Scouting conference wrestling
When: Friday (5 p.m. start); Saturday 9:30 a.m. (3 p.m. finals)
Defending champion: Barrington
Background: The top four teams in the MSL take center stage when the league comes together for its annual season-ending tournament beginning Friday afternoon in Arlington Heights.
Prospect cemented its place as outright East Division champ for a second consecutive year with a perfect 5-0 record, while Conant, after hard-fought victories at Schaumburg and Barrington, ended the hopes of a fourth straight division title for the Broncos with its first West Division title since 2007.
Talk among those in the know give the Cougars a slight edge over the field to make one more giant leap forward on the floor of host Hersey come Saturday night and win the overall MSL team championship.
"Conant has very good depth from top to bottom, and with that side of the conference a little stronger than ours, I have to figure them as the favorite to win it all, with Prospect, Barrington and Schaumburg all very capable to win it as well," says Wheeling coach Neal Weiner, who will become the dean of MSL coaches after Dave Froehlich (Rolling Meadows) retires following the school year.
"Winning the division was a testament to the group of guys we have this season, and when guys faltered, others stepped right in to carry the load," says Conant coach Chad Hay.
A terrific blend of youth and experience gave Conant the chance to shine this winter, with youngsters Kyle Peisker (113, 25-5) and Danny Madonia (120, 28-2) carrying the load at the lower weights, while Bobby Alexander (132, 26-2), Griff Rose (152, 21-4), Dan Andress (160, 27-6) and undersized yet powerful heavyweight Tyler LaBarbera (19-7) providing leadership and dynamic results.
Alexander, a junior, will be after his third MSL crown. But Barrington's Matt Conrad and others would like nothing more to upend the No. 6 ranked Conant standout, who is all a two-time state qualifier.
"I'd like to think there are four or five of us who can compete for the tournament championship, with Conant, Barrington and Schaumburg all having plenty of talented guys in their lineup, (plus) there's a bunch of others who have some great individuals who will make a difference in the final standings," said Prospect coach Tom Whalen, who preferred to have his club mentioned as a "possible" contender instead of one of the favorites. "If we can score bonus points and place all 14 of our guys, then we have a great chance in the end."
Both Barrington and Schaumburg might be in the shadow of the West divisional champ, but both have plenty of firepower.
The Saxons lost late in duels with both Barrington and Conant but will be dangerous in the league championship setting.
"I'd love to say (injuries) were the reason we didn't get the job done against those two, but the truth is, we just didn't compete, and both of them wrestled back-ups and seemed to be just fine against us," said Schaumburg coach Mike Levanti. "It would be great to win the overall crown, but I'd be more than satisfied to somehow sneak out with the tournament trophy. But from what I've seen and read, Prospect will be a handful, you'd better not sleep on Barrington, and (Conant) appears to be the class of the field heading into the first day."
The Saxons have three of the best in the area in Luke Gruszka (160, 22-3), Sadarriss Patterson (170, 25-3) and Matt Stopka (195, 25-4), all of whom could vie for titles.
Barrington's main foe this season was injuries, which along with heavy graduation losses robbed coach Ken Hoving five conference champions and veteran leadership.
"It looks like we'll finally be a full strength, or as close to it as we've been all season, so I feel like we have as good a chance as anybody," Hoving said. "But we're going to have to wrestle well, and (above) many of the seeds we receive, and know with confidence, that whomever has the better two days will win it all."
"It's not a secret," said Hay. "In order to win, it will likely come down to bonus points, so we need to get majors, techs and pins when we can, win the close ones, and limit as many bonus points as possible in our losses.
"Every guy needs to be prepared to compete, because it's going to be a two-day dogfight."
Fox Valley Conference
When: Friday at 4 p.m.; Saturday at 9 a.m.
Background: The prevailing thought among several FVC coaches is that four, perhaps five clubs have a chance at winning the tournament Saturday night at McHenry.
"This weekend should be fun, but a lot will depend who actually wrestles, and who might not," says Huntley's BJ Bertelsman, who with division champion Crystal Lake South, Dundee-Crown, Crystal Lake Central and the hosts all figure to be right there in the end. "Central hasn't had all of their guys in the lineup of late, so who knows what they might do. And all of us have had a variety of injuries and bouts of illness, which is pretty common for this sport, but it still should be an entertaining tournament."
For all of the success by the Red Raiders (20-3-0) and Dundee-Crown, both fell short in the division along with McHenry to FVC Valley champ Crystal Lake South, which ran the table, including a season-ending victory over the tournament host Tigers.
