A perfect final round led to a perfect ending for St. Charles East on Saturday afternoon.
Ryan Valesh and Isaiah Vela inspired five consecutive championships beginning at 132 pounds, and along with Anthony Rubino's crown at 113 to start things off, the Saints won all six of their finals to lift the Upstate Eight Conference wrestling trophy for a second straight year.
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St. Charles East outscored runner-up Neuqua Valley by 29 points (224-195) and third-place Waubonsie Valley (176.5). Batavia (166) and South Elgin (125) rounded out the top five when the action had ended at host Elgin High School.
"That's the way to go out and take control of a tournament," said St. Charles East coach Jason Potter, whose team led all the way and medaled in 13 of 14 divisions. "We obviously wanted to go out and win the conference tournament, but more importantly, we want each and every guy to be tested at a high level in order to prepare for regionals in two weeks. Half of the (UEC) field will be at the South Elgin regional, along with Glenbard North, who we'll go after for the team title."
Before the tournament got under way, it was clear a rematch at 138 pounds between Vela (33-3) and Waubonsie Valley standout Jimmy Davis (33-3) would be the marquee bout of the final session. And although the Nos. 4 and 6 ranked wrestlers didn't disappoint, it was the final at 182 pound that stole the show.
Seventh-ranked Mitch Kroening (31-4) of Waubonsie Valley stunned the big crowd with a sparkling first period against No. 4-ranked Connor Swier (34-3) of Neuqua Valley. Kroening turned Wildcats standout senior three times to build a 10-0 lead before recording a 12-6 victory.
"Connor is such a great wrestler, so to get up on him by that big of a margin, all I thought about was to not get turned myself and give up a lot of points and allow him to get back into the match," said Kroening, who earned the Jeff Mirabella Most Valuable Wrestler award by the vote of the conference coaches.
Jack Timberlake (32-4) gave Waubonsie Valley its second title of the day at 170 after a 6-2 decision over Tim Young of East Aurora, while sophomore heavyweight Tyler Caldwell (25-8) fell in the fourth OT period 3-2 to Alex Rader of Streamwood.
Vela, who had beaten Davis 7-5 earlier and (9-7) last year in the 132-pound final, struck first on Saturday with a takedown but later conceded a well-orchestrated reversal from Davis to level the score at 3-3 early in the third period.
Vela took the lead with an escape with 43 seconds remaining in regulation, but the Waubonsie bench howled its disapproval when it thought Davis had earned 2 points near the edge with 23 seconds left.
"Jimmy is so tough, but I knew I had to compete at my best to beat him," said Vela, who then watched teammates Jake Mende (26-7), Keone Derain (34-4) and finally Ramon Lopez (29-7) follow suit with victories at 145, 152 and 160. "But as far as what happened near the end of the match, I just let the refs call the match, and I just wrestle them."
Lopez credited the team's leadership for the Saints' surge.
"The atmosphere, intensity and attitude in the room which coach (Potter) brings is the reason for the success of the team and the individuals as well," said Lopez, who pinned freshman Mason Kroening (20-18) of Waubonsie Valley in his final. "We all feel if we continue to work hard from here on out, we will have a great chance of winning a regional title in two weeks."
Derain defeated Kenan Carter (32-5) of Metea Valley 11-4, while Mende edged Mike Huck (23-13) of Geneva 4-3.
"Mende had beaten me earlier, and a win today would certainly help my chances of a higher seed at regionals, where I hope to see him once again," said Huck, a junior.
Batavia, which finished just 10 points (166) out of third place, had plenty to celebrate after Connor McKeehan (21-5) not only enjoyed winning the 220-pound championship but also the Ed Washington Memorial Sportsmanship Award just before the finals began.
McKeehan, who is No. 1 academically in a class of 484, won in thrilling style. He earned a fall at 5:40 against DJ Warkenthien of Neuqua Valley, but had a difficult time finding the words to describe it all, despite having nearly 10 minutes to enjoy the experience with his teammates.
"Winning my first tournament championship, as well as the sportsmanship award, is why I wrestle and compete, and why I've stuck it out, and worked as hard as I could in this sport," the Batavia senior said. "But other than that, I just don't know what else to say right now."
Junior Noah Frazier (25-6) fell short in his bid to join McKeehan after falling 1-0 in his 195-pound final with Brent Lindeman of Neuqua Valley.
St. Charles North freshman Kolbe O'Brien opened the festivities with a hard fought 7-4 decision over Emmanuel Garcia (15-5) of West Chicago to win the 106-pound title.
"My expectations coming in as a freshman was to win half of my matches during my first year, but I've been able to exceed that number, and now I hope to continue to do well enough to advance from my regional," said O'Brien, now 30-5.
Justin Killacky (25-7) was the other Neuqua Valley wrestler to earn top honors. He surprised Elgin senior Zach McCullough (21-3) with a fall at 1:15.
"His early takedown was kind of a wake-up call for me, but when I saw him sitting on his knees, I knew the time was right to load him up and lock him down," said the Wildcats senior.
McCullough, meanwhile, will try to learn from his experience.
"It's tough to see Zach reach four finals this season, and lose in three of them, but he'll just have to clean things up, put this one behind him, and get after in preparation of regionals coming up," said Elgin coach Tom Stewart.
Larkin senior Duke Bogicevic (31-1) joined Streamwood's big man Rader as a champion by day's end.
The Royals' top man dominated the 126-pound field, ending his memorable day with a 8-2 decision over South Elgin sophomore Mike Perez (24-15), who helped lead the Storm to a fifth-place finish in the team race with 125 points.
"I would have liked to win the title with a pin, but (Perez) was a real fighter, and I had to keep my focus and just get the win instead of the pin," said Bogicevic, who's won four tournament titles this season.
"A win is a win is a win, and soon it's all about survival when the state series begins, and that's what we're looking for from Duke," said Larkin coach Steve Hoyt, who saw his seven competitors in the meet earn several medals.
Coach Mark Cameron was pleased with the effort and top-five finish from his South Elgin club despite watching Perez fall just short in his bid for UEC top honors.
"We've turned our nonconference schedule around to make it more competitive," said Cameron, "and today you saw the reason why with our fifth-place finish -- which is saying something when you consider that most of our lineup is filled with freshmen and sophomores."
A pair of seniors from Bartlett did well for the Hawks, with Anthony Zipparro grabbing a second-place trophy at 132 pounds following a 9-2 defeat to Valesh of St. Charles East, while 220-pounder Ben Wiley (31-6) came back through wrestlebacks to collect third place.
"I'd say both guys did very well for themselves," said Bartlett coach John O'Brien. "Each were in very tough weight classes, and for Ben, here's a guy who was just a few matches over .500 last year, and he's turned things around to win 30-plus matches already. 'Z' continues to improve, in a very tough weight class, and this weekend competed very well in each of his three matches."
Zipparro is now 27-9 after winning 25 times last year.
When Rader (22-7) outlasted his opponent from Waubonsie in the heavyweight final, it marked a second consecutive weekend the Sabres captain did so. More importantly, it also marked the first time a wrestler from Streamwood had won a conference title since 2004.
"I cannot believe I needed 4 overtime periods to win, but although I am exhausted right now, it feels really good to finally win a championship for Streamwood wrestling," said Rader, now 22-7.