State tournament scouting
What: 97th individual wrestling state tournament
Where: State Farm Arena (formerly Assembly Hall) Champaign
When: Thursday (2A prelims at 3 p.m.; 3A prelims at 5 p.m.); Friday (8:30 a.m. quarterfinals; 7 p.m. semifinals); Saturday (9 a.m. quarterfinal wrestlebacks, 1 p.m. third- and fifth-place matches; 5:30 p.m. Grand March, followed by championship matches).
Background: Sprinters get faster, so do cars and computers, and so will the heart rate of the 16 competitors listed below when they step onto the big floor inside State Farm Arena in Champaign in advance of their first round match at the state tournament. And why not? After reaching the final 16-man bracket of their respective weight class after a thrilling ride at sectionals, they are still alive to wrestle one more week, with the chance to add a few more highlights to an already memorable season. Here's a brief look at the area qualifiers:
Frequent flyersBobby Alexander (Conant, 132, 35-3):
The three-time state qualifier had a little different of a road downstate after a stunning second-round defeat to Jake Drew of Glenbard East sent the Cougars junior into wrestlebacks in a weight class at Leyden which featured more talent than the fourth advancing berths could hold. "Bobby had a rough go of it last weekend, first giving up a defensive fall against Jake, then battling back with two quick pins to reach the consolation semis. After that, well, we hope he's ready to go," said Conant coach Chad Hay. His concern comes after his top man was illegally slammed to the mat, rendering him unable to continue but able to advance nontheless due to the forfeit given to his opponent. Alexander's quest for a second state medal begins against Troy Parent (30-9) of Grant, who defeated Barrington's Matt Conrad (4-3) for the sectional title. Alexander beat Conrad to earn a third straight MSL crown. After Parent, it gets interesting -- a potential second-rounder with No. 1 Jered Cortez (40-2) of Glenbard North, who is chasing a fourth straight state title.
Matt Stopka (Schaumburg, 195, 32-5):
The Saxons senior will be a serious contender for a climb up the podium come Saturday night after another successful run through the postseason tournament, which began with his second straight MSL and regional championships, followed by a second-place finish at Leyden behind the state's No. 2-rated 195-pounder, Andre Lee of Oak Park. The three-year starter enters the tournament with 95 career victories for coach Mike Levanti. "If we can get by Lake Zurich (Alex Zurawski, 20-10), then it will be No. 1 Tyler Johnson (48-0) of Lockport, but he should be ready for it," says Levanti. The Saxons' star has been around the top 6 in the state polls from the very beginning, and has gone against most of the best, including once against Lee, which resulted in a 4-3 loss.
Maiden voyages: Tylor Alanis (Schaumburg, 220, 24-20):
In what appeared to be a race for the fourth and final spot behind pre-tournament favorites Emonte Logan (OPRF), Michael Mulcrone (Notre Dame) and Anthony Yanan (Wheaton North), it was the man with the most losses among the 12 220-pounders at Leyden who booked his place downstate. While the top-rated Logan and Mulcrone settled for third and fourth, the junior came from nowhere to place second overall and join his three teammates in Champaign. "When a young man does exactly what you ask of him, and you get a little luck on your side, some amazing things can happen, and we couldn't be happier that things worked out for him," said Levanti, who will see Alanis face FVC champ Luis Hernandez (McHenry, 34-1).
Matt Conrad (Barrington, 132, 31-11):
After a quick exit from last year's sectional and a rather slow start to his final season at Barrington, the three-year veteran slowly built an impressive resume as the season went along, culminating with back-to-back championship weekends at the MSL and regional tournaments and ending with a strong run into the sectional finals last weekend at home, where he fell just short against Troy Parent of Grant. "Matt got better with each week, and I feel like after being in the shadow of his brother (Kevin) when he went downstate, he has stepped up to make a name for himself, and I am very happy and proud of the way he's worked to get to where he's at right now," said Broncos coach, Ken Hoving. Conrad is on course to meet No. 5 Joey Nelson (40-5) of Lincoln-Way Central should he prevail over Savonne Bennette (22-17) from Oak Park-River Forest in his first-round bout.
