A semifinal swoon from last season was clearly on the mind of Glenbard East coach Kevin Carlson minutes before the semifinal round of the 59th Berman Holiday Wrestling Classic officially opened.
Last December, Carlson's club managed to go 1-for-7 as the Rams dropped out of contention and Hinsdale Central earned the team title by 20 points.
The story had a different ending this time, one the Rams could enjoy Saturday at Palatine High School.
Carlson's wrestlers went 3-for-4 to neutralize hard-charging Oak Forest to take the championship with 177 points, 12.5 more than Oak Forest and 15.5 ahead of third-place Lyons Township.
"What a disaster last year was for us," said a relieved Carlson, who was happy to join a photo session as Rams' supporters documented the team's achievement while heavyweight D'Andre Johnson held on to the tournament crown. "Our goal is always to come in, go after the team title and get a few individual titles as well. And although we got just one today, the effort from top to bottom was just terrific. I am very proud of every single guy on this team right now."
The Rams' lone champion was Jake Drew (18-1), who outlasted Noah Keefe (16-4) of Lincoln-Way West at 132 pounds with a 6-2 decision.
"Our guys at the lower weights got us going today, and the big guys got us a lot of points as well," Drew said. "That's how you win a big tournament like this one.
"It was the perfect match for me in that the pace was a little slower, which allowed me to dictate most of the match right until the end."
The senior took an early lead with a takedown, then rode his opponent for the entire second period before finishing off the Class 2A standout with 4 more points in the final period.
Drew's victory ended back-to-back losses in the finals for both Carlos Fuentes (106) and Dayton Olson (126, 16-2), who earned a rematch with top seed Grant Sutton (Richmond-Burton) only to fall to the talented junior 7-2.
"I tried to hit a Russian and a 2-on-1, but he is a great defender and he was able to stop those moves of mine," said Olson, who lost to Sutton earlier in the season 5-2. "But that's how it goes sometimes. At least I was able to watch by good friend, Jake, win his title after me."
"We knew what each other was going to do because of our previous meeting, and he is a very good wrestler, but I guess I was able to defend whatever he came after me with today," said Sutton, who is ranked No. 1 in the state, while his Michigan-bound older brother Garrett, No. 2 in the state and No. 14 in the nation, showed he was the class of the tournament after taking home the title at 160 and MVP honors as well.
Fuentes, 19-2 and ranked No. 4 in Class 3A, fell in his final 5-2 to Francis Edelen (23-1) of Oak Forest in a hard-fought six-minute bout against the No. 3-ranked 2A wrestler.
"If I had it to do all over, I would have stayed off of his legs, and stayed with what I do well, and that's (tilt) and cross-body," said Fuentes, who allowed a reversal moments into the third period to go down for good at 3-2.
The Rams' fourth finalist of the day, Josh Martin (145, 14-2), ran into the No. 2-rated Juwan Edmond (22-1) of Hinsdale Central. Edmond prevailed in a 14-2 major decision.
"Juwan always wrestles us very well, and today was no different," said Carlson.
"I had a tough time in my semifinal match against a guy (Jean-Lous Sawadoga of Rock Island) who was so slippery when I tried to take him down," said Edmond, a state runner-up last season. "But it was good to come back and finish strong in the final, especially after finishing third at the Whitlach last weekend."
Edmond's teammate Brian Allen (21-0) dominated the heavyweight division for the second consecutive year, as the Michigan State-bound top-rated senior continues to excel.
Hinsdale South sophomore Josh King (22-3) appeared to be on his way to a trip atop the podium at 220 pounds until Andrew Sierawski (Delaware-Hayes, Ohio) caught the superb young Hornet in the final minute of regulation, pinning the top seed at 5:21.
"I was on my way to an easy win, and he got me with a bogus head-lock, and that just shouldn't happen," said King, who was leading 7-1 before the abrupt turn of events.
Lake Park junior Tyler Vital bounced back from what he called a lackluster effort during his semifinal victory to defeat Mark Miller (21-4) of Zion-Benton (4-1) to capture the title at 195.
"After weighing in, then sitting around for over two hours, I just wasn't ready to go in my semi against Maine South (Ibraham Nasir) but luckily I woke up to win that match, then came back to wrestle a more complete six minutes in the final," said Vital, who was second at the Krupke last weekend.
Vital was nearly down and out against Nasir, who built an 8-3 lead, then 10-4 advantage with under 90 seconds to go in regulation before the No. 1 seed turned his opponent and lowered the boom with a fall at 5:18.
"I wasn't at my best, but I knew that my conditioning would pay off if I could (just) stay close," said Vital, now 21-3.
The Lancers finished 10th overall with 112 points, just 2 away from Lincoln-Way East.
Metea Valley junior Kenan Carter bounced back from a heartbreaking loss in his 152-pound semifinal to take third overall following a 10-4 thumping of Milad Abd of Downers Grove North.
The semi loss was a bitter bill to swallow for Carter, who was just a tick away from booking his place in the final against eventual champion AJ Villarreal of Lyons Township.
"That's the second time this season that I've lost like that in the final seconds," said Carter (20-4), who had Matt Ryan of Lincoln-Way West reverse him at the buzzer in a 5-4 decision.
"It would have been easy as a coach to blame the referee for that call, but that's not the way we do things around here, and besides, Kenan just can't let that happen in that situation," said his coach, Claudio Torres.
Kaneland heavyweight Justin Diddell (15-5) gave the club its best finish during the tournament with a fifth-place medal, while Bartlett senior Anthoy Zipparro (16-9) earned a sixth-place finish at 132 pounds.