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posted: 1/5/2013 9:48 PM

Conant earns repeat title at Leyden

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By Mike Garofola
Daily Herald Correspondent

Bobby Alexander and Ben Clifford stole the show, and they got plenty of support from their Conant teammates as the Cougars earned the team championship at the 37th annual Leyden Invitational on Saturday for the second consecutive year.

The Conant duo battered the competition to give coach Chad Hay reason to cheer a pair of individual champs. Nine other Cougars medaled to ensure a 27-point advantage (189.5-162.5) over runner-up Oak Forest.

Stevenson, led by tourney Outstanding Wrestler Justin Weber, impressed with a third-place finish with 156.50 points.

Tourney host Leyden and Richards both finished with 142 points to round out the top five, with Vernon Hills and Lakes, each with one individual champion, at sixth and seventh.

"Obviously when you earn 11 medals, it's a good day," said Hay, who last January watched his squad edge Leyden by 9 points to capture the team title. "Bobby and Ben looked very good today, but it was our overall depth that helped us put Oak Forest away and build enough of a lead."

The sophomore Alexander, now 18-1 at 120, pinned his way into the final before overwhelming Aayush Shah of Maine East with a tech-fall at 3:37 to earn his second title here in as many years.

"We've got a good young club with just a few seniors," said Alexander, who medaled as a freshman last season with 38 wins. "But many of us were around when we fell short in the team race at regionals last year so that's something all of us want to have a chance at this year -- but with better results."

Clifford was a state qualifier as a freshman as well, but after running into some trouble, did not return to the team for the next two seasons. He was welcomed back into the fold by the coaching staff this season, and he and his teammates provided additional firepower in the bottom half of the lineup.

"I feel very fortunate to be back with the team, and I've worked hard to get myself back to where I have to be, and to be a real contributor to the team at the same time," said Clifford, who was named as one of the Cougars' captain by his peers prior to the season.

Clifford (20-2) destroyed the field at 132 pounds with a pair of falls leading up to the final, where he outscored Lakes sophomore Levi Smith (10-6) with a 15-7 major decision.

Later, senior David Gregory (20-4) gaves Lakes plenty to cheer about following his impressive 19-6 major over Jim Kluk of Oak Forest in the final at 160 pounds.

"I am very happy and proud of the effort David gave out there," said first-year Lakes coach Mark Stave. "He wasn't 100 percent at the Berman last week (where he finished fifth overall) but he worked very hard this week, and came out and wrested aggressively in each of his matches today, and really dominated his opponents right from the start."

"I had injured my back early on," said Gregory, "and kind of tweaked it a little, but that wasn't an excuse for how I wrestled at the Berman. But I feel that came back this weekend and wrestled the way I know I can, and finished with a strong six minutes in the final to get the title."

Gregory's North Suburban Prairie peer, Jordan Reich (26-3) of Vernon Hills, made a statement of his own after defeating Danny Swan (Oak Forest) the No. 2-rated 106-pounder in the state, before the weekend began.

"Jordan won the title at UW-Whitewater last weekend after wrestling at 106 for the first time this season, then comes back to win it (here) over the No. 2 kid in the state," said Cougars head coach Jerry Miceli. "Not bad, don't you think?"

"There's no doubt wrestling (up) at 113 for the first part of the season was a big for me," said Reich, "because it helped me deal with going against guys a little bit bigger and stronger than me. Now I feel like I am ready for the best at 106 from here on out."

The MVP of the tournament (Weber) was brilliant from start to finish on Saturday, unloading on a trio of opponents, including Hasan Muhammed of Richards. Weber bounced the Richards sophomore with a tech-fall at 4:59 to grab his second straight title here.

"After spending most of the season at (152) to get ready for the final half of the season, I now feel so good wrestling at 145, and capable of dominating my opponents, such as I did today," said the Wisconsin-bound Weber (24-1) whose all-out, nonstop attack gave him the top individual honor of the tournament.

"Justin's work rate is way up there, and his desire to get back downstate and erase the memory of falling short in his bid to win a medal is all the inspiration he needs," said Stevenson coach Shane Cook.

There was more good news for the Patriots as Ned Valtchev (16-9) edged Steven Alfaro (Leyden, 18-4) in the final at 182 by a score of 1-0.

South Elgin senior Cory Pych (22-2) was the lone bright spot for the Storm following his 4-0 shutout of Brae Cruz (22-7) of Vernon Hills in the 126-pound final.

"You're beginning to see what Cory is capable of," said Storm coach Mark Cameron after Pych's championship performance. "His opponent in the final didn't want any part of him, and that's something he has to deal with by opening up and being more aggressive. Because when he is on top, he is nearly unbeatable."

Leyden senior Javier Rhoades gave the home fans a lift with his short time on the mats in the 285-pound final. The Eagles' big man quickly put his opponent down and out for good with a pin in just 49 seconds.

"It's an amazing feeling to win a tournament title in our fieldhouse, and in my senior year," said Rhoades, who at just 223 pounds is outweighted by nearly every one of his foes. But his 15-3 record and championship trophies earned both here and at Conant in the early going clearly suggest he's among the best of the big men.

"He came back after finishing seventh at the Berman and worked so hard this week, and went out there and showed he's more than a great thrower by showing so many different looks that a lot of heavyweights do not have," said Leyden coach Mike Fumagalli. "Javier is a great story, both on the mats and away, and if he continues to work this hard, the final weeks of the season could be something very special for him."

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