What a difference a week made for the Grant wrestling team.
The host Bulldogs came through big-time Saturday in their own Class 3A regional, as they overcame a 23-point deficit against archrival Libertyville to take a 168-162 lead over the Wildcats heading into the final round of the nine-team meet.
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And while Grant had only six wrestlers battling for first-place medals to nine for Libertyville, the Bulldogs still managed to win the regional championship going away by a 197-176 margin.
Fox Valley Conference champion McHenry made its impact felt with a third-place score of 167.5 points, while Warren put together a strong solid round to place fourth with 121.5 points.
Regional championship No. 21 is one that Grant coach Ryan Geist will remember, as his team turned the tables on the Wildcats with a balanced team effort featuring three firsts, three seconds, three thirds and two fourths.
"We didn't score a lot of points at 132, 160, and 170 last week (at conference), and this week we scored points in every single weight class, so those guys stepped up huge and that was the difference," said Geist, whose team lost to Libertyville by 12 points at the NSC meet. "Our kids came back strong in the consolation semifinals. I think we picked up three pins, and those were all bonus points.
"I definitely think hosting the regional helped. It's very familiar territory, and I think our kids definitely thrived on wrestling in their hometown too," added Geist.
Grant was led by No. 3-ranked undefeated senior Tony Cashmore (26-0), who returned to the team with a big pin in 3:25 to win the 182-pound crown over Libertyville's Joey Nield. Cashmore has 17 pins this season and no takedowns against him.
"It was a lot of team effort, and a lot of guys stepping up in the practice room this week compared to the weeks before," said Cashmore, whose team will wrestle in the dual team sectional on Feb. 19. "I'm going to go out there and try as hard as I can because it's my senior year. I've always wanted it (a state title). I dream about it every day, and this is my last chance."
The Bulldogs also got first-place medals from Nick Fanella, who won by default over Warren's T.J. Kuhn at 138, and Dan Haeffele, who won by default over Libertyville's Chris McDermand at 285.
Gage Datlovsky (113), Troy Parent (120) and Jared Lalanda (195) placed second for Grant. Fellow Bulldogs Nick Koch (106), Mike Kouvelis (145) and Connor Haran (220) all advanced to the Barrington sectional next weekend with thirds.
After missing the NSC meet due to illness, elite Libertyville sophomore Joey Gunther was unable to make weight at 138 on short notice. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that meant he could not wrestle Saturday and cannot compete for the remainder of the individual state tourney.
The Wildcats did have many bright spots in their lineup, though, starting with 160-pound junior Kayne MacCallum (38-2), who posted an 8-0 major decision in his finals match.
Junior Steve Polakowski (37-4) was also impressive with an 11-3 major decision over Parent for first place at 120. Libertyville's Kevin Barbian overcame a late 3-1 deficit to pull out a 5-3 overtime win over Lalanda for the 195-pound crown.
Libertyville did come up short in its other finals bouts. But the Wildcats still had six other second-place finishers who advanced to sectionals, including Austin Pettinato (145), Sal Ayala (152), Austin Koziol (170), Nield (182), sophomore Mark Dunsing (220) and McDermand (285).
"I really tip my hat to Grant because they won so many close matches and a lot of matches they finished off with pins," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert. "We're better in bigger tournaments and they were the better team."
Warren shined with eight of its nine finalists earning berths to Barrington with top-three finishes.
Senior Danny Hicks (34-3) rolled past Koziol 8-1 for the crown at 170, while teammates Israel Santiago (132) and Kuhn both placed second.
The Blue Devils got pressure-packed wins in third-place matches from Martin Martinez (in double overtime) at 120, Craig Mason (in a wild 7-5 decision over Grant's Noah Drabek) at 126, Emery Parker at 152, Eric Shurson at 182 and Sawyer McCaffrey at 285.
"We went eight out of nine in that medal round and I was really impressed," said Warren coach Jim Ouimette. "Martin (Martinez) and Craig (Mason) started us off really well in the medal round. We did a lot of work with Danny Hicks this week. He's such a coachable kid. He just goes out and does it."
Mundelein's Jake Long avenged a 5-3 loss to Ayala last week by posting a 4-0 decision for the 152-pound title. The Mustangs also got a third-place finish from Joey Laurie at 138.
"I'm really excited, I've been working really hard with my new coaches, and they've helped me a lot," said Long, who was seeded third. "It was pretty awesome to win this time (against Ayala), and I think if I keep wrestling like I did today, I can get to state. That would be really big."
Round Lake sophomore Danny Arteaga pulled out a 2-1 decision to advance with a third at 113.
"He has had a good season with a 37-6 record as a sophomore," said Round Lake coach Mike Hruska. "We still expect him to do a much better job at sectionals this year. He's just got to come ready for battle."