Glenbard North is in a customary position entering the DuPage Valley Conference wrestling championship this weekend at Naperville Central.
Three years removed from their one and only team state championship, the Panthers are prohibitive favorites to win their 17th consecutive league title.
"People thought they might be a little bit down this year, but it's not true," Naperville Central coach Rob Porter said of the Panthers' unblemished run in the regular-season dual matches. "They have really dominated the conference once again."
Glenbard North, which also has captured 13 consecutive regional titles, has not dropped a DVC dual meet since 1996.
But the other seven schools in the conference have their own goals in the last major tournament before the state series begins the following Saturday.
"I am excited for the conference tournament, especially since this is the last year with all the teams together," Naperville North coach Tom Champion said of the departure at the end of the school year of Glenbard East and West Aurora to the Upstate Eight.
Every member school has ranked wrestlers, and there are a host of returning state qualifiers to further heighten the drama.
"It's one of those years," Champion said. "You could have four schools with five kids in the finals."
Glenbard North has been traditionally strong in the lower weights, and this year is no exception.
Jered Cortez, the Panthers' back-to-back undefeated Class 3A champion, and Jon Marmolejo -- who is seeking to become a four-time conference champion -- anchor Glenbard North at 132 and 126 pounds, respectively.
The lower weights offer the most compelling potential storylines, beginning with the opening class at 106 pounds.
Glenbard North freshman Austin Gomez (No. 3), Glenbard East senior Carlos Fuentes (4) and West Aurora freshman Isaac Jacquez (9) are all ranked in the top 10 at the lightest weight.
Marmolejo also faces stiff competition at 126 pounds; the second-rated competitor, whose only in-state loss was to three-time state champion Johnny Jimenez of Marmion, has fourth-ranked Jonathan Doyle (West Aurora) and No. 8 Dylan Thurston of Wheaton North to contend with in his bid for a fourth league championship.
The veteran league coaches have seen this development on more than one occasion over the years.
"There are some really outstanding kids in the conference, but you could say that just about any year," Porter said.
There are several other classes where favorites can be ousted from their lofty state status.
"Lake Park has a couple of sleepers," Champion said of the first-time participant.
"We have been competitive with all the top teams in the DVC (during the duals)," Lake Park coach Todd Raymond said. "We just haven't been able to outscore them. I am hoping we can have some good performances."
Travis Cherry, the former Glenbard North standout and assistant coach, is directing Wheaton North on Saturday.
"My expectations are for all 14 guys to compete," Cherry said. "We're going to come out with some champions. It's going to be a great challenge."
Anthony Yanan, the Falcons' 220-pounder, is the odds-on favorite to snare the top seed after a flawless regular-season dual record.
Glenbard East will counter with four other returning state qualifiers in addition to Fuentez.
The heavyweight division has the Rams' D'Andre Johnson as the highest-ranked athlete, but Champion thinks he may have the equalizer in KiJuan Walker.
"Our heavyweight is a will card," said Champion, who also has grand hopes for Jake Kruk, Brandon Gilligan, Ben Brancaleon and Chris Zhang at 106, 182, 195 and 220, respectively. "We have a couple of younger guys who are coming into their own. They would have to avenge a loss or two (to compete for the team title). It could happen."
The Blazers' time:
The two West Suburban divisions do not have a conference tournament.
Last year in the Gold, Addison Trail, Willowbrook and Downers Grove South shared the conference with one dual-match loss each.
But Addison Trail is in prime position to win its first outright title in more than three decades this season.
With a victory over sister school Willowbrook on Thursday day in Addison, the Blazers would earn the distinction for the first time since 1983.
"It's not official, official," Addison Trail coach Rob Serio said of the possibility. "We just had a big win over Glenbard East last weekend (at the Crete-Monee quadrangular)."
Niko Rocha is the Blazers' one returning state qualifier, and the senior has able support from classmates Eric De La Cruz (120 pounds), Jake Pelagic (126), Gilberto DeLaPaz (132) and heavyweight Bobby Carson.
Close, but not quite:
Neuqua Valley coach Mick Ruettiger and his counterpart at Waubonsie Valley, Brad Caldwell, had similar viewpoints after the Upstate Eight Conference tournament last weekend in Elgin.
"If we wrestled well, we thought we could press St. Charles (East for the team title)," said Ruettiger, who boasted a pair of champions and 10 other place-winners to finish second.
"We were hoping to give St. Charles (East) a run," said Caldwell, whose squad captured the Valley Division for the second straight year with an undefeated record.
"We had a couple of open weight classes (due to illness and an injury), so we knew that would make it pretty tough."
The Warriors finished in third place.
The Interstate Eight Conference also held its individual championship last weekend.
The 12-team league has some of the top Class 1A and 2A teams and individuals in the state.
Lisle finished in sixth place at the tournament, which Plano captured over host Sandwich.
The Lions' Ben Buchelt had a third-period fall for the only offensive points in the 145-pound championship match against Plano senior Abel Gonzalez.
The 3-1 verdict was the lone title for the Lions.
"I definitely wanted to get my payback," Buchelt said of reversing one of his three losses on the season. "Winning conference is definitely a big moment for me."
Brandon Vega was the Lions' other all-conference performer with his runner-up finish at 120 pounds.
"Our season so far -- I'm pleasantly surprised," said Lisle coach John Davis, whose Class 1A squad is assigned to the Byron individual sectional. "We hope we can contend for a regional title."
The Lions will host the first state series event the second Saturday in February.