CHAMPAIGN -- The Fox Valley Conference championship machine was at it again Thursday night.
The magnificent six -- Michael Cullen, Logan Hanselman, Nick Gil, Eric Barone, Christian Brunner, and Jeremy Marshall -- who just three weeks ago reigned supreme at the conference tourney, all were purring during the first day of the Class 3A state tournament on the big floor of State Farm Arena here.
This group is still all alive in the championship bracket when today's late morning quarterfinals take place, with an eye on tonight's semifinals.
Cullen (27-4) was in form during his 120-pound opener with Patrick Augustyn (Glenbard North, 36-9) as the Cary-Grove junior shutout the two-time state qualifier 3-0 to set up his quarterfinal bout with AJ Jaffe (Marmion Academy, 35-8), one of six state-ranked players on Cullen's side of the bracket.
"It's nice to get that first one out of the way, and to get a good six minutes in, and stay sharp for (today) when it really begins to get tougher," said Cullen, a two-time state medalist.
His teammate Hanselman (29-7), who is here for the second straight year, kept the Trojans' faithful on the edge of their seats during a thrilling 5-3 win in OT against Mike Mullaney (20-11) of Marist.
"I made that one way too tough on myself," admitted the senior, who now faces No. 2 Jon Marmelejo (42-1) of Glenbard North.
Hanselman broke on top when he attacked from a sharp angle to score a takedown, then took a 3-1 advantage into the third period, but an escape, and penalty point for stalling brought Mullaney back even, until a takedown with one second on the clock in the first session helped send Hanselman through.
"I thought I was aggressive at the start, then got a little too comfy and there's no way I can do that against Marmelejo and expect a good result."
Crystal Lake South's Gil (41-1), considered the favorite to compete for the 138-pound title against No. 1 Walter White Jr. (Oak Park-River Forest) on Saturday evening, looked the part of champion after a 20-6 major decision over a helpless Devon Simpson (41-16) of Granite City, while the Gators' Barone (39-4) needed little time to make freshman Nick Delporte (Rolling Meadows, 16-7) want to forget his first visit here.
"Both of those guys came out ready to wrestle, although I wish Eric didn't take as many chances as he did during his fall at 55 seconds," said South head coach Ross Ryan, who nearly watched junior Garrett Dziedzic upset No. 6 Richard Townsell (OPRF, 28-4) in a 5-3 loss at 120 pounds.
Brunner (41-4) and Marshall (41-6) of Dundee-Crown continued their near flawless work of the postseason after each registered impressive victories at 182 and 285, respectively, to move a step closer to the lucrative medal round on Saturday.
The sophomore Brunner began a little slow against Chicago Public League champ Nicola Gallo (Taft, 42-3) but finished strong, outlasting the senior 10-5.
"Just typical Christian, he just keeps coming at you, and never stops working, until he's in control of his match, then finishing you off," said Dundee-Crown head coach Robert Skillman.
Next up is Mt. Carmel senior Jimmy Mickens (35-8) rated No. 6 in the state, while Chargers' big man Marshall faces Brian Allen (Hinsdale Central, 43-1) who is after a second straight state title.
The Hampshire duo of Kyle Szlenk (106, 36-9) and Anton Krocko (182, 36-10) fell short in their Class 2A openers, and will now await to see if the man they lost to wins another in order to keep them alive in the consolation bracket, while the same holds true for Ricky Vigil (126, 32-10) of Huntley, John Cullen (Cary-Grove, 132, 32-11) and Larkin senior Duke Bogicevic (37-5), who was pinned at 4:36 by Shane Oster (Lockport, 40-6).
"That kid Oster is very good, but we like our chances of him continuing because he's the No. 3 rated guy at 126, and right now, he looks like he's headed into the semifinals," said Larkin head coach Steve Hoyt.