For prep spotlight

An unorthodox wrestling style makes No. 1-state ranked Monte Gregory, right, of El Paso-Gridley High School hard to attack. Wilmington's Jack Narine, left, lost to Gregory, 16-10, in the 106-pound final of the Class 1A Olympia Sectional on Saturday.

RANDY SHARER, THE PANTAGRAPH

EL PASO — The high ground has long been prized by armies seeking the best defensive position.

Now along comes Monte Gregory, showing us that staying low may actually be the way to go.

The El Paso-Gridley High School junior, who is 41-1 and ranked No. 1 in Class 1A at 106 pounds, is among 34 Pantagraph area qualifiers for the state wrestling tournament, which begins its three-day run at Champaign's State Farm Center on Thursday.

Gregory has excelled thanks to an unorthodox style in which he approaches opponents from his knees. Foes appear frustrated while looking for avenues of attack.

"I've always been low to the ground and it's worked to my advantage," said Gregory, who started wrestling at age 3.

"When I'm wrestling, all I look at is from their waist down. If I can see where their feet are going, I know I can score off of that."

EPG coach Brady Sant Amour doesn't think such a technique would have worked for him.

"It's pretty impressive to watch at times," Sant Amour said. "He even took me down one day, he got around me so quick.

"His eyes are on that kid's hips and legs. He strikes at just the right time. Even a couple of our bigger kids have kind of taken on that style a little bit, too, because nobody really knows how to attack them."

By the time an opponent reaches out to touch Gregory, he's already in on their legs. He has scored 101 takedowns this season to go with 19 pins.

"He'll get three or four takedowns against a kid ranked in the top 10 easy," Sant Amour said. "He can attack from all angles on his feet."

Gregory's only loss was in overtime to Aidan Sines of Class 2A LaSalle-Peru, 12-7. Gregory had an early lead, but was dazed by a blow to the head.

"It was a situation where he was just kind of out of position and the kid took advantage of him," Sant Amour said. "He was definitely the dominant wrestler in that match."

The setback, however, wasn't all bad.

"That's one I can't get back," concedes Gregory, "but it makes me hungry even more."

A year ago, Gregory couldn't eat his way above 100 pounds, but competed at 113 because his older brother, Jaime, was EPG's best at 106, a weight class in which he went 39-10 and placed fifth at state.

Meanwhile, Monte went 30-11 at 113, but failed to get out of the regional. His 76-13 career record would probably be better if he hadn't missed most of his freshman year with a broken collarbone.

"(Monte) was giving up 15 pounds every time he wrestled last year," Sant Amour said. "I knew he was going to be good.

"He kind of struggled at times, but he was definitely one of our better kids last year. It was kind of a shame he was stuck behind his brother."

The brothers have very different styles. Monte is quick and technically advanced while Jaime was "kind of a bull," according to their coach.

Sant Amour believes Gregory benefited from training against his brother.

"They would go at it pretty good last year," Sant Amour said. "Jaime still thinks he can beat him."

This season, the younger Gregory does most of his training with 120-pounder Owen Stine (26-18).

"I've got awesome wrestling partners," Gregory said. "The atmosphere in that wrestling room is just powerful."

The No. 21-ranked Titans (21-9) have used that power to earn their first dual team sectional berth scheduled Feb. 20 against Beardstown at Gibson City.

In the past 12 months, Gregory has added enough muscle to become a legitimate 106-pounder. 

"That's definitely helped him this year," said Sant Amour, who labels Gregory enthusiastic and aggressive.

Gregory seems to be handling the pressure of a No. 1 ranking so far.

"I've had kids who have been ranked first before and it kind of shuts them down a little bit because they are afraid of losing that ranking," Sant Amour said.

"I don't think Monte has that attitude. I think he uses (the ranking) as a challenge rather than a curse."

Gregory's goal is to become the first state champion in EPG history and the fifth in El Paso history.

"I've been dreaming about it since day one," he said. "Every night I go to sleep, I picture myself winning that. It's pushed me real hard."

Gregory's 16-man state bracket includes 10 freshmen and three sophomores. He opens at 1 p.m. Thursday against Westmont freshman Brycen Baldwin (21-13).

The mat will provide a level playing field, but Gregory will surely keep things on the down low.

Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @PG_sharer

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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