With 12 out of 14 wrestlers qualifying for the state tournament, and 10 of them winning the sectional, Oak Park-River Forest continued it run of dominance Saturday at the Leyden sectional in Franklin Park.
But that did not deter wrestlers from other schools from flexing muscles of their own.
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Glenbard North was able to qualify seven of the 11 athletes it sent to Leyden, with Jared Cortez (132 pounds) and Jon Marmolejo (126) winning their weight class. Kirk Johansen (106), Austin Gomez (113), Patrick Augustyn (120) Colton Wegner (170) all finished third with Luke Greenberg (195) qualifying and finishing fourth in his weight class for the Panthers.
Gomez, who is only a freshman, almost came up short in his consolation semifinal match against St. Charles East's Anthony Rubino. Leading Gomez 2-0 in the third period Rubino, a sophomore, looked to have the upper hand, until back-to-back takedowns in the final minute led to a 5-2 victory for Gomez.
"My mental process was to just stay calm, wait for my offense and don't rush," Gomez said. "I had to take advantage of my opportunities when I had them."
Cortez had a decidedly much easier time advancing to his fourth consecutive state tournament. The three-time state champ never lost and never trailed in any match, upping his record on the year to a formidable 40-2.
Panthers coach Mark Hahn appreciates what Cortez can bring to the table, not only as a wrestler, but a leader as well.
"Anytime you can have a kid who's won three state championships, kids are going to look up to him," Hahn said.
As for expectations that may be placed on Cortez, who said he's excited to go downstate with so much of his team, he knows that no one's expectations will be higher than his own.
"I kind of take it for granted, it's just expected of me," Cortez said of his state trips. "I expect it of myself to win in high school. It's my senior year so the trip should be fun."
Schaumburg was able to qualify four of its wrestlers to state, though none were able to win the championship in either bracket. Matt Stopka (195) and Taylor Alanis (220) both came in second for their weight class while fellow Saxons Hazen Rice (106) and Matt Zolper (285) finished fourth in the sectional.
While both of the matches for Stopka and Alanis were spirited, both turned quickly in the third period. Stopka was unable to stop Andre Lee from Oak Park, falling in a major decision 17-7, while Alanis was felled by Niko Daniello of Lake Park at 5:02. But for Alanis, even being able to compete at the sectional was more than what was expected.
"This year has been very fun, but very hard, but to be able to come in here with a not so good record and finish second, and qualify for state, it feels really great," Alanis said."
Both Rice and Zolper were down early in their final matches, with Rice falling to Johansen 11-6 while Zopler went down 3-0 early and could not recover, losing 6-3 to Kameran Hardwick of Lake Park.
The results on Saturday were bittersweet for Conant, which saw three of its wrestlers qualify, but may have to make the trip downstate without Bobby Alexander (132).
In his consolation semifinal match with Paul Selman of Glenbard West, Alexander was thrown to the mat hard headfirst with Selman landing on top of him. Trainers were immediately called over and a stretcher was called for as well. After several tense minutes, Alexander was able to sit up and eventually walk away under his own power, earning an injury default decision and moving on, though he had to forfeit the consolation championship match by rule.
"He's doing much better, he's still getting checked out so even if he wanted (to come back) it's out of his hands," Cougars coach Chad Hay said about Alexander. "We're hoping he'll be ready for next week."
Cougars Kyle Peisker (113) and Griff Rose (152) were each able to qualify as well, though neither won their final match of the day. Peisker lost in a major decision to Gomez 11-3 while Rose was defeated by Keone Derain of St. Charles East.
Despite sending nine wrestlers from the South Elgin regional last weekend, only three will make the trip down state for St. Charles East. Isaiah Vela (138) finished highest out of his teammates, losing in the championship round to Isaiah White from Oak Park-River Forest, a common theme for multiple teams on Saturday.
Jake Mende (145) and Keone Derain (152) were able to win back-to-back consolation titles for the Saints, with each having little trouble in their final match. Mende easily handled Rolling Meadows' Nick Delporte 10-4 while Derain pinned Larkin's Alex Duran in just under 4 minutes to qualify before taking his time to beat Conant's Griff Rose 3-0.
"There was less stress and pressure on me after winning that wrestleback (over Duran), I felt like I could wrestle my style," Derain said. "The last match was kind of boring I guess. He wasn't really moving so I did what I had to do."
The day started off that way for Geneva's Michael Bradberry (182), who was the only wrestler out of four from Geneva to earn a trip downstate. After winning his first two matches by pinfall in the first period, with his semifinal match ending in just over 30 seconds, Bradberry met his match in the championship round, falling to Allen Stallings of Oak Park-River Forest.
Bradberry was not discouraged by the loss, saying that Oak Park was "a bunch of beasts," and instead looked on the brighter side.
"It feels amazing (to qualify)," Bradberry said. "Starting my senior year, to be honest with you I never thought I would be here. I wish a few of my buddies were coming with me, but it felt great getting to the finals."
While sending just one wrestler downstate may seem like a paltry sum to most teams, for coach Steve Hoyt and Larkin, it shows success in the work the group has put in. Duke Bogicevic (126) and Duran (152) both reached the consolation semifinals, with Duran falling to Derain and Bogicevic winning handily in a rematch that sent him into the consolation bracket, 12-4, over Jamie Hernandez of Oak Park, scoring early and never trailing, before falling in the consolation championship to Dayton Olson from Glenbard East 9-4.
Getting the chance to qualify for state was a goal set early in the year by Bogicevic, and after accomplishing it, he knew he could relax and have a little fun.
"I honestly didn't care about that last match, I already made state, that was my biggest dream," Bogicevic said with a laugh. "Earlier in the day I just couldn't focus, I should have never lost in OT (in the first match with Hernandez) but by the end I was so much more relaxed and less stressed."
Hoyt knows that he has something special in Bogicevic and says it was his work ethic that helped him achieve his goal.
"He's really taken to being coachable. Everything that he's lacked in experience he's allowed us to make up for it," Hoyt said. "He studies film every day and he strives to be better. He set a goal and he reached it."
Bartlett, Elgin and South Elgin all failed to qualify a wrestler for the state tournament despite combining for seven sectional spots.