Tyler Cooke (Hersey, 285, 27-11):
Yet another surprise entrant to the state tournament, the Huskies junior somehow found a way through a contingent of heavyweight standouts at the Barrington sectional to gain a fourth-place finish and his first trip downstate. The key to his success was three closely played bouts in wrestlebacks, ending with a 5-3 decision over 30-match winner Alex Roach of DeKalb. Cooke later lost his third-place bout in an ultra-tiebreaker to CSL runner-up Denatra Moshi of Glenbrook South. Cooke was runner-up to Schaumburg's Matt Zolper, and regional champ one week later. First-rounder is against No. 7 D'Andre Johnson (Glenbard East, 43-2). "Tyler's here because he's just a real hard worker, it's just that simple," said Hersey coach Jim Wormsley.
Nick Delporte (Rolling Meadows, 145, 16-6):
Another surprise name to the guest list in Champaign, Delporte took advantage of a nice draw into wrestlebacks after an important first-round victory to break free of the pack. He'll represent not only his school, but retiring veteran coach Dave Froehlich. "I was thrilled for Nick, and grateful at the same time that my coaching career didn't end where I started wrestling in high school," said Froehlich, a 1971 grad of East Leyden. A late start to the season after suffering an injury during the football season followed by a wrestling concussion, Delporte turned the 145-pound division upside down at the Schaumburg regional with back-to-back tech-falls to advance into the finals, before a major decision provided the icing on the cake. His first-round opponent is two-time state qualifier Eric Barone (38-4) of Crystal Lake South.
James Ford (Prospect, 220, 35-12):
The Knights junior bided his time as he trained behind 2013 sectional qualifier Frank Walter. "Even though I competed in just a few varsity matches last season, having Frank, (Dan) Fiumetto, and (current teammate) Jackson Wrede in the room was like I was wrestling in tournaments every day," said Ford, who won a regional crown two weeks ago on the same weekend his team captured the team title as well. "James was also the guy who went one-on-one with our two-time state qualifier at heavyweight (Shula Geoge), so he got used to taking a beating and finding out how tough you have to be in order to compete, and he's done that very well," says coach Tom Whalen. Will meet Nico Daniello (19-4) of Lake Park to open, then either Devion May (Homewood-Flossmoor, 31-7) or UEC champ Connor McKeehan (27-7) of Batavia.
Kyle Peisker (Conant, 113, 32-7):
Last season the Cougars' sophomore was just 13-15 at 113 pounds for coach Chad Hay. One year later, with an MSL and regional crown already in his possession, he added the best prize of them all with his first trip downstate along with teammates Alexander and Rose. "Kyle came up with two big falls (one to get into the third-place match) and he just keeps battling, and coming after you. He does everything you ask, and more, and the best thing about him is he's a great kid off the mats as well," said Hay. A tall order awaits with No. 6 Travis Piotrowski (37-1) of Prairie Ridge.
Hazen Rice (Schaumburg, 106, 32-11):
The stock of this sophomore began to trend upward after he won at the Krupke, then followed up with a solid effort during the MSL tourney when he took his counterpart from Barrington (Mitch Stathakis) to the brink in the finals. One week later, an individual title at regionals on his home floor kept the arrow pointing forward, and he made it to state by coming through wrestlebacks to defeat Hermez Abraham of Niles North in a qualifying match. "Hazen did not get a good draw at sectionals, but he had been wrestling very well, and his style gives guys a lot of trouble, and that helped him get through," said coach Levanti, who hopes the third time will be a charm when the sophomore meets Stathakis in the first round.
Griff Rose (Conant, 152, 30-6):
The Cougars captain made a brilliant run through wrestlebacks, winning three times on the second day at Leyden, including a pin in his state-qualifying bout with Anthony DePrima of Glenbard North to earn his first state trip. "Griff had a tough first-rounder with the No. 9 rated Matt Rowland (42-4) of Willowbrook, but he was able to get himself composed and battle back to get downstate," said Hay of the senior, who seems to be the heartbeat of the MSL champs and isn't fazed by drawing another first-rate opponent for his opener in No. 3 Nate Higgins (44-3) of Belleville West. "I feel that my strength is that I get stronger as the weekend goes on, and if I go into the consolation bracket, I know that I'll be OK, and my chances to continue on will get better," said Rose.
