Wrestling: Scouting the regionals
As soon as the new year arrived, talk centered around the start of the state series, and how it always seems like it comes quickly.
Well, yes -- it's here.
The first weekend of postseason wrestling is upon us, and at each of the area regional sites highlighted below, the race is on to finish in the top three in order to advance into the sectionals and one step closer to a trip downstate.
Here's what to expect from those Class 3A and 2A regionals:
at Dundee-CrownWhen: 9 a.m. Saturday
Advancement: The top three individuals advance into Barrington sectional; the team champion advances to Huntley dual-team sectional.
Guest list: Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Dundee-Crown, Cary-Grove, Fremd, Lake Zurich, McHenry, Mundelein, Palatine.
Outlook: One week after being named the team to beat at the Mid-Suburban League tourney, Barrington once again has been granted the role of favorite. And it's hard to envision the Broncos falling short of that goal this week despite a disappointment last weekend.
Coach Dave Udchik's club came close but ultimately could not overcome a day-long double-digit lead earned by Prospect, which ended up winning the MSL tourney Saturday by 11 points.
"We wrestled well, obviously -- not well enough, but Prospect was very good on the day, and they deserved the conference championship," said Udchik. "We know we have the ingredients in place to come in and win a regional title to move on. But the guys won't lose sight of the fact that we have to come out right from the start and wrestle hard and smart, just as we have all season, because there's a lot at stake for every team and individual here."
The Broncos are well aware of several first-class competitors who can tilt the scale in favor of another challenger to the crown, beginning with Mundelein and its imposing quartet of talented stars at both ends of its lineup.
Dane (36-0) and Reese (31-3) Durlacher are Nos. 2 and 10 in the state, respectively, at 106 and 126. Logan Kvien (30-4) is No. 4 at 182 pounds. All three are potential state medal-winners, with junior DJ Preston (195, 30-9) on the cusp of that high regard.
Having Cole Riemer (145, 24-3) back from the injured list gives Fremd a tremendous 1-2-3 punch in the middle of the bracket alongside Rene Cortez (152) and Adam Kemp (160).
Barrington's approach is to maintain focus throughout the proceedings.
"This is the first big weekend we've all been working toward since the start of the season, so we're going to go out hard from the start and not taking anything for granted," says Broncos senior Jarrit Shinhoster (160, 26-1), one of four individual champs for Barrington at the MSL tourney.
Others to keep an eye on include Buffalo Grove junior TJ West (220, 25-9) and MSL champ Danny Vega (Palatine), Brian Morel (21-8) of Fremd and McHenry senior Geoff Cagle (28-7).
at Glenbrook SouthWhen: 9 a.m. Saturday
Advancement: Top three individuals advance into Barrington sectional. Team champion advances to Huntley dual-team sectional.
Guest list: Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, Hersey, Loyola, New Trier, Prospect, Rolling Meadows, Stevenson, Wheeling.
Outlook: Prospect went swiftly out of the starting blocks last weekend en route to capturing the Mid-Suburban League championship over state power Barrington. That outcome may give the Knights a leg up at the regional level, but expect Wheeling, Stevenson and New Trier to come at coach Tom Whalen's team with everything they have.
"That was a good win for the guys and our program," said Whalen. "But they know I'm never satisfied, and I really believe they weren't either -- because we all know we left a lot out there that we'll need to have at this regional if we hope to win and move on."
In regular-season matchups, the Knights beat Wheeling 36-26 and lost to Stevenson 32-30, while No. 15 Stevenson also has a 33-31 victory over Wheeling in its scorebook.
This four-team race features several marvelous weight divisions, with teams outside the top four quite capable of throwing a wrench into the team race, as well as the competition for a top three individual finish and sectional bid.
Especially compelling is the group at 145 pounds. This is where four state-ranked athletes will battle it out -- No. 4 Patrick Ryan (New Trier, 38-0), MSL champ J.P. Smith (Wheeling, 39-6), Cole Riemer (Fremd, 24-3) and Sean Cloherty (Loyola, 30-5).
Ryan's teammate Jack Tangen (35-1) is ranked No. 3 at 152 pounds and figures to meet up with No. 5 Michael Womeldorf (Rolling Meadows, 27-2), who gave No. 2 Markus Hartman of Barrington a hard-fought fight in the MSL title bout.
Stevenson is the highest-ranked team of the big four here, sitting currently at No. 15 in the state polls. And while the NSC champs do not possess quite the same starpower of a year ago, the Patriots do possess a strong will to win. Prospect showed the same kind of resolve down the stretch to hold off Barrington, Conant and Wheeling last weekend.
at LeydenWhen: 9 a.m. Saturday
Advancement: The top three individuals advance into the Larkin sectional. The team champion advances to Oak Park-River Forest dual-team sectional.
Guest list: Addison Trail, Lane, Leyden, Oak Park-River Forest, Proviso East, Proviso West, Schurz, Willowbrook, York.
Outlook: Just when it seemed to be safe in the water, OPRF has reloaded with yet another quality young bunch ready to take a bite out of the competition here. The Huskies are ranked No. 2 in the state and 24th in the nation, so it's presumed they will have no trouble prevailing in the team race.
With that settled, the rest of the field will concentrate on sending as many into sectionals next week.
