Marmion Academy got life at the Class 3A level off to the best possible start Friday afternoon at one of the biggest and best wrestling tournaments of the year.
The Cadets sent nine competitors into Saturday's semifinals, and in doing so they also earned a commanding 33-point lead into the second day of the 22nd annual Moore-Prettyman Invitational in Barrington.
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The action resumes with wrestlebacks at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by semifinals scheduled for 11:15 a.m.
The host Broncos are chasing the tourney leaders with 111.5 overall points, with Libertyville next at 99.50, then Plainfield Central (95.50) and Crystal Lake South (78) rounding out the top five. Grant, Hinsdale Central, Joilet West, Wheaton North and Prospect comprise the rest of the first 10.
Defending Class 2A champs Johnny Jimenez (120) and George Fisher (132) advanced to the semifinals -- Fisher with a major decision and then a fall to set up his next bout with Gresh Henderson of Lake Zurich.
"I felt pretty good during my two matches," said Fisher, who went 36-7 last year and enters his final year with the Cadets with 101 career victories. "The team did well but I feel like it's important for us to go out this season and prove that we belong with the big schools, that we deserve a spot with the best of the teams at the end of the year."
Marmion's Alex Fritz is part of a superb group of heavyweights competing. Four of the top six rated big men in the state, according to Illinois Best Weekly are on the guest list at Barrington. Another two contenders, Oluwashola George (Prospect) and Chris McDermand (Libertyville) each found themselves in the quarterfinals battling for the opportunity to compete against standout Brian Allen of Hinsdale Central.
Allen, a third-place state medalist in his first two seasons at Hinsdale Central, didn't disappoint the big audience, winning with ease to send him into the semifinals. He'll face Fritz, who outlasted the George, a senior who made his first trip downstate last February.
On the other side of the bracket, Broncos senior Ben Calamari (37-9 in 2012) showed midseason form with a pair of falls, the second one coming in the quarterfinals against McDermand, to earn a place opposite Brandon Boyle of Johnsburg, who upended the higher seed from Wheaton North, Kendall Anderson, via pin.
"This was the first time Ben has been out this year, and he looked ready to go, and that's good for him, and of course, us too," said Barrington coach Ken Hoving, who watched his top man, Coord Wiseman, cruise past both of his opponents at 145 pounds.
Wiseman, a sixth-place state medalist and 40-match winner last season, faces Joey Gunther of Libertyville in the semis.
Libertvyille's Steve Polakowski tore through the competition at the bottom half of the 120-pound bracket to earn a place in the semifinals against Kegan Calkins of Wheaton North.
"I did a lot of extra work during the off-season," said Polakowski, who made his first trip downstate at 113 pounds last season.
The junior revved up his game after finishing second in a group of 120 at the Preseason Nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa, a result which inspired the Cats' star to stay right where he's at.
"After that second-place, I knew that it was 120 pounds for me," Polakowski said with a smile.
Grant senior Tony Cashmore, the top seed at 182, proved he belonged there after back-to-back falls. So did Cary-Grove sophomore Michael Cullen, who mashed both of his opponents to ease into the semifinals against FVC rival Casey Callahan of Crystal Lake South.
Callahan will be joined his lower-weight mates Nick Gil (126), Eric Barone (132) and Nick Peters (138) in semis.
Peters will take on Mike Underwood of Cary-Grove, who last January defeated Barone in a FVC final at 132.
Cullen, bigger and stronger after a marvelous freshman year which included a conference and regional championship and a fourth-place state medal, is ready to chase the big prize in early 2013.
"I feel that mentally and physically I am in much better shape to compete than last year," said Cullen, who finished 43-4 last season. "Last year at times I wrestled like I was a freshmen, making mistakes I would never make, and not making the adjustments that I needed to. But I have prepared much more than ever before, and look forward to the upcoming season."
Gil, who advanced due to an injury default by Noah Strong of Libertyville, is on a collision course with South Elgin senior Cory Pych, who broke open a tight match with Brian McKay of Johnsburg to seal his place in the semis.
"He had kind of a funky style, and he was so unorthodox in the way he wrestled," said Pych, who grew 4 full inches during last season but still managed to earn his first trip downstate alongside his brother Cory.
Neuqua Valley, without two of its top wrestlers, isn't among the top 10 for the first time since joining the field here. Connor Swier, ranked No. 4 in the state at 182, and heavyweight Andrew Geers, No. 2 behind Allen, should return shortly after helping the Wildcats' extended football playoff run.
Wheaton North's Kellen Cleveland made short work of both his foes and next faces Justin Fuller of Lyons Township in the semis.
Cleveland, who took his lumps all last season from state runner-up Mike Swider (now at Wheaton College), credits his former workout partner with his early season success thus far, and a hopeful climb up the ladder at the state tournament.
"Mike was a great teammate last year," said Cleveland. "We went after each other in the room, and the way he went about his work left a great impression on me."