McHenry put the finishing touches on a strong first day at the 2013 Fox Valley Conference wrestling tournament Friday by sending 13 of 14 into today's semifinals to help keep its division rival Cary-Grove at bay when the competition came to a close at Jacobs Friday night.
The top two clubs in the Valley division are separated by 10 points (90-80) when action resumes today at 9 a.m., while Crystal Lake South stands third overall with 68 points, followed closely by Huntley which is one point behind the Gators in fourth.
Reigning champ Crystal Lake Central rounds out the top five with 55 total points.
"I thought we could have wrestled better today, but if we refocus, and clean up some things, then tomorrow could be a very good day for us," said Cary-Grove head coach Ryan Ludwig, who will send 10 of his wrestlers into the semis, including three in head-to-heads bouts with the tourney leader, beginning with one of the best in the business, Michael Cullen (113, 35-0), who will meet Robby Duh (25-11).
"McHenry is a very tough, gritty team, which knows how to close out matches, and win the tight ones, especially in the closing moments of a match," offered Ludwig.
"It's all about doing what's best for the team -- getting pins, scoring bonus points -- because this is a big weekend for the team, as is next week at regionals," added Trojans' senior Garrett Glueck (152, 24-9), who meets Tim Schanmier (23-11) of Dundee-Crown at 152 pounds.
Making quick work of an opponent seemed to be a major theme of several area wrestlers, with Huntley star Brandon Mabry (30-3) on the mat for just 2:40 in his quarterfinal before sending Luke Zegers (Prairie Ridge) into today's wrestle-back round at 195 pounds.
"First and foremost, you want to help your team as much as possible, so a pin gives my team bonus points, which helps us in the overall standings, while it help keeps me fresh, and ready to go for my next match," said Mabry.
The Red Raiders' senior is on a collision course with one of the best in the state, Christian Nugent (Johnsburg, 26-3) if he can eliminate Ryan Grannemann of McHenry this morning, then set up the rubber match between these two.
"We've been friends since middle school and he beat me when we were freshmen, and I was able to get the next one, so it will be great if we can meet again, and in the final," said Mabry of a potential match with Nugent.
Two good friends, and teammates as well, Nick Brown (138, 28-4) and Travis Keeling (170, 30-4) of Hampshire, sparkled Friday night, and each is now just one match away from the final in their respective divisions.
"Travis is a great guy, and a wonderful teammate to everyone in our program, and he is a big reason for my success thus far," suggested Brown, who gained a measure of revenge over Jonathan Makey (Grayslake Central, 27-11) to erase a loss to the talented sophomore he suffered just last week.
"I feel fortunate to get the chance to wrestle Jonathan once again, and knowing that a win puts me into the final."
Brown will face the No. 2 seed Michael Underwood (32-7) of Cary-Grove who held off a valiant effort from Martell Thompson (Dundee-Crown, 18-11) to stay alive in the front draw.
Keeling, who leads Hampshire with 30 victories, looked sharp in his 7-1 triumph over Hunter Stroh (Crystal Lake South) and will now meet Emerson Kersten (Cary-Grove, 19-8) in his semifinal.
"Getting into the final would be great, and having Nick as my partner in the room has really helped me improve everywhere," Keeling said. "I outweigh him by almost 30 pounds, but he is so tough in the room, and we just really go at it everyday."
Stroh's mates Nick Gil (32-3) and Brian Pence (28-9) looked flawless in their lone bouts at 126 and 182 for the Gators, with the junior Pence a story in himself as with each week he takes a another step forward.
As a freshmen, Pence lost part of his thumb in an accident, ending his season abruptly, then last year, after high levels of protein cells and blood where found in his urine, he watched his sophomore year come to a close before the FVC tourney.
"It feels great to be back, and healthy, but I am not looking too far ahead, and, for now, just this weekend," said Pence after his 16-3 major in the quarter to book his place in the semis against Mike Lung (14-4) of Prairie Ridge.
The host Golden Eagles, sixth overall with 51 points, will waste little time waiting to watch their favorite, Austin Ryan (28-1), when the junior opens up the semifinal round at 106 pounds, after dominating his quarterfinal with an impressive fall at 1:37.
"Austin is primed and ready to go from here on out, and I've really seen a change in him during the last couple of weeks which makes me believe so," said Jacobs first-year head coach Gary Conrad.
Ryan can help Cary-Grove with a win over Britches Sikula (McHenry) while a victory from John Cullen (27-7, Cary-Grove) over Travis Piotrowski (Prairie Ridge, 30-1) on the other end of the bracket would double the Trojans' pleasure.
Dundee-Crown big men Ray Griggel (220, 7-3) and Jeremy Marshall (285, 24-10) stated their case with easy quarterfinal victories, to pull each of them closer to a spot in the finals.
Griggel, recently back from a shoulder injury, pinned his first opponent on the day, and now the No. 1 seed meets Connor Bos (24-7) of Prairie Ridge, while Marshall faces the No. 1 seed, and state ranked Brandon Boyle (Johnsburg, 22-5) this morning.
"Jeremy is a perfect example of a person who put the work in (during) the offseason, and getting something in return for all of that extra time and effort that he did during the summer," said Chargers assistant coach Matt Wahl. "He's very athletic, quick on his feet, has good size at 230 pounds, and lucky to have a teammate like (Griggel) in the room pounding on him everyday, which I am sure he doesn't always enjoy, but (knows) how good it is for him."