NIC-10 wrestling power Machesney Park Harlem (16-2) toyed with the competition on Saturday, demonstrating to three area teams and the rest of those on hand that it will be a force in the postseason after defeating Dundee-Crown, Huntley and host Antioch by a combined 158-39 score at the Antioch super-duals to finish up the regular season.
The Huskies, fresh off an emotional Rivals Cup victory over conference rival Rockton Hononegah before a packed house Thursday night, used the superb talent of No. 2-rated Jordan Northrup (31-1) and overwhelming power at its upper weights to start fast and finish strong en route to its three wins.
Huntley completed its best-ever regular season by going 2-1 on the day, raising its regular season dual record to 19-3.
"Our three losses are to top 25 teams, and it was a very good day for Huntley wrestling," said Red Raiders coach B.J. Bertelsman, whose team took 18 points against Harlem between victories over Antioch (55-15) and Vernon Hills (44-27).
"Ricky (Vigil), Nick Meyer and Brendan Mabry (27-3) all had very good days, and along the way (others) contributed well, so now we're just looking to compete as best as we can next week at the FVC tourney (at Jacobs) -- stay healthy, and get ourselves ready for a big-time regional at our place."
At that regional, the Red Raiders will host, among others, Harlem and Hononegah (both rated in the top 10 at 3A) along with Crystal Lake South, DeKalb and a Dundee-Crown club which is improving each week.
"Yes, we are getting closer," said D-C coach Bob Skillman, who watched his team defeat Jacobs on Thursday in its final conference dual of the season.
The Chargers took their lumps against Harlem but bounced back to win an exciting 1-pointer over Antioch (38-37) on criteria before falling to Wauconda 39-36.
"We've had to move some guys around this season in order to fill our lineup," said Skillman, "but that's such an improvement over last season when we were giving away 24 points or more to forfeits. The guys have been working hard, and we've seen the improvement -- which is great, because we a very young team. If they commit themselves to continue working in the off-season, with the core that we have in place next year could be a very good year for this program."
One who won't be around next season is senior Ray Griggel, who recently came back from a shoulder injury and appears getting closer to form at 220 pounds. He hopes to be a force next weekend at the FVC tourney and through the state series.
Griggel looked to be on course to do exactly that last season until a serious skin infection erased his postseason.
"It was a bitter disappointment for me," said Griggel, who won 20 bouts last year and placed second at the FVC tournament. "That really provided all the motivation that I needed to come back even stronger this year, and I spent a lot of time working on my cardio, conditioning and strength. That helped me a lot during the football season (he's a defensive lineman for the Chargers), so now that I have this shoulder injury behind me, I am looking forward to making up for what I lost last year."
In just his second week, Griggel did well in his first serious test since coming back, going 1-2. Those losses came against a pair of standouts: Class 2A star Nate Magiera (26-0) of Wauconda, and Kailor Hecox (27-5) of Harlem, ranked No. 5 in the state by IllinoisBestWeekly.com.
Magiera was nearly flawless in his three bouts as he kept his record perfect for another week to further solidify his No. 3 spot at 220 pounds in the polls.
"Being ranked doesn't really mean a thing, and it's not something that I focus on at all," said Magiera, who last year finished third behind state champion Gage Harrah (Crystal Lake Central) and runner-up Joey Valdivia (Grayslake Central) at the sectional. "I had a rough road in (wrestlebacks) to make it to the state tournament, but it felt good to make it all the way back to get downstate. But I was lazy in my wrestleback quarter and got put to my back, and fell one match short of a medal. So each day I think about that before I go out and train."
Wauconda coach Tom Nance was thrilled that his club went 3-0. He cited the work of Magiera and Devon Tortorice (27-2), the other half of a tough 1-2 punch for the Bullodgs, as well as Ross Theel and Jake Conour as the primary reasons for the good showing.
"We were missing a couple of key guys, but the ability for a few newcomers to step in and make big contributions, especially a kid like Jake, who as a freshmen came in to do a nice job all day, really impressed me," Nance said. "It gave the rest of the team a big lift and a boost for what lies ahead for us in the coming weeks."
Vernon Hills and Antioch (15-14), Wauconda's North Suburban Lake rivals (and upcoming regional opponents at Lakes in two weeks), had dissimilar experiences on Saturday.
The Cougars (17-7) overwhelmed both Freeport (53-21) and Johnsburg (57-16) before running into Huntley in a 44-27 defeat.
"All in all, it was a good day for us," said Cougars coach Jerry Miceli. "We're finally getting our lineup in place, guys are getting healthy, and I really feel the rest of our season is shaping up to be an exciting one."
Vernon Hills senior David Pierce (145, 30-4) continues to be a force in his quest for a spot atop the podium in Champaign next month after a trio of outstanding victories, including a pair of falls in his first two bouts.
Pierce, who suffered a season-ending MCL injury just before the NSC tournament last season, recently recorded his 100th career victory on senior night. That was a key, as it was the same night one year ago when he injured his knee.
"It was great having my dad (Mike) on the bench when I earned my 100th win here, and it's a good feeling knowing that I am healthy and ready to make a run at a medal at the state tournament," said Pierce, who as a sophomore went 31-14 en route to his first trip inside Assembly Hall.
The Cougars star will be involved in a terrific battle for top honors at the NSC tournament next weekend along with Stevenson's Justin Weber (27-1) before he turns his attention towards the Lakes regional.
Pierce's teammate Joe Blitstein (26-9) was part of an all-star cast of heavyweights led by Johnsburg senior and 2012 state qualifier Brandon Boyle.
Boyle, ranked No. 5 in Class 2A coming into the weekend, won his first two bouts, including a pin over Blitstein. But he was unable to finish his three-match sweep when Freeport big man Kendall Parker edged the Skyhawks star.
Junior Jeremy Marshall capped an excellent day at 285 for Dundee-Crown with a pin of fellow giant Kyle Nichols of Antioch.
The host Seqouits had their moments on Saturday, but not enough of them to overcome any of their three foes.
Harlem went on a pin frenzy near the end to rout Antioch 58-6 as Sage Hecox, Kailor Hecox and Jared Carlton put the pedal down starting at 195 and ending at 285.
The best match of the dual, and perhaps of the day, was at 132, where both Northrup, No. 2 at 126 (3A) took on Antioch senior Mike Gussarson (29-9), rated No. 6 in 2A.
Northrup started quickly with a takedown after the opening whistle, but the Sequoits senior never backed down afterward, staying within striking distance during a frantic second period which included injury time given to Northrup after a rugged throw.
Gussarson crept to within 3 at 10-7, then closer with an escape before a second warning for stalling made it 10-9 as time just about ran out.
"That was a great match for Mike," said Antioch coach Wilbur Borrero. "He's had some very good matches of late, and he looks ready to go for the NSC tournament, then regionals. I really feel the entire team is just about where it has to be for the most important time of the year, which is almost upon us.
"Today, I stayed quiet on the bench, and more or less let the guys coach themselves. "We feel that it was important for them to work through things for themselves, because there will be instances when they'll have to from here on out. Even though we went 0-3 today, I feel there were a lot of chances for us to turn around the final result in a lot of our matches."