With the year coming to an end and winter settling in, Libertyville wrestling is really beginning to heat up.
Following its terrific performance at the high-profile Dvorak Invite last weekend, the Wildcats (12-1-0) proved to be a most difficult holiday host Saturday afternoon, defeating a trio of opponents to finish the first half of their season on a high note while setting themselves up for a strong second half.
Junior Kayne MacCallum (22-2) sparkled in all three of his bouts, including his last of the day at 182 pounds to help fuel a 40-24 victory over Schaumburg (10-7-0) and a sweep of Normal and Crystal Lake South in the Four Winter Break Quad on the 'Cats home mats.
Schaumburg, one of the top clubs in the Mid-Suburban League this season, went 2-1. The Saxons edged South 36-33 and rolled past undermanned Normal in their opener.
Crystal Lake South finished 1-2. The Gators came close in both losses and handled Normal in their finale 56-12.
"It was a very good day," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert, whose club will turn its attention towards North Suburban Lake rivals Warren, Stevenson and Lake Zurich in its quest for a division title. "We were very pleased with the effort and outcome at the Dvorak, and with guys like Kayne and (Chris) McDermand leading the way, we were able to earn 7 medals and ninth-place finish overall -- and that's saying something when you consider all 7 medals came from underclassmen."
MacCallum, who already has earned championship rings at both the Moore-Prettyman and Hawks Invite this season, came away with a fourth-place trophy at 170 pounds at the Dvorak and appears to be on the cusp of bringing home an even bigger prize from the Class 3A state tournament in mid-February.
"Everyone is finally certified at weight, and several of us are bouncing around at other weights in competitions like this to help prepare us for the final weeks of the season," said MacCallum. "It's no different for me -- because it's all about what's good for the team, and nothing else."
In the Wildcats' 16-point victory over Schaumburg, the hosts found themselves trailing after Saxons junior Luke Gruszka (17-2) opened things up with a hard-fought 7-4 decision over Austin Pettinato (12-4). It's the second time in a week Gruszka has defeated the state-ranked Wildcats captain.
"Luke wrestled so much better today than he did at the Dvorak when he beat Austin there (9-6), so that was big for him, and also for us," said Schaumburg coach Mike Levanti, who was without Sadarriss Patterson (160) and Austin Manetta (182, 12-6) for the day.
After the 3-point decision by Gruszka, it was all Libertyville. The Cats built a 13-point advantage (16-3) when Sal Ayala (160) and Austin Koziol (172) pinned their opponents, before MacCallum, up a weight at 182, recorded an impressive 10-1 major decision triumph.
Matt Stopka (17-5) stopped the bleeding for Schaumburg with a fall at 195, but the Wildcats were back at it with back-to-back pins from Kevin Barbian and McDermand to seemingly put this one away early.
However, the Saxons' strength this season is at the lower weights, and led by Gruszka (18-4), who finished seventh at the Dvorak, they quickly made things interesting by winning three of the next four bouts.
"Logan was terrific again today, and his work in the room helps inspire the young guys new to our program, and that's been a real positive for us this year," said Levanti.
Ivan Gomez at 120 pounds earned a 7-4 decision, and Tony Vezzetti's 7-2 victory at 132 helped offset a fall from the Wildcats' Steve Polakowski (126) --but that was as close as the Saxons got.
Earler, when Libertyville met Crystal Lake South, the Gators got a strong start with Eric Barone (138, 19-4) and Nick Peters (145, 22-5) putting the visitors ahead 7-0. But Pettinato, Ayala and MacCallum added 13 points on the board, and another 12 went to the Wildcats as coach Ross Ryan's club conceded forfeits at 220 and 285.
"It's tough to give away 12 points to quality opponents like Libertyville and Schaumburg, and I really feel we could have been in a good battle to win both duals if we didn't give away points, which has all been part of the growing pains this team is going through right now," said Ryan.
It was more of the same during the South/Schaumburg dual, an exciting one indeed right to end. Logan Gruszka, Eric Race (113) and Tom Palchek (126) gave the Saxons just enough of a lead to offset a major from Nick Gil and a pin from Barone to prevail 36-33.
Garrett Dziedzic (106), Casey Callahan and Gil (126) each had wins for the Gators against Libertyville, as did Brian Pence (20-7), but it wasn't enough in the Gators' 36-29 loss.
"Brian has been competing at a very high level of late, and in fact, I really felt he could have easily gotten (2) points in his match for a medal at the Dvorak, so he's right there and he continues to improve with each day," said Ryan.
Gil (24-2), No. 3 in the state at 126 pounds, finished fifth overall at the Dvorak.
Eggert was missing sophomore Joey Gunther (flu), who came away with a fourth-place medal at the Dvorak at 138. The Libertyville coach had plenty of praise for McDermand (20-4), whose recent work included a brilliant run at a Dvorak title, only to fall short 1-0 to Andrew Geers of Neuqua Valley, the No. 2-ranked heavyweight behind Brian Allen of Hinsdale Central.
"That division was loaded, but Chris rode out the No. 3 seed from Iowa City West (Colin Foerstner) to win his quarterfinal 1-0, then pinned the kid from Ohip St. Ed's in the semis who was the same guy who beat the No. 2 seed (Josh Hickey) from Marist, and he was right there with Geers in the final. So it's been a very good week for Chris, that's for sure."