People were expecting another showdown between perennial powers Libertyville and Grant Friday night in the opening day of the 59th Annual North Suburban Conference wrestling meet in Vernon Hills.
And that is exactly what they got, as the defending champion Wildcats will take a 108-106 advantage over the Bulldogs heading into the final day of competition beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The semifinals are scheduled for 10:15 a.m. with the finals slated for 2:30 p.m.
There were no major upsets to speak of on day one as Grant got 10 wrestlers into the semifinals to nine semifinalists for Libertyville.
Both coaches are expecting a possible dogfight to the finish on Saturday as the Bulldogs have won eight NSC championships since joining the league in 2001 to five titles for the Wildcats in that span.
"A couple of our kids ran into some tough matches early on, but they gutted it out, so I'm really proud of them," said Grant coach Ryan Geist. "At this point, we still have a chance so that is all you can ask for."
Grant does have a defending NSC champ in 126-pounder Noah Drabek (17-2). But he is on a collision course with Libertyville two-time NSC champ Steve Polakowski, who is top-seeded with a 32-1 record.
The Wildcats have a lot of star power in their lineup as elite 170-pounder Kayne MacCallum (32-1), and 285-pound teammate Chris McDermand (30-3) are top-seeded defending NSC champs.152-pounder Joey Gunther and 182-pound teammate Austin Koziol are also No. 1-seeds for Libertyville.
Grant senior Nick Koch (32-5 at 113) and junior teammate Cristian Coronado (138) are top seeds. Koch placed sixth in the state as a junior.
"It's going to be exciting, it's great competition, and the Grant guys really came to fight," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert, whose team is going for its 17th NSC crown to nine for Grant. "We have to match them in intensity and we're going to have a couple of head-to-heads coming up that are going to be important."
Stevenson easily holds third place heading into Saturday with 75 points followed by Mundelein (50 points) in fourth, and Wauconda (40 points) in sixth.
Wauconda senior Nate Magiera is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 2A and he has a perfect 38-0 record at 220 pounds.
Magiera is confident he can have a great finish to his high school career as he has already reached the state meet three times, including a fifth-place finish last season.
"In this tournament I'm looking to improve some things and work on my technique," said Magiera, who is also a defending NSC champ. "My first goal is I'm going to try to win it (state), and my game plan is to just push my opponents, be the aggressor, and get after them."
Mundelein also has a top-seed in senior Sam Riportella (30-7 at 132), and he could be headed for a finals showdown against Grant's Troy Parent.
"He (Riportella) has to come out, wrestle hard, and do the job tomorrow," said Mundelein coach Vinny Jiuditta. "He's got to battle hard. Nothing is given to you, and Parent is a tough wrestler."
Lake Zurich has three defending NSC champs, but two-time senior state qualifier Sean Lynch (2-0) is being held out until regionals next weekend due to a football injury.
The Bears are looking to No. 1-seeded 145-pounder Brandon Arteaga (24-3) and teammate Alex Zurawski (13-6) to become two-time NSC champions.
"Wrestling aside, these are all really good people, but as far as their work ethic and athletics, they work as hard as anyone," said Lake Zurich coach Dan Strickler. "They're just a great group of guys to be around, and they're also intelligent so they're fun to be with."
Vernon Hills has an elite senior in top-seeded 120-pounder Jordan Reich (33-2) going for back-to-back NSC crowns as Reich is ranked No. 2 in Class 2A.
"This is my last go-around in high school and I'm really trying to make the best of it," said Reich, who placed third in the state as a junior. "My goal is to win it all, I got a taste of it last year taking third place, and I really want to get the top spot this year."
Two-time Class 2A state qualifier Briley Schultz (25-3) of Antioch could face Grant sophomore Christian Kanzler in the 106-pound finals.
Polakowski and Grant's Noah Drabek could go head-to-head for first at 126 as is the case with Coronado and Libertyville's Tyler Brooks at 138.
Warren's Emery Parker (28-2) is a serious top-seeded title contender at 160 while Stevenson newcomer Tyler Harrington is hoping to make a big splash at 170.
Other wrestlers to watch are Grant's Gage Datlovsky (120), Grant's Mike Kouvelis (145), Stevenson's Ryan Mass (152), Libertyville's Colton Bast (160), Wauconda's Alex Schwickrath (182), Antioch's George Bessette (195), Libertyville's Kevin Barbian (220), and Warren's Sawyer McCaffery (285).