CHAMPAIGN — Nearly every time Hersey senior Hunter Rollins has stepped onto the mats this season, everything has gone right.
Not Saturday night.
After battling over two-plus days to impose himself as a serious contender for a state championship, so too had C.J. Brucki of Sandburg.
When the two 160-pound stars finished well into the evening, it was Brucki claiming the top prize.
Rollins broke quickly out of the blocks with a potent attack to set the early tone.
However, Brucki took advantage of a 5-point explosion midway through the third period to take the lead for good before putting the finishing touches on a 12-6 victory.
“I don’t know really what to say,” said Rollins, whose award-winning final season with coach Jim Wormsley ended at 42-3 and 148-34 during a brilliant four-year career, which included three trips downstate, two state medals, and a list of accomplishments far too long to list.
“Hunter put it all out on the line tonight, but it just wasn’t enough,” said Wormsley, who along with assistant Nick Blackshaw, Rollins’ self-described ‘Jedi master,’ watched their top man get the early breakthrough the Hersey camp so dearly wanted.
“(He) did exactly what we wanted him to do, and after getting that early takedown to go up 2-0, he kept getting his shots in, while keeping the pressure and pace at a high rate,” said Blackshaw, the former two-time state medalist and 2002 state champ at Buffalo Grove, who joined the staff last season and instantly became the key ingredient to Rollins’ rise within his weight class.
“Hunter gave it everything he had, so there was no mistaking the effort that he gave, but that (step-over) which led to (Bruski) taking the lead in the second period seemed to take the air out of him.”
After Bruski (41-6) upset the top seed, Davonte Mahomes (OPRF, 44-1) during the quarterfinals, Rollins declared the bracket to be wide open for the rest of the contestants.
Rollins cruised past Matt Schneider (Lincoln-Way Central) and then nemesis Peter Andreotti (Marist) to advance into the finals.
Bruski, perhaps inspired by his earlier heroics, sent No. 6 Nuntrae Jackson of Brother Rice to set him up against Rollins for the last match of the tournament inside Assembly Hall.
“I had little experience with a lefty outside shooter, so we drilled and drilled in between sessions to the point that I felt like I was ready for just about any of those he threw at me,” said Bruski, who joined teammate Colin Holler (170) and Ricky Robertson (195) on the victory stand.
“Bruski’s defense was outstanding, and that might have been the difference in this match,” Wormsley said.
A nonstop flurry near the edge saw Bruski go from 2 down (at 3-1) to a 6-5 advantage after a takedown and near-fall was matched by a reversal from Rollins.
Moments later, after Rollins deferred to give Bruski 1 point for the escape, the Sandburg senior tightened his grip when he finished a low single to make 9-5 as he rode out the rest of the second period.
Bruski earned another point on an escape, gave one up on a penalty, then finished it with a takedown with 17 seconds left in regulation.
“That 5-point swing took something out of me,” said Rollins, who was hoping to become the first Huskie to win a state title since 1995 (Dave Stoltz at 103 pounds). “I got sloppy for just a moment, and he took advantage, and that might have been the match.”
Rollins never let a partially torn labrum in his shoulder bother him.
After looking just a bit out of synch last weekend at Barrington, he still managed to win an unprecedented third consecutive sectional crown to give him the No. 2 seed here.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have a young man like Hunter here for four years,” Wormsley added. “He did everything that we asked, was a great leader in the room, and had a very successful career for himself, regardless of the outcome tonight. We’re all going to miss him very much.”
A run to the upper reaches of a deep, and talented 285-pound bracket is where Barrington’s Ben Calamari ended up Saturday.
The Broncos senior brought home a fifth-place medal after his 3-1 victory in overtime.
Calamari (38-9) edgeed rival Chris McDermand of Libertyville in his wrestleback quarterfinal to guarantee his spot in the medal round.
Later he joined the man he replaced, Aaron Castagna, in the team history books in the heavyweight class.
“Ever since Ben stepped into the lineup when Castagna graduated (2011) he’s become a permanent fixture, and someone we’ve come to count on for big, big victories and tremendous leadership, which he gives on and off the mats,” said Barrington coach Ken Hoving. “His work ethic and commitment to excellence paid off for him this weekend, and we’re really happy for him.”
Five others from the area were not as fortunate, with each falling one victory short of earning a medal.
Brian Egan (Buffalo Grove, 38-3) lost in his wrestleback quarterfinal to Brandon Kupczyk (York) ending a sensational two-year record of 70-13, which included back-to-back trips downstate.
Coord Wiseman of Barrington was unable to duplicate his 2012 state medal experience. He was sent packing by Minooka’s Carson Oughton.
Wiseman (31-9) will now turn his attention, along with his teammates, to the dual-team sectional next Tuesday at Grant.
Schaumburg junior Matt Stopka (37-9) saw his season suddenly come to an end when No. 4 Jamar Thurman (Proviso West) defeated the 195-pounder in his wrestleback quarterfinal.
“In his first trip here, I thought Matt had a very productive tournament, and hopefully he learned a few things along the way to bring back next season where we figure him to take an even bigger step forward,” said Saxons coach Mike Levanti.
Another day (and season) are ahead for Conant sophomore Bobby Alexander (34-4). He ran into a buzz-saw named Trayvon Zabala (Joilet Central, 47-1), whose only loss of the tournament was in his quarterfinal bout with eventual runner-up Sebastian Pique of Sandburg.
Zabala, one of the favorites this weekend, eventually earned the third-place medal.
The story on Javier Rhoades (Leyden, 26-6) was more about Rhoades the student-athlete than Rhoades the wrestler.
After a long school suspension as a freshman, the Eagles senior slowly turned his life around, then his wrestling career to become an exemplary leader.
The two-year starter lost in his bid to earn a state medal after a quarterfinal defeat (4-2) to Adarios Jones (Moline) ended a brilliant final season for Rhoades under first-year coach Mike Fumagalli.
“Javy was at his absolute best in the final three to four weeks of the season, and without the help of his heavyweight coaches Tony Zitka and Joe DeGiulio and the unbelievable work he’s put in, he wouldn’t be where he was heading into this weekend,” said Fumagalli. “We have a picture of Javy when he was a freshmen, and he looked like a common thug. He was headed down the road of who knows what, all of it really bad stuff.
“But you look at that picture, and at him now, and it’s hard to believe he had become a great student. He’s a leader in our student mentor program, he was defensive player of the year in the conference for football, their captain, ours as well, and he’s become just a shining example of how young people can turn around their lives.”
Fumagalli said Rhoades suffered some torn cartilage near his ribs in the match prior to his elimination, but he never gave in against Jones.
“We got into the locker room and he just wrapped his arms around me and gave me this huge hug, and I told him how proud of him I was, and that I loved him,” Fumagalli said. “This sport saved his life, and everyone in our program was better for knowing and being around him.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.