It was a total contrast as Grant's little guys and Libertyville's big guys battle for team supremacy Saturday in the 59th Annual North Suburban Conference wrestling meet in Vernon Hills.
The Bulldogs held a slim 222 to 220-point lead after the semifinals before they were able to extend that lead to 243 to 226.5 heading into the finals.
That's when Grant's lower weights took over as the Bulldogs won first-place medals in five of the first six weight classes to build what proved to be an insurmountable advantage over the Wildcats.
Libertyville did put together a late comeback with some great results at its higher weights. But it was not enough as Grant captured its ninth NSC crown in 14 years 271-251.5 over the Wildcats, who'd won four of the past five NSC titles. Stevenson (124) placed third while Warren (111.5) was fourth.
The Bulldogs' great depth and balanced proved to be too much for Libertyville as Grant scored points with wrestlers placing in at least the top six in all 14 weight classes.
Sophomore Christian Kanzler (33-4) got the Bulldogs going in the finals with a 6-5 decision over Antioch's Briley Schultz at 106 before senior teammate Nick Koch pulled off a thrilling 7-5 overtime decision against Zion-Benton's Jose Munoz at 113.
Munoz had taken a 5-3 lead with only seven seconds left in the third period only to see Koch (34-4) force a 5-5 deadlock with two seconds left. From there, Koch closed the deal with a takedown 17 seconds into overtime.
"We had a really good showing and we've just got to bring the same intensity next week," said Koch, referring to the rematch at the Class 3A Libertyville regional next Saturday. "That was a lot closer match (against Munoz) than I would have liked, and I have to wrestler smarter next week if I wrestle that guy."
Upset-minded 120-pound junior Gage Datlovsky (25-11) kept the momentum going for Grant with an exciting 3-2 sudden victory in overtime against top-seeded Jordan Reich (34-3) of Vernon Hills.
Libertyville did get some potential momentum early on when senior standout Steve Polakowski (34-1) posted an 11-6 decision over Grant's Noah Drabek for first place at 126. In the process, the Minnesota-bound Polakowski became only the 28th three-time NSC champion in conference history.
But Troy Parent (32-7) got the Bulldogs back on the winning track with his 10-3 decision over Mundelein's Sam Riportella for the 132-pound crown.
Then came another huge victory in the138-pound title match as Grant junior Cristian Coronado (29-5) held off Libertyville senior Tyler Brooks 2-1 to give the Bulldogs a commanding 29.5-point lead in the team standings at that point.
"Libertyville came into the season with six pre-season All-Americans so we knew we had to step up and counter their higher weights, and the kids did it," said Grant coach Ryan Geist, who will be inducted into the IWCOA Hall of Fame on April 12. "Coach (Sean) Quirk developed a lot of these kids in the off-season, and I think a lot of the credit goes to him and our great coaching staff."
The Wildcats chipped away at Grant's big lead when junior Joey Gunther (30-6) posted an 11-1 decision over unseeded Stevenson senior Ryan Mass for the 152-pound crown.
Eastern Michigan-bound Kayne MacCallum (34-1) rolled to the 170-pound title for the Wildcats before senior teammate Austin Koziol (23-5) captured a 5-2 victory over Wauconda's Alex Schwickrath for the crown at 182.
Libertyville's top-seeded Chris McDermand (32-3) also won his second NSC title with a 3-0 decision over Warren's Sawyer McCaffery to give the Wildcats five champs overall.
"They (Grant) were up 17 points going into the final round and they won the first three so it was pretty much over after that," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert, who was a three-time NSC champ in the 1970's. "They've got a ton of depth, and we had some weight classes where we had some trouble scoring."
Top-ranked Class 2A 220-pounder Nate Magiera (40-0) of Wauconda kept his perfect record intact with a 5-0 decision over Libertyville's Kevin Barbian.
"He (Magiera) is one of the hardest working guys we've got, he doesn't make mistakes, and he understands the value of film," said Wauconda coach Tom Nance of his potential state champion. "He's very persistent, and he knows where the weight room is at so if he has good technique he's tough to beat."
Another wrestler who's been tough to beat is Warren senior Emery Parker (30-2), who rolled to first place at 160 with a 16-5 major decision over Libertyville's Colton Bast.
"It was a good performance, and once he (Parker) finally turned it on he looked good," said Warren coach Jim Ouimette. "I'm out four kids, so to take fourth place with four open spots is pretty good."
Lake Zurich 145-pounder Brandon Arteaga (26-3) won his second NSC crown with a 14-7 decision over Grant's Mike Kouvelis.
Unseeded Antioch freshman George Bessette dropped a 5-3 decision to place second at 195 while freshman teammate Patrick Schoenfelder placed third with a 9-5 decision over Lakes' Sam Callahan at 132.
"I don't think anybody expected George (Bessette) to be in the finals, but he's an outstanding wrestler," said Antioch coach Wilbur Borrero, whose team placed fifth. "Schoenfelder is a tough kid, and he is just a constant pistol so I know he's going to wrestle all the way through for six minutes."