With such a proud wrestling history, there have been plenty of great seasons at Libertyville.
This one has to rank among the very best.
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The Wildcats are heading to the 3A dual-team state tournament after defeating Barrington 31-20 Tuesday in sectional action.
The raucous crowd at Libertyville can follow their favorite team to U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington for a state quarterfinal matchup against Rockton Hononegah at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Indians (26-3-0) advanced to the tournament for the first time since 2005 after handling Prospect 56-6.
"This had already been a great year for all of us, but getting downstate and having a chance to compete for a state title makes it all that much better," said Libertyville senior Chris McDemand (42-5) who dashed the hopes of Barrington (15-8-0) with a pin just 30 seconds into his heavyweight bout with Alex Zentner to put the Wildcats ahead 28-13 with three weights remaining.
"We kept it real close by winning some tight ones, but we also knew in the back of our minds the real strength of Libertyville would be coming up" said Barrington coach Ken Hoving. "And they showed just how strong they are from 170 up, and there wasn't a whole lot we could do once they got going."
Libertyville (21-2-0) was just too big for its opponents when it counted most. Kayne MacCallum, Austin Koziol, Mark Dunsing, Kevin Barbian and McDermand lowered the boom on the Broncos, turning a 13-8 deficit after 160 into a 15-point advantage following the pin from McDermand that fueled a power surge in the gym by sending the Wildcats fans into a frenzy.
"That (lateral) Chris hit right away was big for us, and capped a terrific string of wins that put us ahead for good," said Libertyville coach Dale Egger, who leads a team to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2010. "But we had to get that type of production from those guys, because (Barrington's) strength is at the lower weights, and that's what was coming up after 285."
After state runner-up Steve Polakowski (43-2) got the Wildcats started with a technical fall at 4:39, Barrington senior Matt Conrad (33-12) took a bite out the lead with a major decision at 132 pounds. The teams traded hard-fought decisions, with Eggert passing along high praise for Nick Andrews' 3-2 win at 145 in what he called a swing match. That outcome gave the Cats an 8-7 lead, but Barrington fired back in style with John Blanke and Julius Smith both earning decisions at 152 and 160, respectively, to give the Broncos their last lead of the night at 13-8.
That's when the Cats' veteran contingent took over.
"We're all seniors, and it's our job to get the type of wins that help put our team in good shape for the lower weights in order to win dual-meets," said McDermand, who last weekend was a fourth-place medalist in Champaign.
MacCallum (44-2) and Koziol (31-8) put 8 points into the scorebook with back-to-back majors to give the Cats the lead for good at 16-13 before Dunsing (20-4), out for nearly a month, outlasted Colin Thomson 7-3.
"Mark isn't anywhere near 100 percent in his conditioning after being out for so long, but he came through when we needed him, and you can see how important he is in our lineup," said Eggert.
Barbian (35-6) who beat Broncos talented 220-pounder Jack Bornhofen (26-12) in their sectional opener two weeks ago 2-1, edged the senior 2-0 this time to complete the Wildcats' 19-0 spurt.
Joey Locascio iced the victory after his 4-2 decision at 106 before sixth-place state medalist Mitch Stathakis (35-6) capped his superb year with a 16-5 major and teammate Nick Patino ended the night with a 6-4 victory.
"We lost a couple of matches we had hoped to win, but that pin from McDermand really did us in, and it just took the wind out of our sails," said Hoving. "Credit Dale -- he's got a great club, and we wish them well against Hononegah.
"I am obviously very proud of what my team accomplished in the final weeks of the season, and we feel with just three starters graduating we have the chance to be even better than we were this year -- when we were healthy, and had a full lineup."
The No. 4-ranked Indians had too much firepower for the MSL East and regional champions from Prospect, which managed to earn just two victories, from Jackson Wrede (31-13) at 195 pounds and Chris Rivera (31-13) at 120.
Nevertheless, Knights coach Tom Whalen was upbeat during his final interview after bringing his group together following the defeat.
"We had hoped to win some matches tonight that we lost the first time around with them, and be much more competitive than we were tonight," Whalen said. "But the fact is, Hononegah is a better program than we are right now and could very well be in the hunt for a top-four finish this weekend.
"But we've got a lot to be proud of this year, and tonight's result doesn't diminish what these guys accomplished. With a nice core group coming back, and a lot of the guys making big strides forward this season, there's no reason why we cannot be back here next season to challenge for a spot downstate."
The host Cougars pulled a stunner to earn a spot in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
Conant edged Glenbard North 27-26, with the final being appointed on tiebreaker criteria.
The Mid-Suburban League champs and coach Chad Hay advance to meet top-ranked Oak Park-River Forest at 11 a.m. Saturday in U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.
OPRF defeated Notre Dame 40-27 in the other matchup at Conant on Tuesday.