The Marmion wrestling team has an entirely different look from this time in January.
The Cadets, the reigning state runners-up in Class 3A, were forfeiting as many as five weight classes due to injuries last month. But one week after dominating the Waubonsie Valley regional, Marmion had another stellar team performance at the Hinsdale Central individual sectional on Saturday afternoon.
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Nine of the 11 Marmion participants qualified for the state tournament next weekend in Champaign.
"We're finally wrestling with a full squad," Marmion coach Ryan Cumbee said.
Johnny Jimenez has still not tasted defeat in his four postseasons. The Big Ten-bound Marmion 126-pounder, a three-time state champion, had no issues in administering a technical fall in the championship match.
"This is my last step until I wrestle for Wisconsin," Jimenez said after becoming one of three Marmion wrestlers to win a sectional championship. "The goal is to go out there and have fun. I go out there and I expect to win."
Marmion had three straight finalists between 170 and 195 pounds. In the first clash, a match with potentially decisive importance when the Cadets face Mt. Carmel at the Marist team sectional a week from Tuesday, senior Nick Ferraro turned Dru Worker of the Caravan and secured a second-period pin with his power half nelson.
"In the first period (Worker) took me off my feet," Ferraro said. "I knew it was going to be a tough match there on out."
"(Ferraro) gets to go to individual state week with momentum and confidence," Cumbee said.
After the Cadets' Nathan Traxler dropped a hard-fought 2-1 decision to Marist junior Alex Benoit at 182 pounds, Josh Meyers' extraordinary story came to light. Weighing more than 20 pounds under the 195-pound guideline, Meyers had two third-period takedowns to win the title.
"Meyers at (195) pounds was probably the feel-good story of the year in my opinion," Cumbee said. "Josh has to gain weight before every dual meet and tournament to be eligible."
Sam Breen and Lucas Warren had pins in their third-place matches for Marmion at 160 and 220 pounds. Trace Carello also captured a major-consolation title for Marmion at 152 pounds.
Anthony Bosco and A.J. Jaffe qualified in back-to-back weight classes at 113 and 120 pounds for the Cadets by winning their third-place semifinal matches. Both competitors settled for fourth overall.
Batavia and West Aurora both had a single qualifier after being shut out of the proceedings at the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall a year ago. Isaac Jacquez symbolically reversed the hemorrhaging that West Aurora experienced the second half of the season with injuries to high-profile competitors, none more so than his DuPage Valley Conference champion brother, Carlos.
"The last half of the (regular) season was rough," West Aurora coach Mike DiNovo said after the freshman advanced at 106 pounds.
Connor McKeehan is at the other end of the educational class spectrum for Batavia. The likely senior valedictorian at Batavia advanced for the first time with his championship berth at 220 pounds.
Though McKeehan failed to score any offensive points against Hinsdale Central sophomore Matt Allen, it marked a new chapter.
"He realizes he is a senior," Batavia coach Scott Bayer said. "There is a finality, an urgency."
Jimmy Davis' return trip to the state tournament could not have had a more dramatic final act. In becoming the first Waubonsie Valley sectional champion in 12 years, Davis' championship effort at 138 pounds was fulfilled when he had a takedown 19 seconds into overtime to turn back Marist senior Mario Leveille 8-6.
"My coaches were screaming at me the whole match to come inside and hit it," Davis said of his double-leg takedown. "I just had to hit it. I held on for dear life."
The 138-pound class proved to be a strong weight class for the area as Wheaton Warrenville South junior Qarin Johnson and Naperville Central junior Ben Williamson also advanced when the former, the DuPage Valley Conference champion, outlasted the Redhawks' lone state qualifier.
Fourteen other local competitors made the state field. Host Hinsdale Central more than made the most of its three entries as the Red Devils crowned champions in top-ranked Juwon Edmond at 145 pounds and brothers Matt and Brian Allen in the concluding 220- and 285-pound divisions.
"It's pretty cool to keep the (family) tradition and legacy going," said Brian Allen, the Red Devils' defending state heavyweight champion whose older brother Jack captured the same title three years ago.
Downers Grove South, Downers Grove North and Hinsdale South also produced multiple state qualifiers.
But it was Naperville North senior Ben Brancaleon who made the statement of the two-day tournament for a runner-up. After placing third at Waubonsie Valley last week at 195 pounds, Brancaleon defeated two regional champions -- Argo senior Cosmo Halix and Sandburg senior Hunter Pidel -- to reach the finals.
"I found something from inside me that wanted to win more than anything else," Brancaleon said of his wins in the quarters and semis. "I don't think it's horrible to lose in finals. (Marmion senior Josh Meyers) caught me on one move (for three takedowns in the 9-6 match). If I figure out that one move, hopefully I will see him at state."
Mitch Kroening also made the state tournament with a memorable final match. The Waubonsie Valley Upstate Eight champion at 182 pounds had a second-period fall in the third-place match to earn the Warriors' second berth. WW South did likewise as the junior 126-pounder was the Tigers' second qualifier with his fourth-place finish.