What a glorious night for Dundee-Crown wrestling Thursday.
The Chargers (8-2-0) opened and closed strong to defeat host Cary-Grove before a big house to earn their first Fox Valley Conference Valley Division win after a 41-19 triumph.
"I know (Cary-Grove) was missing its two big guys, but that doesn't take away the effort all of our guys gave tonight," said D-C head coach Bob Skillman, who said better times are ahead for a program which just two years ago finished a dismal 9th overall at the FVC tournament.
"The effort has truly been there from the very beginning, and when you have your leaders like Martell (Thompson) Tim Schanmier, Jeremy Marshall and Christian (Brunner) giving it their all you know we'll get better and better along the way with each test we face."
The two 'big' guys Skillman was speaking of were Michael Cullen and Logan Hanselman.
Cullen, one of the best 113-pounders in the state, is still recovering from a high-ankle sprain suffered at the Moore-Prettyman, while his teammate Hanselman sat out for the second consecutive night due to an illness.
"We were missing both of those guys (Wednesday) night against Crystal Lake Central, and we were able to come away with a thrilling one-point (36-35) win, but the effort tonight just didn't match what the team gave against Central," said a disappointed Cary-Grove coach Ryan Ludwig, whose club falls to 4-3-0 on the season.
Christian Johnson (220) and Marshall got the visitors up and running with consecutive wins to open the festivities, Johnson with a 5-1 decision, and the Chargers' big man with his 11th fall of the year.
"Jeremy just picks our team up and gives it a lift whenever we seem to need it, and tonight that's exactly what he did with his pin to put us up 9-0," said Brunner, who is co-captain along with Thompson.
After the Marshall fall, the Chargers would then grab back-to-back forfeits at 106 and 113 to stretch their early lead to 21-0.
"For those who don't believe wrestling is a team sport look at tonight, and how those early losses, coupled with the two forfeits gave Dundee-Crown the important momentum to feed off," said Ludwig, whose club was suddenly faced with chasing the Chargers.
The home side drew closer, despite its rough start, and a major decision victory from Hayden Hill (11-2) at 120, in addition to a hard-fought 1-0 decision from Sean Cullen, followed by a well orchestrated fall from his twin brother John at 132 gave the Cary-Grove faithful something to cheer about.
However, Thompson and Armondo Gutierrez came crashing down on the Trojans' hopes with victories at 138 and 145 to help put the Chargers back in control at 27-16.
"I can't say enough about Martell," began Skillman
"He's a terrific young man and someone we've really come to depend on in the middle of our lineup."
Matt Hughes and Emerson Kersten did their best to keep things close with decisions at 152 and 170, around a fall from senior Tim Schanmier at 160 pounds, but the sophomore Brunner, whose gone from 132 pounds last season to a big, strong 180-pounder this year, put the finishing touches on the Chargers' victory with a fall at 5:31.
"There's big difference in everyone this year, and I really feel the commitment to getting better, and putting in the extra time and work is so much higher because of our coaching staff," said Brunner, who garnered 22 wins during his rookie season.
Jarrod Rapp ended the night with a 8-1 decision at 195 pounds.
Next up for the Chargers is a visit from Hersey and Larkin on Saturday morning, while Cary-Grove is on the road at Class 2A state-ranked Sycamore for a quad this weekend.
"We let this one get away from us early, and our ability to compete at a high level as we did against Crystal Lake Central wasn't evident tonight, while Dundee-Crown did a much better job of that," admitted Ludwig.