Libertyville once again showed measures up nicely against some of the state's best team after narrowly missing out on upending Lincoln-Way Central in the 35th annual Hoffman Estates Hawks Invitational on Saturday.
Lincoln-Way Central held off Libertyville by 10½ points to capture the team championship.
Dale Eggert's team entered the final round leading the fifth-ranked Knights 193.50-187.0, and with a half dozen weights competing for titles, Libertyville seemed to be in great position.
Although the Wildcats came away with three champions, Central still managed to overtake the runners-up by matching the Cats with three champions of their own. Lincoln-Way Central also had five third-place winners to just two for Libertyville.
"What a great day it was for us," said Eggert, who watched sophomore Joey Gunther upset fourth-ranked Robbie Mikenis (L-Way Central) in the final at 138. Kayne MacCullum (160) and heavyweight Chris McDermand also took the top spot on the podium for Libertyville.
"This a very strong field here, and we were so happy to hear that Lincoln-Way came back again this year after they talked last year about not returning this season," said Eggert. "There was such a terrific variety of styles and wrestlers here, and it's something we look forward to each and every year we're here. To finish a close second to a team like Lincoln-Way is something we're thrilled with."
Notre Dame (165), New Trier (164.50) and Naperville Central (160) were bunched tightly in the race to round out the next three spots, with Geneva narrowly edging an undermanned Elgin club for sixth place.
The Maroons, who entered just eight wrestlers, finished with 96 points. They were led by the dynamic Jeffrey Morrow (12-0), who won his second straight championship here at 106, and his workout partner Zachary McCullough (12-0), whose gritty performance gave him the crown at 113 pounds over Jimmy Gallardo (Notre Dame).
"Those two are quite a pair," said Elgin coach Tom Stewart, who took over the reins this season and has made an instant impression on the program.
"Coach (Stewart) has been been a difference-maker in the room," said Morrow, who dominated the field at 106 pounds and produced a masterful performance in the final against Chris Sommers of Notre Dame in a 10-0 major decision.
"Those two have put so much extra time into their training during the offseason and in the room," said Stewart, "and they push each other every day. They have become two important leaders in our room, so it's great to see them have the success they enjoyed today."
McCullough (12-0) used a bit of magic to get himself back on the mat when an apparent match-ending injury to his right knee with 41 seconds left in regulation rendered him nearly helpless against Gallardo while clinging to a 5-4 lead.
"Coach kind of left it up to me if I could go or not," said McCullough, "and when we got back out there (Gallardo) got an escape to make it 5-5. But when he looked like his balance was off a little when he shot, I somehow was able to get a takedown near the edge to go up 7-5."
The junior standout was helped off the podium by his teammates after receiving his first-place trophy.
Streamwood senior Alex Curtis gave the Sabres' depleted lineup reason to celebrate with his run to a championship at 126 pounds after an impressive six-minute bout against Noah Strong of Libertyville in an 11-4 victory.
"We had only six guys here with a bunch of them at ACT testing, but it was great to watch Alex get the program a much-needed title," said Sabres coach Bill Peach.
"I just tried to stay aggressive all throughout the match, and it really paid off for me," said Curtis, a three-time sectional qualifier.
Ryan Berg (195, 8-1) and Luke Roth (220, 5-0) were the shining stars in the Naperville Central lineup, as the 2012 state qualifiers and good friends came through with hard-fought victories.
Berg, who was one match away from placing at state last season, beat Elgin senior Richie Santana (11-1) 3-2 to capture his championship, while Roth, a two-time state qualifier, outlasted Kevin Barbian (Libertyville) 7-2.
"It's great to win a title along with my friend and workout partner at this tournament, and now we just have to continued to work hard and get better with each week from here on out," said Berg, who won 36 times last season.
Naperville Central's Ben Williamson (7-2) was second overall at 132 pounds.
Geneva's Brad Mertens (120, 13-3) and Cody Murphy (182, 12-3) fell short in their bid to give the Vikings a championship.
Hoffman Estates senior Alex Tooren (15-3) gave the tourney hosts their best finish with third place at 182 pounds.
Gunther's 5-2 decision over Mikenis of Lincoln-Way Central was the biggest surprise on the day.
"Getting that first takedown really helped me a lot, and when I got those back points to go up (4-0) I just stacked things up and worked hard to keep him under control and the match close," said Gunther, just after beating the 2012 state place winner.
"I knew Joey wouldn't give up a 4-0 lead," said a confident Eggert, who also had plenty of praise for MacCullum, saying, "He's just a gunner. He keeps coming at you and never stops, and that's the way he came out in his final with (Paul) Papoutis (of New Trier), who is a very strong leg rider."
MacCullum doubled his lead to 4-1 after a deuce near the edge in the first period, then did so once again (8-4) with a late two to put away the Trevians senior.
"We are all very fortunate to have a coach like Dale Eggert, who prepared us so well with his technical and tactical knowledge as well as his ability to make us conditioned better than anyone else," said MacCullum, who missed the first half of last year with a knee injury, but came back to advance into the Barrington sectional.