It was a long evening, but when it had finally ended, a relieved Chad Hay was wearning a big smile.
Conant's coach saw an impressive season continue as the Cougars held off defending Mid-Suburban West champion Barrington 42-23 Friday to clinch at least a tie for the MSL West crown, ending the Broncos' hopes for a fourth consecutive title.
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"It's been a crazy couple of days with finals and the guys having a day off, and all I wanted was for us to wrestle tonight," said Hay. "With senior night and an extra long freshman and JV dual, it felt like we'd never get started. But now that it's over and we got the win, it feels good to finally get over the hump and get at least a piece of the division championship."
Hay's Cougars can win the division outright with a victory over Hoffman Estates next Friday.
"After we came back to beat Schaumburg last Friday, we all knew it would come down to tonight," said Conant heavyweight Tyler LaBarbera (18-5), who along with teammates Andrew Zerfas (195) and Michael Meier (220) put the visitors in front for good after a quick start from the Broncos (11-6-0, 3-1-0). "But nobody really talked about winning -- instead, the focus was on just going out and doing your job against Barrington, whether it was getting a pin, or staying away from getting pinned or bonus point losses."
The hosts had their moments early on, striking for the first 9 points beginning with a 4-0 decision from Travis Cysewski (19-10) in the opening bout of the night at 170, followed by a terrific performance from John DePersia, brought up from the junior varsity, that ended with his fall at 4:29.
"Travis' win illustrates how good of a season he's had thus far, and (DePersia) really came through with a huge pin for us, which shows how the depth of our program is capable of providing efforts like his," said Barrington coach Ken Hoving whose club was thinned by injury but still proved formidable.
"We knew coming in just how dangerous Barrington still is," said Hay, "and how they wouldn't let up until the very end, and they didn't. It's just that we were able to win some of the close matches with pins to open up a really tight dual tonight."
The Cougars improved to 13-0-0 overall and 5-0-0 in MSL West duels.
An 8-2 triumph from Zerfas at 195 followed by back-to-back falls from Meier and LaBarbera put the Cougars on top at 15-9. And after Barrington's Mitch Stathakis (19-3, ranked No. 10 in the state polls) recorded a 19-7 major decision at 106, Kyle Peisker (19-4) and Danny Madonia (21-2) extended the Conant advantage to 24-13.
Madonia pumped his fist with delight when a lightning-quick move near the edge put Nick Patino to his back, and with just 4 seconds remaining in the second period, the talented sophomore registered the third of 5 pins for the Cougars.
"Last week against Schaumburg you saw how momentum played a role in the eventual outcome of that dual," said Hay. "And tonight, the back-to-back pins from Meier and LaBarbera, and later Danny and Marcus Williams (126), kept the momemtum in our favor and away from Barrington, which could have easily turned things around if things went their way."
Matt Conrad (21-8) slowed the Cougars briefly with a pin at 0:54 at 132, and although Peter Minwegen put a scare into Bobby Alexander (19-2), the No. 6-rated 138-pounder bounced back from a 4-4 draw to pin his opponent at 5:19.
Griff Rose (18-4) sealed the Conant win for a second consecutive Friday with a 5-3 decision over John Blanke (6-1) before Seungyak Shin put the finishing touches on the night with a 5-2 decision at 160 pounds.
"Even with us having to go with three JV guys and two freshmen, we cannot give away 30 points on (5) pins," said Hoving. "It's a recipe for disaster, and we've got to get better at that.
"We have to get ourselves healthy and ready to go before regionals, and if we can, we'll be right there in the team race. It's tough not getting a fourth straight division title, but Conant is a very good team, and they deserved to win tonight."
The Broncos are at the Neuqua Valley Mega-Duals today, while Conant travels to Lyons Township for its quad with Libertyville and 2A power DeKalb.