Flying under the radar last season as teammate Shakhiem Chapman enjoyed most of the spoils on his way to a third-place state finish, Warren's Danny Hicks had a wonderful year himself in 2012.
It's looking like 2013 might be even better for Hicks after Saturday's result at the Class 3A Barrington sectional.
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The senior won his second consecutive sectional title, this one coming at the expense of Libertyville junior Austin Koziol (28-11) in a 5-0 decision to send the star 170-pounder into the state tournament next weekend with a full head of steam.
It was a great way to end a very long day of wrestling for Hicks (37-3), along with NSC counterparts Steve Polakowski (Libertyville, 120) and Sean Lynch (Lake Zurich, 152), who all lifted championship trophies to ensure a better spot in the respective brackets when the state tournament gets under way in Champaign on Thursday at Assembly Hall.
"It was only right that Chapman got most of the press and attention, he was our superstar and state medalist, so I never felt left out or slighted by it all last season," said Hicks. "But I am ready to have a successful postseason just like he did, and that all will hopefully start today.
Hicks won 33 times last year but suffered a two-and-out at the state tournament.
"It was kind of like deer-and-headlights for me in Champaign, so I am anxious to get back there this season and have a real good run before it's all over," Hick said.
Hicks will go at it alone after teammates Martin Martinez, Craig Mason and Israel Santiago fell short in their qualifying match in wrestlebacks on Saturday.
Polakowski (40-4) earned a championship at 120 pounds by topping Miguel Camarena (Barrington). Other Wildcats advancing included Austin Pettinato (145), Kayne MacCallum (160), Koziol, Kevin Barbian (195) and heavyweight Chris McDermand (38-7).
"It felt great to win my match against a tough opponent, and now I'll turn my focus on the state tournament, and getting ready for my first opponent and hopefully a more favorable seed after winning the sectional title here," said Polakowski/
MacCallum (40-3) was part of what perhaps was the most exciting, and hotly contested final of the evening, when the Cats junior met No. 3 Hunter Rollins (Hersey, 39-2) in round No. 2 this season between the two superb talents. Rollins won way back at the Dvorak, outlasting MacCallum 7-1.
In this one, both wrestlers enjoyed slight leads, with the No. 4 MacCallum grabbing his last lead late (at 7-6) until Rollins went ahead with a minute remaining in regulation. It went to OT at 8-8.
After each recorded a reversal to make it 10-10, Rollins, with 6 seconds left in the third extra session, broke free to get the 11-10 victory.
"I knew he would come after me today, and it was just a hard-fought match between the both of us," said Rollins.
Lynch (21-3) was involved in a wild, high-scoring affair in his semifinal before settling down to defeat Jake Long (Mundelein, 31-8).
Lynch will be making his second straight appearance in Champaign, Long his first.
"After finishing fourth here last year and seeing first-hand what a difference it makes in your bracket if you're a sectional champ, my focus this week was clearly to win here and get a better place in my bracket down there," said Lynch, who outscored Zach Benkovich (Honenegah, 29-6) 16-13 in his semifinal, then fought off a valiant effort from Long who drew within two (at 7-5) with a deuce with 20 seconds to go.
"I had a bunch of takedowns in that first period during my semifinals and let up a little bit to make that match closer than it should have been," said Lynch. "But my final was a tough match, and all I know is I came away with a win and the title, and that's what is important."
Regional team champion Grant began the day in position to advance several downstate, but when the final bell signaled the end of the tournament, just two, Nick Koch (106, 36-9) and senior Tony Cashmore (182), would be making travel plan.
Koch, a junior, took eventual runner-up Austin Ryan (Jacobs) to the brink in his semifinal before dropping a 10-6 decision. But Koch fought back to earn a fourth-place finish to advance downstate for the first time.
"We're real proud and happy for Nick because he's worked so hard, especially in the off-season, and that's what makes the difference this time of the season," said Grant coach Ryan Geist.
Cashmore (29-1), rated No. 3 in his weight class in state polls, was stunned in his semifinal as Joey Welsh (Hononegah, 36-10) won by fall at 1:06. But the four-year standout bounced back to pin his way to a third-place finish and a second straight visit to Champaign.
"Yeah, I was kind of shocked by what happened in my semifinal, but crazy things like that happen at this time of the year, and there's no sense dwelling on (it) at all," said an upbeat Cashmore. "Instead, it's a fresh start for me beginning on Thursday in Champaign, where all I am after is that first-place finish."
Another upset: Justin Weber (Stevenson, 38-3) in the 145-pound final, where three-time state qualifier Wade Lardy (41-2) of McHenry edged the reigning NSC champ 4-3.
"I told Justin afterward all that matters is that he's undefeated next weekend in Champaign," said Patriots coach Shane Cook, who will also enjoy the company of senior Ned Valtchev (182, 28-14). He'll be making his first state appearance following a 5-4 victory in his qualifying bout with Dan Fiumetto of Prospect.