Nearly all of the area favorites got off to a flying start Friday night on the first day of action at the Class 3A Barrington wrestling sectional.
Steve Polakowski and Kayne MacCallum of Libertyville, Justin Weber of Stevenson and Grant senior Tony Cashmore (27-0), all in high standing in the state polls at the start of the weekend, enjoyed safe passage into Saturday's semifinals, just one win away from advancing into the state tournament. Others solidified their chances with second-round victories to inch closer to Champaign as well.
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Several were sent packing into wrestlebacks, which begin this at 9 a.m. Saturday.
"It's a lot better to be in the championship bracket right now, instead of trying to wrestle back all day tomorrow," said a relieved Polakowski (38-4) who beat a valiant Logan Hanselmann (31-8) of Cary-Grove 5-1 to stay alive at 120 pounds. "Last year I was a little nervous on the first day here, but I felt really comfortable out there and it felt good to get the win to move on."
The junior will meet New Trier senior MJ Pritchard (37-4) in his next bout.
MacCullum (39-2) is on a collision course with Hunter Rollins (37-2) of Hersey in the finals, which would pit the Nos. 3 and 4 rated 160-pounders in the state if everything holds to form.
Cashmore, who recently missed some time in the Bulldogs lineup, spent a scant 45 seconds on the mat in his only experience on Friday, as he recorded an easy pin to set up a meeting with Joey Welsh (35-9) of Hononegah in a 182-pound semifinal.
A much anticipated rematch by the Libertyville camp between standout senior Austin Pettanato (24-6) against Weber (37-2) never really materialized when Pettanato suffered a lower leg injury midway through the second period and was forced to default due to his injury with Weber leading 6-2.
Weber, rated No. 2 in the state by IllinoisWeekly.com, recently defeated Pettanato for the NSC title. Next up for the Wisconsin-bound Patriot is Mike Kouvelis (29-13) of Grant, who posted a pair of victories to advance.
Nick Koch (106, 35-7) and Connor Haran (220, 38-8) will join their Grant mates in the semifinals.
Warren senior Danny Hicks (35-3) is in search of his second consecutive sectional title here, once again at 170 pounds, and the reigning NSC champ will need to get past Harlem big man Sean Jones (35-7) in order to reach the finals late on Saturday.
Junior Israel Santiago (132, 23-2), who was a state qualifier as a freshman for the Blue Devils, looked strong in both of his six-minute matches on Friday, including his second-round triumph over Alec McKenna (New Trier) to put himself opposite Crystal Lake South sophomore Eric Barone (34-6) in his semifinal.
"Israel had to deal with a few injuries early on which limited him here and there, but he's coming around and looking good at the right time of the season," said Warren coach Jim Ouimette.
Lake Zurich's Sean Lynch (19-3) was dominant in his lone bout at 152 pounds, registering an 18-8 major decision victory to advance into his semifinal against Zach Benkovich (Hononegah, 27-5). The NSC and recent regional champ will go it alone in the championship bracket after Gresh Henderson (132), Brendan Arteaga (138) and Nick Tuthill (145) were unable to stay alive in the front draw.
The same could not be said for Jake Long (30-7) of Mundelein, who outlasted Garrett Glueck (Cary-Grove, 29-12) 7-5 to keep his hopes alive for a berth in the finals at 152 pounds.
"I've wrestled (Glueck) four times this season, so there wasn't any secrets between us," said the senior, who built a 7-1 lead with a second-period near fall. "I didn't want to fight back through wrestlebacks, so getting this win puts me one win away from getting downstate."
Kevin Barbian (195) and Austin Koziol (170) remain on the big stage this morning, Koziol (27-10) after stunning CSL and regional champ Colton Emmerich (Deerfield, 34-8) in his second round match by the score of 6-2.