The Gators have the favorites at 138 (Nick Gil, 31-1) and 145 (Eric Barone, 29-4) and another, Brian Pence (20-3) who missed some time recently but is itching to grab his second straight championship ring in what many think could be a final against Andrew Marsden of Crystal Lake Central.
"We've got an excellent group of seniors and juniors who have bought into everything that we've asked of them," said Gators coach Ross Ryan, "and it's been evident when you look at how the team has wrestled and won against Cary-Grove, Huntley and McHenry to win the division for the third time in five years outright."
"We'd like to think we can be there at the end, but we'll need to help ourselves and get some help from others in order to do so," says D-C coach Robert Skillman (18-4-0), who has the heavyweight favorite with Jeremy Marshall (31-5), and two others (Tim Schanmier, 152, 31-7 and Christian Brunner, 182, 34-3) who have had marvelous seasons thus far.
Cody Ferencz (120, 26-2) and Chris Dranka (126, 19-5) will have their chance to shine as the dynamic duo leads a strong bunch at the lower weights for Jacobs, with three-year veteran Mark Mamola (28-2) ready to have a go at McHenry behemoth Luis Hernandez (28-0 at 220).
"Cody and Mark are coming off tournament titles at Urbana, and even though (Mark) lost to him earlier, he's been wrestling very well the past couple of weeks, so we like our chances this time around," says Jacobs coach Gary Conrad.
If the key wrestlers are fit and ready to go, there's a handful of potential thrillers awaiting those in attendance, including:
113 -- Michael Cullen (Cary-Grove, 15-3), Travis Piotrowski (Prairie Ridge, 24-1), Nick Meyer (Huntley, 25-7), Britches Sikula (McHenry, 24-7). The Nos. 4- and 7-rated wrestlers, Cullen and Piotrowski, have one thing in common -- both lost to No. 3 Anthony Bosco of Marmion Academy at the Moore-Prettyman in OT (Cullen 4-3 in the final, Piotrowski 5-3 in the semifinals). If Cullen and Piotrowski meet this weekend, the outcome will have a major effect on next week's McHenry regional, where the two stars will be found once again. Of the 25 victories (Meyer) has recorded, eight have come via the pin, as the senior appears to be peaking at just the right time.
120 -- Ferencz (26-2), Logan Hanselmann (Cary-Grove, 20-5), Garrett Dziedzic (Crystal Lake South, 24-7), Jeffrey Morrow (Grayslake Central), Robby Duh (McHenry, 24-7). Morrow came from Elgin where he won 29 as a sectional qualifier, while Hanselmann, who missed some time with an injury, is back in form, and ready to resume his 2013 state qualifying level of play. Ferencz, a junior, has won three tournament titles thus far, with one of his two losses to Dziedzic earlier, who in turn has dropped a pair of 3-1 decisions to Hanselmann.
195 -- Pence vs. Andrew Marsden (Crystal Lake Central). With due respect to the rest of this division, it will be a shock if the final isn't between No. 1 Marsden and No. 3 Pence late Saturday. Marsden, the top-rated 195-pounder in 2A, has few peers, as his lone defeat of the season came at the hands of 3A's No. 1 Tyler Johnson (4-3) of Lockport. The 2013 state medalist pinned Pence for third-place at Dvorak, but the Gators senior proved he belongs with the best.
East Suburban Catholic
Where: Notre Dame
When: 3:30 p.m. Friday
Defending champion: Marist
Background: The reigning champs not only won the Dvorak back in late December, but one week later went to Rochester, Minn., for the high-profile Clash XII national duels and beat four of their six nationally ranked opponents to earn fifth-place team honors. Needless to say, the Redhawks are favored to win a fifth consecutive ESCC crown -- this despite dropping a duel in the regular season to Notre Dame on a night when Marist kept several of its regulars out of the lineup.
While the host Dons are the likely runners-up here, with St. Patrick next in line, first-year St. Viator coach Jason Churak feels his team could have three or four of his wrestlers earn all-ESCC honors, which in this tournament format means a top-three finish.
"We've come a long way since the beginning of the season in a year when we didn't really know how quickly we would progress, if we did at all," says Churak. "But the guys have really bought into things, and they continue to work hard each time they come into the room. Although we still have a long way to go, we're beginning to see these guys finally be able to compete at a higher level than ever before."
The Lions will have a chance to break the school record of 11 duel-meet wins after the ESCC tournament this weekend, and would do so, thanks in large part to four 20-match winners, led by James Valentino (220) at 27 victories.
"We brought over Espo (Nick Esposito) from Notre Dame, and along with Pete Roto, Ben Hamilton, Vince Sabatello and Father Dan Hall, we've assembled a very good coaching staff which is commited to the program and the boys, who now have a bunch of guys right there with them every day," added Churak.
-- Mike Garofola