Fans here will have the chance of watching the No. 3 182-pounder in the nation, Jack Jessen, who will wrestle next fall at Northwestern after finishing up a brilliant career at Willowbrook.
If coach Jon Kading's young lineup can stand the heat, there's a chance for several from Leyden to advance, beginning with its two most consistent during the regular season.
Daniel Uribe (132) and Ryan Jaffray (220) have exceeded expectations in just their second season with the Eagles' varsity team, finishing up with championship efforts at their own tourney in early January.
Teammates Jimmy Lonigro (145) and Erick Aguilar (160) have impressed of late also, giving each a wonderful chance to wrestle for another week.
at Niles WestWhen: 9 a.m. Saturday
Advancement: The top three individuals advance into Larkin sectional. The team champion advances to Oak Park-River Forest dual-team sectional.
Guest list: Amundsen, Evanston, Maine East, Maine South, Maine West, Niles North, Niles West, Taft, Von Steuben.
Outlook: Maine South and Evanston were locked in a fierce battle with Deerfield for bragging rights in the Central Suburban League tourney two weekends ago, so it's clear both will fight it out for the coveted title of regional champion.
The strength of the co-favorites is from the middle weights right into the upper part of their lineups. Give the Wildkits' a slight edge with the return of Izzy Fox (182, 16-3), who last season won 41 times but was eliminated in his state qualifier by none other than Jake Bellizzi from Maine West.
The Warriors junior is worthy of a No. 1 seed. Maine West coach Chris Brassell is also excited about the title chances for CSL champ Arsalan Afshar (132, 29-3) and Jayton Hall (145, 22-7).
"The great thing about this time of the year is that everyone has to fight to advance, and that nothing is guaranteed," Brassell said. "So it's not just people who have good overall records, but instead who shows up to compete at a high level."
Brassell's team doesn't figure to have the overall firepower to match their CSL rivals, so the goal now is to advance as many individuals as possible to the Larkin sectional. Among those in the hunt are Zak Chrisovisiotis, Ilian Tomov, Sean Muellner, Nick Hernandez and Walter Hutt.
at Schaumburg When: 9 a.m. SaturdayAdvancement: The top three individuals advance into Larkin sectional. The team champion advances to Oak Park-River Forest dual-team sectional.
Guest list: Conant, Elgin, Elk Grove, Hoffman Estates, Lake Park, Larkin, Schaumburg, South Elgin, Streamwood.
Outlook: Conant needed a little help from its conference rivals, and it needed all the dominoes to fall into place, to have a chance to finish ahead of both Prospect and Barrington at the Mid-Suburban League tournament. When that perfect storm didn't materialize, coach Chad Hay's team chugged ahead to third-place honors -- with the knowledge that there's plenty left in the tank and a great chance to win a second consecutive regional crown.
"It was still a good day for us," Hay said. "We had four champs and showed we can compete. But we also know we left some wins and points out there, and that's something we'll work on for regionals."
Alex Giuliano (120, 27-3), Nicky Amato (138, 22-2), Cormac Kane (170, 25-1) and Lester Gonzales (182, 25-11) each earned MSL championship medals and are positioned for regional success as well.
"We lost a lot of guys from last year's team," said Amato, a regional champ last season. "So at the start of this year, we were just a bunch of nobodies, but we have a great coaching staff and we've all worked hard to make ourselves into a very good team."
The heavyweight division will be one of interest locally, with three of the top four competitors hailng from the MSL.
Seniors Anthony Greco (Elk Grove, 22-4), Ed Gosche (Conant, 19-3) and Ryan Edwards (Hoffman Estates, 26-6) finished in the No. 2 through 4 spots at the MSL tourney.
DuPage Valley Conference champ Vince Liebich (39-2) of Lake Park is one of the headline acts at this tournament at 152 pounds, along with Conant's Kane, ranked No. 4 in the most recent state polling.
Class 2Aat AntiochWhen: 9:30 a.m. Saturday
Advancement: The top three individuals advance into Grayslake Central sectional. The team champion advances to Fenton dual-team sectional.
Guest list: Antioch, Carmel, Grayslake Central, Grayslake North, Lakes, North Chicago, St. Viator, Vernon Hills, Wauconda.
Outlook: There's a lot of equality at this venue, so the favorites will count on others to steal a few points from their closest rivals while at the same time trying to accrue bonus points throughout the brackets.
Based on the strength of the state-ranked trio of Austin Connelly (152, 31-5), Adrien Cramer (160, 33-1) and Alex Cramer (170, 28-5), Grayslake Central may have enough power to defeat the rest of the field here, which includes strong teams from Wauconda and Antioch.
Even without one of the best in the state at 138 (Riley Palm, 31-0) and a handful of others, Carmel Catholic still managed to finish sixth overall last weekend at the East Suburban Catholic Conference tournament.
It will be all about individual races for St. Viator, which doesn't have the firepower to compete with the top teams. Instead, all eyes will be on senior Jake Wolf (21-4), whose brilliant performance earned him a second straight ESCC title a week ago.
"It felt great to repeat, but the bigger prize lies ahead," said Wolf, who fell one victory shy of a gaining a state tourney spot last season. "To get there, it has to be regionals, then sectionals before even thinking about anything else."
-- Mike Garofola