his name was selected. He brought a bag with his uniform, shoes and headgear, but did not have a knee pad or warmup sweats. He borrowed those items from Edmond.
With Tolbert in the tournament, officials re-shuffled the bracket. Hanselmann was moved into Pritchard's spot and lost 3-1 to Romeoville's Naquan Hardy. Tolbert was paired against Joliet Central senior Trayvon Zabala (43-0), who was a familiar opponent. Tolbert lost 10-4 to Zabala in last year's state meet opener. He lost again Thursday, 13-5. When Sandburg's Sebastian Pique beat Zabala 6-3 in overtime in Friday's quarterfinals, Tolbert was eliminated from the wrestlebacks.
"I did the best I could," Tolbert said. "I wish I had more time. It's a week-long process (preparing for state). I had two hours. All those nerves were condensed. I wrestled my hardest, but I had the opportunity to wrestle. That was great."
He finished his high school wrestling career with an 0-2 record in state meets, both matches were against Zabala. In his career, Tolbert was 32-16 in 2012 and 30-11 in 2013.