The beauty of high school regional wrestling third-place matches is the ugly reality that the loser's season ends.
With so much at stake, entrants go all out to become one of the three qualifiers in each of the 14 weight classes for the Feb. 10 and 11 sectionals.
Most of the weight classes in Saturday's Prairie Central Class AA Regional at Fairbury are expected to have eight or nine entrants.
"We have a really solid regional," said Lincoln coach Brad Gardner.
Bloomington, ranked 25th in the state by The Illinois Best Weekly, is the favorite followed by Normal Community.
Rounding out the field are Normal West, University High, Canton, Morton, Pekin and the host school. Saturday's first session begins at 10 a.m. and the second at 2 p.m.
BHS has won seven straight regionals.
"They fill every weight class with respectable kids," said NCHS coach Dave Baeten.
The Purple Raiders' run to Saturday's Big 12 Conference Tournament title saw their lowest two scorers combine for 10 points while the five lowest scorers for runner-up NCHS combined for 5.5 points.
"Their freshmen stepped up for them," Baeten said.
BHS has five seniors who have each won two regional titles: Tyler Johnson (26-1 at 103), Justin Hale (33-2 at 152), Nick Alvis (24-2 at 160), Steve Robbins (8-2 at 189) and Brian Temple (33-6 at 215).
"A few more improvements this week will be good," said BHS coach Mark Gardner.
Other returning regional champions are Corey Esparza of NCHS (29-5 at 119) and Danny Hafley of Normal West (29-1 at 275).
Hafley's title Saturday helped the Wildcats grab fourth in the Big 12.
"The team has set new standards for West with 15 dual wins in a season and by placing fourth or better in every tournament this season," said Wildcat coach Jim Eaton.
Baeten considers 119 to be a loaded class with the presence of stars such as Lincoln's Sam McShane (31-7), Prairie Central's Andrew Street (26-10), Morton's Eric Prichard and Canton's John Wilcoxen.
"I think if you win this regional (at 119), it will go a long way to helping you place in the sectional," said Baeten, whose regional feeds into the Normal West Sectional.
Brad Gardner calls 119 the regional's toughest division.
"If he (McShane) brings his 'A' game, he'll move on," Gardner said. "He has to have himself together."
The regional team champion advances to the Bloomington Dual Team Sectional to face the Minooka Regional winner at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21.
Baeten hopes to advance eight individuals including Casey Vercruysse (25-7 at 135) and Austin Kull (22-1 at 171).
"One-thirty is loaded, which is why we bumped Vercruysse to 135," Baeten said.
The field at 130 figures to include Prairie Central's Kiel Huling (25-10), BHS' Ben Gartner (29-12) and Lincoln's Cody Aughton (22-14).
Qualifying spots also will be hard to come by at 103 unless you are BHS' No. 5-state ranked Johnson or No. 10-ranked Tyler Winland of NCHS (26-4). Johnson was named the Big 12's outstanding wrestler.
U High's outlook dimmed when sophomore Joe Waropay (24-6 at 152) suffered a sprained ankle at the Jan. 20-21 Orion Invitational and was lost for the season.
On the positive side, Pioneer coach Mike Troll is enthused about the progress of freshman Max Hayden (11-6 at 145) and sophomore Cory Olsen (275).
U High and Prairie Central are making their Class AA regional debuts, U High because of the Illinois High School Association's new enrollment multiplier for non-boundaried schools and Prairie Central because of its growth since adding Chenoa.