CHAMPAIGN -- Last year, Steve Polakowski and Emery Parker last year could not have been further from competing for a state title.
But Saturday night, the dynamic duo from the North Suburban Conference will be chasing Class 3A championships in Champaign.
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Wauconda senior Nate Magiera will do likewise at 220 pounds as he pursues the top honor in Class 2A.
Even before Polakowski (42-1) was given a daunting draw in a wickedly talented division, the senior insisted last weekend he would not stop chasing his dream of a state title.
The disappointment of earlier visits to the state finals ended up helping him.
"It kind of stayed with me during the off-season, and it made me work even harder to get back downstate and make things better," he said. "And now that I am this close to reaching my goal, I won't stop until tomorrow night." The Libertyville senior beat Mark Duda (33-7) of Marist in the semifinals to secure a spot opposite Kris Williams (Thornwood, 30-0) in a final which features the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked 120-pounders in the state.
Polakowski, who defeated the Duda in the semifinals of the Dvorak 3-1 back in December, opened quickly. He held a 3-1 lead into the third period before an escape and 1-point penalty for stalling leveled the score.
"I knew there was enough time left to score, but I was careful knowing I already had the warning against me," said Polakowski, "so I turned up the pressure and got the takedown when I needed it."
The Emery Parker story, meanwhile, was one of several stunning semifinal results.
Just before the new year, the Warren standout predcited he would be in the state final. And when the senior upended No. 5 Tom Brewster (33-3) of Maine South in the quarterfinals, and then No. 2 Peter Andreotti (39-3), Parker looked like a prophet.
"Didn't I tell you this is where I would be in late February?" Parker said with supreme confidence. "This is something that I've dreamed of since I was a freshman, and I've driven myself this entire year to get here. Now that I will be going after the 152-pound state title, I might have to let it all sink in to realize how it really feels."
Parker, who broke free of the Marist star with a takedown with 35 seconds remaining in OT to record a 6-4 triumph.
"Emery told me to make sure to bring a suit before we came down," said Warren coach Jim Ouimette. "And normally I am a little superstitious, but I didn't not want to bring one (for the Grand March) and let him think I didn't have any confidence in him this weekend."
Magiera came much closer than his NSC counterparts to winning a title last season, finishing fifth at 220. He ended up fall to the eventual state champ, Lucas Joseph (East Peoria) 8-5 in the semifinals.
"Yeah, that loss stayed with me more than I'd like to admit, but it all provided the extra drive and determination which helped fuel an off-season of work which has helped me reach the finals here," said Magiera, now 47-1 after a pin at 3:37 of Romeo McKnight (Crystal Lake Central, 26-7) in his semifinal.
Next up for Magiera is a rematch of the Lakes sectional final with No. 1 Edgar Ruano (Montini, 35-2). Ruano defeated the No. 2-rated Magiera 3-1 last Saturday in Lake Villa.
Libertyville will look to reel in several medals before the tournament ends late tomorrow evening, with Joey Gunther (152), Kayne MacCallum (170) and Chris McDermand (285) all in the hunt for a top-three finish after being bounced into the consolation bracket following semifinal losses.
Gunther lost to top man in the nation, Bryce Brill (Mt. Carmel, 43-0), who is looking for his third consecutive state crown. MacCallum lost to No. 1-rated Davontae Mahomes (43-2) from Oak Park-River Forest.
McDermand (39-4), who just missed a state medal last year, will have to fight his way back after a disappointing 3-1 loss to Adarios Jones of Moline.
Nick Koch (Grant, 113) still remains alive for a second straight medal in 3A competition, as do Briley Schultz (Antioch, 106), Jordan Reich (Vernon Hills) and Antioch freshmen Patrick Schoenfelder (132, 36-9) and George Bessette (195, 38-7).
Bessette lost in the semifinals to No. 3 Austin Weltha (Bloomington, 46-5) who was fifth last season at this same weight.
"Weltha was really strong, and there's a lot of experience he has as a senior, but I know if I work on my technique in the off-season, and my speed and strength, I can win that match and advance into the finals next year," said Bessette.
Reich lost to reigning state champ Kyle Akins (Sycamore, 45-0) in the semifinals 3-1 but came back to win his first bout in consolation to draw closer to a second straight medal.
Quarterfinal wrestlebacks begin at 9 a.m. today, followed by the semifinal round, which leads to the third- and fifth-place matches at 1 p.m. Finals are set to begin just after the 5:30 p.m. Grand March.