Conant dominated the proceedings on its home mats Tuesday night to record a 57-18 victory against Round Lake in nonconference action to mark the start of the wrestling season.
The Cougars opened fast and closed strong in advance of the annual mega-tournament they will host this weekend. It begins at 11 a.m. Friday.
"It was a solid first night for us," said Conant coach Chad Hay, who begins his third year at the helm. "One of our top new guys (Danny Madonia) wrestled very well and up a weight against their top kid (Danny Arteaga), and even though he fell just short, he got things started on a real positive note and we never really let up after that."
Conant state medalist Bobby Alexander, who won 38 matches en route to his fifth-place finish at 106 pounds last February, followed Madonia's 1-0 loss with the first of 5 falls fro Conant. Zack Davis (126), a sectional qualifier last season, also pinned his opponent at 4:32 to help put the hosts in control for good against coach Mike Hruska's club.
"(Conant) is a very good team, and one that was nearly a regional champ last season, and looks to me to be on course to be there again when the end of the season rolls around," said Hruska, who finished up a brilliant career at Conant in the early 80's with consecutive state medals. "We like to open the season against Conant because we know they're a quality program, and we get to see right away just where we're at and what we need to go back and work on."
Hruska welcomes back five veterans from last season, including the aforementioned Arteaga, who was the lone sectional qualifier for the Panthers in his first varsity season.
The sophomore held off Madonia in the last 90 seconds of regulation after taking the lead with an escape at three minutes.
"We thought (Arteaga) could have been hit with another stall in the last 1½ minutes, but Danny wrestled really well against a 28-match winner and sectional qualifier," said Hay, who has two strong 106-pounders in Madonia and Kyle Peisker on his roster this season.
Gus Karpanos was dominant in his 132-pound bout, which ended with a technical fall at 3:50 to push the Cougars' lead to 17-3 and started a 19-0 run by the hosts, which included victories from Griff Rose (145) and sophomore Dan Andress (160) sandwiched around 6-point forfeits for Ben Clifford (138) and captain Mitch Alexander (152).
"I really like the way this team looks this season," said Alexander, who overcame an injury-filled season to come within one victory of advancing to the state tournament last winter. "From 106 through heavyweight, we're strong, and if we stay healthy and continue to work hard, there's no reason why we can't get all 14 through and into the sectionals this year."
Panthers big men Zach Williamson, Joel Greenhill and Ryan McCord breathed a little life into the Round Lake attack with a pair of falls and a 3-2 decision from McCord over Eddie Rebacz at 195 to bring the visitors a little closer at 39-18.
"Zach is one of our returning starters from last year, and Joel, who tore the ligaments in his leg last season, is just a sophomore, so this is really his first season with us, but he started well tonight, didn't he?" said Hruska.
Tyler LaBarbera (220), who won 20 times last year as a sectional qualifier, was impressive during his short time on the mat which resulted in a fall at 1:07 to start a pin frenzy at the end for the Cougars. Andrew Zerfas and Peisker, a freshman, recorded pins at 285, then 106 to end the night.
"I was real happy with (Zerfas') effort because it was his first varsity match, and wrestling at that weight as a sophomore is a very difficult thing to do," said Hay. "This is an exciting week, but an exhausting one as well with our season opener tonight, the Thanksgiving holiday, then two big days of competition at our tournament. I guess we'll know more about our team when the weekend comes to an end."
The same goes for Round Lake, according to Hruska.
"We've got Vernon Hills tomorrow night, then we're at their mega-dual on the weekend, where we'll get seven more matches.
"Then the real work begins after we sort things out after a long week of wrestling. But even with so many newbies this season, if they work hard in practice, and give 110 percent effort for six minutes in their matches, which is what we ask of all of them, we'll be fine later on."