How do you improve on perfection?
Don't ask Michael Cullen, because the Cary-Grove sophomore still feels he's a long way from being there. Of course his opponents might feel a little differently if they were asked.
Another simply smashing performance from Cullen was put in the books following a dominating 11-1 major decision in his 113-pound final against Colin Kenyon (New Trier, 33-8) at the Class 3A Barrington sectional Saturday.
The win sends the Trojans' star into the 3A state tournament on the front foot, and a well-deserved top 4 seed when things begin Thursday on the big floor of Assembly Hall in Champaign.
Cullen (42-0) will be joined by teammate Michael Underwood (138) and Logan Hanselmann (120) both for the first time, after each won in dramatic style in their afternoon state qualifying bouts.
"This is what you work for all throughout the offseason and regular season, and now it's all about going down there and winning a state title," said Cullen, who became an instant sensation one year ago as a rookie under then first-year head coach Ryan Ludwig on his way to a 4th-place state medal at 106 pounds.
"The focus and attention to detail we've seen from Mike this season compared to last is unbelievable, and he's become such a great teammate this season as well, and in fact, told me earlier how nervous he was. I was surprised to hear he was nervous. He told me it was for Logan before he wrestled to get downstate," said Ludwig, who could barely keep his feet on the ground after Hanselmann (34-9) defeated Martin Martinez (Warren) 3-2 to qualify, and his captain (Underwood) recorded a pin over Brandon Arteaga (Lake Zurich) to secure his safe passage to Champaign.
"Last week I did it the hard way coming back through wrestlebacks, and (Ludwig) told me it didn't matter how I advanced into the sectionals, just as long as I did," began Hanselmann. "So after going through that a week ago, it was a little bit easier, and less stressful to do it again this weekend."
Underwood, who for a year now has had to deal with the bitter reminder of dropping a 3-2 decision in his state qualifier last year to Brian Egan (Buffalo Grove) wasted little time putting that nightmare to rest with a resounding fall at 1:24, He then put a little icing on his day with a pin in OT over Jake Messink of Harlem to grab third-place honors.
"When you get that close and you're not be able to finish it off, that's kind of tough, and it just stays with you, but to come through today and beat (Arteaga) who I lost twice before makes it all that more special," said Underwood (40-9), who was overcome with emotion following his victory.
There were plenty more tears of joy from around the Fox Valley area, including back-to-back victories at the nearly the same time on adjacent mats from Eric Barone (132, 35-7) and Nick Peters (138, 36-9) from Crystal Lake South.
"It was just amazing to qualify at the same time as Eric did," said the senior Peters, who fell in his final against Manny Silva (Hononegah, 35-2) 7-3 after his 3-2 triumph over Jake Messink (Harlem) in the semifinals sealed his trip downstate.
Barone gave No. 3 Doug Johnson (DeKalb, 39-1) a rough go of it in his final before the two-time state medalist won the crown with a 5-1 win.
"What can you say about those two and especially Nick since this is his last year here," offered Gators head coach Ross Ryan.
Sophomore Nick Gil (39-5), who dropped a heartbreaking 2-1 match last week to No. 2 Jordan Northrup (40-1) in the finals of the Huntley regional, had another chance at the Harlem senior in the 126-pound final on Saturday, but once again, the nationally ranked Northrup would prevail with a 6-2 decision.
"I might have been a little too conservative last weekend, so we/I tried a few different things today, maybe a little too risky, but now I know I can go with the best in the state, and that bodes well for me at state next week," said Gil.
Jacobs junior Austin Ryan (34-3) will be making his second appearance in Champaign in three years after his second-place finish to Andrew Mehrholtz (39-2) of Deerfield in the 106 pound final.
Seniors Brandon Mabry (Huntley, 195) and Ray Griggel of Dundee-Crown will look to impose themselves as medal contenders after each survived a steady dose of talent in their respective divisions to earn their first trip downstate.
"I knew our chances to advance improved after Brandon weighed in on Friday," joked Huntley head coach BJ Bertelsman, who the last two seasons has had to scratch Mabry from the lineup due to a variety of illnesses.
"Brandon's a great kid, and one who is so coachable, so to see him qualify after everything that has happened to him late in the season is a real treat for me, and our program."
Mabry, who defeated Jim Kirby of Deerfield for third place, defeated Jared Lalanda (Grant) 7-2 in his qualifier, just minutes before Griggel (15-6) would pin Connor Haran, also of Grant, at 1:42 to guarantee his spot in the 220-pound state bracket.
"This is what it's all about," said an exhausted Griggel, after teammates and coaches alike rushed the big man to offer congratulations.
"You kind of wonder if it's going to happen after going through all of the injuries that I have the past two years, so to finally be going downstate means really a lot to me."
The Chargers' senior finished fourth behind champ Jacob Suter (Glenbrook South), John Benson (New Trier) and Kailor Hecox of Harlem, whom he lost to by a 2-1 decision.
Class 2A at Antioch: Hampshire senior Travis Keeling (38-7) advanced to the state tournament by finishing third at 170 pounds at the Antioch sectional Saturday. Keeling beat Fenwick's Dubem Ikedionwu 5-4 in the third-place match. Keeling will be joined in Champaign by his sophomore teammate Anton Krocko, who finished fourth at 182. Krocko (30-9) lost to Terryon Bradley of Chicago Uplift 15-7 in the third-place match.