As local wrestlers begin the chase to reach State this weekend with Regional action, Byron senior Nolan Baker will also be chasing state history.
Baker was undefeated last year while winning the State 132 pound title in Class 1A. This season he’s again undefeated wrestling up at 145 pounds. Even more impressive…he’s pinned all but one of his opponents this season.
During his high school career he has pinned 122 opponents. That puts him second all-time in Illinois history and that leaves him nine short of the all-time state record of 131. That’s an accomplishment that amazes even him because he doesn’t view himself as an all-time great.
“I don’t necessarily cosnider myself at that tier as like some of the guys that came before me,” says Baker.
So when he’s on the mats is he always thinking pin?
“The big thing I’ve done throughout my high school career is try to not overlook anybody,” says Baker. “Then the second I get in a match it’s a completely different story. Then you’re constantly thinking how can I pin him? How can I pin him?”
If all goes well and Baker makes it back to the State Finals that would mean he has ten matches left in his career. He would need to pin his opponents in all ten to break the record. It won’t be easy but for Baker it’s possible.
“There’s certainly great kids in there that’ll give him a go,” says Byron coach Mike Elsbury. “There’s no such thing as a ‘give me’. With our sport all it takes is one mistake here and there. It really does.”
Some people would say Baker was born to wrestle. His older brother Nelson was a two-time state champ, and his dad Bob has coached wrestling for decades.
Nolan has wrestled literally from the time he was in diapers. His first match when he was three. He faced former Dakota four-time state champion Josh Alber all for fun when they were toddlers. Baker still has a picture of that moment.
“You can tell I’m wearing a diaper in the picture because the singlet is so poofy.
So who won that match?
“Oh Josh. I’ll bet he killed me!,” says Baker with a laugh.
Another thing that makes Baker unique is his style.
“He does a lot of unorthodox stuff that I would never coach, but he gets away with it,” says Elsubry. “He feels it. As a coach it’s like standing back and throwing a match on a bunch of gasoline. It’s fun to watch.”
“I definitely have a core base of moves which are very different from everyone else’s core set of moves which really helps me get out of their comfort zone and hit them with stuff that they’ve never seen before,” says Baker.”
These final three weeks of his career could be magical for Baker, but again he’s not taking anything for granted.
“This year I definitely don’t have a walk in the park. I’ve got plenty of guys that are chomping at the bit now to be the guy that beats Nolan Baker. That keeps it interesting.”
Byron will wrestle at the Winnebago Regional on Saturday.