Julius Smith (Barrington, 160, 28-14):
The Broncos junior continued to live dangerously throughout the postseason, right up through his state qualifier bout with Colton Best of Libertyville, in which Smith prevailed 2-0 in OT to put a stamp on an impressive run after returning from an ankle injury which forced him to miss three full weeks of the regular season. "You got the chance to see what Julius could really do when he's 100 percent healthy," said Hoving. The MSL champ showed his mette by winning three straight wrestlebacks at regionals and fuel his first trip downstate. Will need to be at his best when he faces No. 2 Peter Andreotti (Marist, 37-2) in his opener.
Mitch Stathakis (Barrington, 106, 32-3):
The Broncos sophomore firmly established himself as a serious contender for a state medal come Saturday evening after finishing up a superb three weeks of wrestling which he capped by dominating his foes with a two-day sectional performance on his home floor. "Since the Dvorak, he's continually raised his game and level of intensity each time out, as well as his technical and tactical game, and he just wants to keep working and learning, which really a lot of fun to be a part of," says Broncos assistant Adrian Gonzalez, who knows a thing or to about success at the lower weights after enjoying a marvelous Barrington career which included three state appearances, one state medal 135 victories. "Having Adrian in the room each day has been a big reason for my success so far," says Stathakis, who will have a familiar face opposite him when he faces Schaumburg's Hazen Rice. A win there would put the No. 5 six-pounder likely against No. 11 Jimmy McAuliffe (31-9) of Marist in the quarters.
Brandon Suchyta (St. Viator, 145, 26-9):
The Lions junior captain put a big smile on the face of first-year head coach Jason Churak when he emerged from the Lakes sectional after surviving a hair-raising 8-6 decision in his state-qualifying bout against home favorite Max Hill last Saturday evening at the Lake Villa campus of Lakes High School. "Brandon got a bit of a late start due to a broken hand, but he's made up for last time by putting in all the extra time on and off the mats to earn a place downstate, while giving him another building block for him to grow from, and an awesome experience as well," said Churak. "After a rough time at Prospect (in the Mudge-McMorrow Invite), I was able to turn things around and won my next 16-17 matches in a row, and it was then that I felt I would have a chance to get downstate," said Suchyta, who meets Jim Brennan (39-6) of Lemont this afternoon.
Joey Vogeney (Maine West, 170, 41-6):
Last season, the Warriors star suffered a season-ending concussion in advance of competing at the sectional. One year later, Vogeney nimbly put the past behind with a captivating performance at both the CSL and regional tournaments, which he followed up with a gritty piece of work last weekend at Leyden to nab a top-four finish in an elite weight class. "Joey's last loss before the regional final was back in mid-December, but he's a tough kid, and one who never gets down, and the great thing about him is each time he goes out, he feels he can win," said Maine West coach Lance Weber. The junior will look to put a dent in the dreams of No. 3 Kayne MacCullum (39-1) of Libertyville they meet in first-round action.
Matt Zolper (Schaumburg, 285, 30-10):
In late December, the Saxons senior struggled to earn a fifth-place finish at the Krupke Invite at Lake Park. One week later, he earned a third-place medal at the prestigious Lincoln-Way East Illini Classic, and he's been on a tear ever since. "Matt has been outworking his opponents, and last weekend he had to grind out three comeback victories in order to advance. We are hoping his newfound confidence in his offense in the neutral position will help turn the tables in a rematch with (No. 5) Chris McDermand (Libertyville, 37-3) on Thursday," said Levanti of the MSL and regional champ.
Tulga Zuunbayan (Wheeling, 138, 39-8):
One year after his transfer to Wheeling, the Wildcats' sophomore lands in Champaign after a marvelous three weeks of action which saw him capture MSL and regional titles alogn with a place in the sectional final. He fell in a close decision to No. 2-rated Nick Gil (40-1) of Crystal Lake South but seems primed for a successful weekend. "Tulga has improved with each week of the season, and he just finds a way to win when he has to," says Wheeling coach Neal Weiner. After winning an Illinois State Cadet Freestyle championship last May, Zunnbayan earned a spot on Team Illinois in Fargo last July. He opens with Trevell Thompson (36-9) of Lockport.
-- Mike Garofola