When the wrestling state tournament series began last weekend, talk already began on how difficult the Barrington sectional would be, and which weight classes would sure to be those which would tantalize, tease and torment the players, coaches, families and friends.
With a group filled with talent from top-to-bottom, the 120-pound division was one to keep a sharp eye on.
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The Fox Valley Conference had its share of favorites here, and when the night came to an end on Friday, Michael Cullen and Cody Ferencz were still left standing in the championship bracket on the eve of today's 9 a.m. semifinals.
Cullen (25-3) brushed aside his only opponent on Friday with a fall at 2:50 to send the Cary-Grove junior against No. 4 Keegan Powers (38-4) of Hononegah, who was pushed to the brink by Gage Datlovsky before edging the Grant junior 7-5 in overtime.
As for Ferencz (33-4), the Jacobs junior would have to do it the hard way, first defeating longtime FVC rival Garrett Dziedzic (Crystal Lake South, 29-10) 2-1 before getting past Shayan Hossein of New Trier 6-3.
"When I first saw the brackets I was excited, because Garrett and I had wrestled before, so I was confident going into our match, plus I knew that if I could get by him in my toughest test of the day, that my second rounder would be easier," said Ferencz, who was 1-1 with Dziedzic, and will now face No. 2 Steve Polakowski (37-1) of Libertyville, one of the favorites to win it all next weekend in Champaign.
Ferencz' teammate, Mark Mamola (220, 34-4), wasn't as fortunate, falling in an ultimate-tiebreaker to James Ford of Prospect in his second-rounder.
Mamola will now have to work his way back through wrestlebacks in order to qualify for the state tournament, which begins on Thursday afternoon.
The Huntley duo of Ricky Vigil and Brandon Meyer enjoyed a successful first day here, as both were victorious in their only matches of the day to advance into the semifinals.
Meyer (33-7) who was a regional champion last weekend, will meet sophomore Tulga Zuunbayan (38-7) of Wheeling at 138 pounds, while Vigil (31-7) also a regional champ, faces FVC rival Logan Hanselmann (27-6) of Cary-Grove, who survived a 3-2 bout with three-time sectional qualifier Dan Arteaga of Round Lake in his quarterfinal.
"Having gained experience (here) last year really helped me be under control, and not nervous before my match tonight, especially after sitting around for awhile because I had a first-round bye," said the Red Raiders' sophomore, who defaulted due to an injury in wrestlebacks to the aforementioned Hanselmann.
Speaking of injuries, Hanselmann's teammate at heavyweight, Michael Gomez (29-11), was forced to withdraw from the tournament after suffering a knee injury earlier in the week.
Just last weekend, the junior would capture an individual title at the McHenry regional.
Sophomore John Cullen (30-9) who perhaps is coming out of the shadows of his older brother Michael, continues to shine, winning both of his matches on Friday, the second with a marvelous six-minute effort to upend Grant Warner of Hersey (7-2) to set up a semifinal bout with Troy Parent (28-9) of Grant this morning.
"I lost to (Parent) earlier in the year (3-1) but that was then, and (now) I feel like I've improved a lot since that first half of the season, plus I feel like I am finally comfortable at this weight, and in this weight class," said Cullen.
The news was good for Dundee-Crown fans, who celebrated wonderful performances from Christian Brunner (39-3) at 182, and Jeremy Marshall (39-5) at heavyweight.
Next up for the sophomore Brunner will face two-time sectional qualifier Ryan Wosick (40-6) of Loyola, while the Chargers' big man faces Sawyer McCaffrey (36-6) of Warren.
"The intensity in the room this past week has been way up there, and the guys who are there, and the guys who really want to be, and it's been just nonstop all week to get us ready for this weekend," said Marshall, who is now 39-5 on the season.
The all important wrestlebacks will help decide the eventual third and fourth place medalists, who will join the top two from each weight division downstate later next week.
The medal round is scheduled to begin at approximately 3 p.m. today.