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updated: 2/20/2014 11:23 PM

Five MSL wrestlers stake their claim in quarterfinals

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By Mike Garofola
Daily Herald Correspondent

CHAMPAIGN -- As the final whistles were blown across the big floor of State Farm Arena to signal the end of the first day of competition at the wrestling state tournament Thursday, the state of play follows:

Five Mid-Suburban League competitors have a foothold in the championship bracket after advancing into Friday's quarterfinals.

Barrington's Mitch Stathakis (106 pounds, 33-3) and Matt Conrad (132, 32-11) advanced with first-round victories, as did Wheeling's Tulga Zuunbayan (40-8), after a stunning OT win.

Champaign veteran Matt Stopka (Schaumburg) and three-time qualifier, Bobby Alexander (Conant), whose travel plans here were almost cancelled, join their teammates from the MSL for Friday's 1:30 p.m. quarterfinals and a chance at the 7 p.m. semifinals, which would guarantee a state medal later.

Alexander (36-3), who was injured when he was illegally slammed to the mat last Saturday and needed to be carted off, showed no ill effects of that scary moment. He roared out to a 6-0 lead before cruising to an 8-2 victory over Troy Parent (Grant) and earned a date with the Chicago Public League champ, two-time state qualifier Danny Carlson (38-1) of Lane Tech.

"I was checked for a concussion and passed that test, but was a little shaken up from that slam," said Alexander. "But after getting plenty of rest and just a little time training before coming down, I felt really good and ready to go after a state medal."

Stopka (33-5), downstate for a second consecutive year, looked in fine form during a 9-2 victory over Lake Zurich senior Alex Zurawski to set up a quarterfinal bout with No. 1 Tyler Johnson (Lockport, 49-0), who advanced with a fall.

"Matt will have his hands full, no doubt, but if he comes out and attacks like he can and stays on Tyler's legs, then his chances to win will improve greatly," said Schaumburg coach Mike Levanti, who watched big men Tylor Alanis (220) and Matt Zolper (285) fall short in their first-round matches.

MSL and regional champ Tuunbayan started well in his bout with Trevell Timmons (Lockport, 36-10), taking an early 2-0 lead, which became even at 2-2 at three minutes.

An early escape from the Wildcats star, matched with an escape near the edge, sent things to overtime. There Tuunbayan recorded the takedown to seal a spot in the quarterfinals against Jimmy Davis (Waubonsie Valley, 41-3), who came into the weekend as the No. 6-rated 138-pounder in the state.

Conrad will meet No. 5 Joey Nelson (41-5) of Lincoln-Way Central after edging Savonne Bennette (OPRF, 22-18), with a 1-point escape in the second period holding up.

"I kind of expected (Bennette) to be an athletic, quick guy since he was from OPRF, but I was able to keep him from getting anything going because I kept my position all throughout," said Barrington's three-year veteran. "And when they surprised by putting me down at the start of the second period, I was able to get out to get that escape, and now I am one win from getting a medal."

Stathakis stayed undefeated in the postseason after defeating Hazen Rice (32-12) of Schaumburg for a third time this season.

The two MSL competition regulars faced each other in a 106-pound first rounder, and after building a 4-1 cushion after two minutes, the Broncos sophomore slowly pulled away en route to a 7-2 decision.

"I feel like it was a little bit of an advantage to have faced Hazen twice before, but either way, it felt really good to win my first match at state, and advance into the next round tomorrow," said the MSL champ.

Stathakis next faces Jimmy McAuliffe (32-9).

"Marist wrestlers are well coached, and technically very good, so I'll be have to be ready for him," Stathakis said.

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