CHAMPAIGN -- Last year at this time, Christian Brunner was just an unknown 132-pounder for Dundee-Crown, who did not even compete in the Fox Valley Conference or regional tournaments.
One year later, his name boomed across the State Farm Center when the Chargers' sensational sophomore was introduced as one of the combatants in the 182-pound Class 3A final on the big floor here.
In yet another battle between No. 2 Colton Emmerich of Deerfield and a rematch of last week's sectional final, it was Emmerich (47-1) who would prevail for the fourth time, defeating Brunner 5-3 to capture the Warriors' first individual state title since 1964, while Brunner brings home the 14th medal in Dundee-Crown program history.
"I gave it my best, but it wasn't enough against Colton, who deserved the championship, and who I am very happy for," said Brunner, who all season long showed tremendous class, poise and sportsmanship, while winning over the hearts of the Chargers' faithful with his brilliant first year with the big club, which included a staggering 43-5 record, and stunning postseason run, which was fueled by a wrestling life-changing win over 2A runner-up, Michael Zelasco (42-3) for the FVC crown nearly a month ago.
"I think that's when I finally believed I could compete with best, after that 4-2 win over Michael," said Brunner.
Brunner would cap a perfect weekend in McHenry with his two-point victory over the Crystal Lake Central star, then pour it on at regionals, going 3-0 then finishing up with a wonderful two days at the Barrington sectional, which ended with the previously mentioned Emmerich winning in the final seconds.
All of that, and Brunner still didn't crack the Top 10 in the state polls leading up to the state tournament.
"That really never mattered to me, because I still go out and give it a hard six minutes never letting up, and just letting my results do the talking," Brunner said.
He got off to a winning start on Thursday with a 10-5 victory over city champ Nicola Gullo of Chicago Taft, then turned the 182-bracket upside down when he took a monster step into the semifinals following upset wins over No. 6 Jimmy Mickens, then No. 1 Alex Benoit (Marist) to help breathe some life into his championship hopes.
"I am so happy to have gone this far, and I came in thinking I could win this. But Colton is so strong, and his arms are so long, that it was nearly impossible to get in and finish my shots," Brunner said.
"I'll work even harder in the offseason, and I'll be back here again, I hope."
There won't be another chance for Crystal Lake South senior Nick Gil.
The Naval Academy-bound four-year star, who was fourth behind Walter White (OPRF) last season and figured by many to be the final at 138 one year later, overcame a heartbreaking loss in his wrestleback semifinal with Jimmy Davis (45-4) of Waubonsie Valley to settle for a fifth-place finish to cap a superb career for the Gators, which included over 150 victories
"It was tough coming back here today knowing that I would be fighting for a medal other than the championship trophy, and it was especially difficult just getting back out there after that loss to Davis but it was important to finish on a high note, and especially for coach (Ross) Ryan, who has meant so much to me with my wrestling, and time at South," said the Gators' captain, who will head off to Newport, Rhode Island to begin 10 months of prep school, before going onto the academy.
"My goal of competing for a state title never materialized, but I still had a great four years here, and that's the stuff I will remember more than anything else."
Teammate Eric Barone (145, 41-5), who coincidentally was eliminated from tournament last year by none other than 2014 runner-up Marion Levielle (Marist), who dealt a blow to Gil with a semifinal defeat, came back from a controversial loss in the semis to grab a fifth-place trophy.
After a season where the junior filled the Gators' score book with one technical fall and pin after another, the junior would suddenly find himself in one hair-raising OT match after another during the final two weeks of the season, including Friday's ultimate tiebreaker defeat to eventual state champion Larry Early (OPRF) and an astounding one more, this time in his fifth-place bout with Steve Foster (42-10) of Belleville West, which Barone prevailed in, 2-1.
"I kind of made it real interesting these last couple of weeks, didn't I?" said Barone, who could finally crack a well deserved smile after going through several ups and downs in Champaign, as he navigated through a minefield of talent scattered all throughout his bracket.
"I still think we had that one last night, but Eric really came back strong to get himself a medal, and set himself up as one of the top guys to beat next year," offered Ryan.
The news on Cary-Grove junior Michael Cullen went from hold-your-breathe scary to all is well after the star 120-pounder was carted off after suffering what looked like a serious injury in the opening moments of his semifinal bout with Thornwood's Kris Williams (31-0), who would later win his third consecutive title.
Williams would lead with his head with a shot near the edge, but in doing so, caught Cullen just above the right eye with the full force of his forehead, knocking him down, and in severe pain, as he rolled from side-to-side just outside of the mat.
Medical staff were quickly upon the two-time state medalist, checked his vitals and helped him to relax as best he could, before stationing him on a back board as a precaution then transporting him to a hospital.
Cary-Grove head coach Ryan Ludwig would later confirm that Cullen might have suffered a concussion, and that x-rays were to be taken for any orbital damage. But during the medal ceremony, Cullen would show up under his own power to accept his fifth-place medal, with the word he would be looked at more closely when the family returns home.
Wylie Allen (Hampshire, 26-17) a late addition in the 120-pound bracket, saw his two-day journey come to an end when Brandon Crutchfield (36-11) of Jerseyville defeat the sophomore 9-4 in the second round of wrestlebacks.