CHAMPAIGN -- Under the spotlight for the first time since shining here one year ago, Sal Annoreno opened defense of his Class 3A state wrestling championship with a spirited and determined performance in his first round bout as the 76th state tournament got under way in Champaign Thursday night.
The Bartlett senior had far too much firepower for Crystal Lake South senior Nick Peters in an eventual 9-0 major decision victory, setting up a highly anticipated quarterfinal this morning against No. 3 Mech Spraggins (Belleville West, 46-1), who is a two-time state runner-up and one of the favorites here at 138 pounds, along with Annoreno (31-2) and Cullen Cummings (44-1) of Downers Grove North.
"It's all about going out and staying under control, and getting confident in what your doing and when, as well as getting a real solid 6 minutes of wrestling in preparation of (today) and my quarterfinal with Mech," said Annoreno, who defeated Cummings last year to capture the first state title in program history.
Michael Cullen of Cary-Grove, who like Annoreno is one of the favorites in his respective weight class, cruised into the next round of action to face Ronald Triche (Providence, 38-2) in a battle between the Nos. 4 and 5 rated 113-pounders in the state.
"Michael had a real good first match today," began head coach Ryan Ludwig of his sophomore, who pushed his sparkling record to 43-0 after his 11-4 win over Anfernee Rodgers (Glenbard East, 35-12).
"He got a good workout with his six minutes of wrestling, and he should be ready to go (today)," added Ludwig, who later watched in disbelief as the Trojans' Michael Underwood (40-10) dropped a 3-1 OT decision to Sean Murray (37-14) of Wheaton North.
The news was much better for Crystal Lake South junior Nick Gil (126), who won his 40th of the season following a 12-4 major decision win over Haydon Grammar of Edwardsville.
The No. 5 rated Gil (40-5) takes on Jake Drew (37-7) of Glenbard East in his quarterfinal.
"I felt good out there today, and once I felt good on my feet, and felt like I coasted, but still put in a full six good minutes," said Gil, who was one match away from a medal here last season.
The rest of the area wrestlers from the Fox Valley Conference sustained heavy first-round losses, including big men Brandon Mabry (Huntley, 195, 36-7) and Dundee-Crown senior Ray Griggel (15-7, 220) as well as the Hampshire duo of Travis Keeling (170, 38-8) and Anton Krocko (182, 30-10), who must wait and see how the quarterfinal round goes for their next opponent.
Wrestle-backs are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. today for those fortunate to still be alive, while semifinals for classes 1A, 2A and 3A are set for a 7 p.m. start.