Wrestling: Sectional scouting, Northwest
With all due respect to the tradition, aura, pomp and circumstance of the state tournament in Champaign, nothing can match the thrills and spills and overall drama associated with sectional wrestling tournaments.
Two in every weight class will get downstate only by navigating through the bracket, surviving emotional and physical strain through tough opponents and wrestlebacks, where a single loss ends the season.
The afternoon finals sessions have seen some incredible finishes, but first there's Friday as the three area sectionals begin.
The top four finishers in the double-elimination format advance to state, with the top prize a top-four seed in the 16-man state field.
at BarringtonFriday: 6 p.m. Saturday: 10 a.m.
Mat chat: How to describe this sectional? In a word: Wow. The Barrington gym will be filled to the brim on both days, fans ready to roar their approval and rattle the rafters. Some 23 top ten-ranked wrestlers dot the brackets, many of whom will go on to medal at state a week later.
"This will be my fourth time coming to this sectional, and you know the second you walk into the building, it's a special place to be for two days," said New Trier standout Patrick Ryan after collecting his regional crown at Glenbrook South.
Here then, are a few weight classes worth special attention:
126 -- Andrew Baysingar (Prospect, 36-3), Sean Cleary (Barrington, 17-22), Sean Paton (Hersey, 24-8), Reese Durlacher (Mundelein, 35-3), Zach Spencer (Huntley, 38-6), Matt Templeton (Deerfield,, 30-7), Fabian Lopez (DeKalb, 38-1). No less than seven state-ranked athletes are here, beginning with No. 2 (Lopez) a state runner-up a year ago who was taken to the limit by Spencer in overtime before prevailing in their regional final at DeKalb. Prospect junior Andrew Baysingar, on a mission after missing the last month of the season a year ago to an injury, has looked sharp in the last half of the year, and will need to continue to be as it appears he'll meet Spencer in the second round. No. 9 Durlacher vs. Lopez in the semis should be fun also.
145 -- Cole Riemer (Fremd, 30-3), Rami Sakka (Barrington, 35-9), John Paul Smith (Wheeling, 41-7), Kelvin Cupay (Warren, 35-10), Luke Loprieno (Huntley, 30-13), Sean Cloherty (Loyola, 33-6), Alex Rosenbaum (Highland Park, 30-2), Patrick Ryan (New Trier, 41-0). Ryan opens as the favorite, thanks in part to his superb consistency all season, which includes victories over No. 8 Riemer, No. 9 Rosenbaum and Smith last week his regional final. In addition, Ryan has won four major tournaments. The top half of this talented bracket looks like it will be Riemer vs. Smith on Friday night, followed by one of them facing Rosenbaum in a Saturday morning semifinal. Barrington's Sakka, who's gone from 8 wins a year ago to 35, could face No. 4 Ryan in the semis.
152 -- Markus Hartman (Barrington, 40-0), RJ Cortez (Fremd, 23-9), Andy Madrigal (Wheeling, 29-15), Isaiah Parker (Warren, 29-11), Muzi Sitshela (Stevenson, 30-11), Kenny Kerstein (Deerfield, 26-5), Christian Komitas (DeKalb, 29-11), Jack Tangen (New Trier, 39-1). Even with the state-ranked pair of Michael Womeldorf (Rolling Meadows) and Jordan Chisum (Zion-Benton) sent packing at regionals, this weight class still has exceptional quality. Hartman has been brilliant in his final year at Barrington, and his goal of getting back to the state final against his 2017 opponent, Will Lewan (Montini), continues to drive the nation's ninth-ranked rated '52-pounder. "The goal has always been to get another chance to win a state title, and likely against Lewan. But to do so, it's important for me to stay focused on one opponent at a time, and to not take anyone lightly," says Hartman. The New Trier camp hopes to have No. 3 Tangen in the final against the No. 2-rated Bronco, but Fremd senior RJ Cortez would like nothing more to be that man as he sits on the same side of the bracket as Tangen. No. 4 Kenny Kerstein and Stevenson senior Muzi Sitshela, who knocked Womeldorf out of the tournament, are in queue to meet Hartman.
160 -- Adam Kemp (Fremd, 29-7), Andy Polk (Buffalo Grove, 23-13), Jarrit Shinhoster (Barrington, 30-1), Mason Skloot (Wheeling, 27-6), David Ferrante (Huntley, 29-2), Jake Simon (Stevenson, 30-15), Caleb Durbin (Lake Forest, 33-7), Brock Emmerich (Deerfield, 42-5). The middleweight portion of the program offers some of the best of all 14 classes, and this one is full of gifted wrestlers. No. 5 (Shinhoster) has been dominating opponents every since the start of the new year according to head coach Dave Udchik, which makes the top half of the bracket all that more appealing with No. 8 Emmerich standing in his way of reaching the finals. The Deerfield junior has been sensational -- but then so has No. 4 David Ferrante, who in his rookie season earned a fourth-place state medal. Shinhoster was fifth last year, while Skloot is a two-time state qualifier and Kemp is a 2017 state qualifier. Plenty of starpower in the bracket will make for some tense times as the weekend plays out.
195 -- Alexis Garcia (Rolling Meadows, 19-11), Joe Kaiser (Prospect, 28-6), Jake Meyer (Barrington 40-1), David Rizzo (Buffalo Grove, 21-11), Justin Allen (Huntley, 22-6), Max Gomez (Stevenson, 34-8), Kevin Schultz (Jacobs, 20-13), DJ Preston (Mundelein, 33-11), Blah Danweih (DeKalb, 36-4), Cody Goodman (Deerfield, 28-2). Fourteen in this 16-man field are caught right in the middle of a power struggle between the state's third- and fourth-ranked competitors Danweih and Meyer. They're on opposite sides of this impressive bracket, with the Broncos standout earning a first-round bye after winning a regional title that escaped Dahnweih, who was stunned in overtime 9-7 by No. 8 Justin Allen. On the other side of this bracket resides regional champ Gomez, No. 8 Goodman, Danweih, and BG senior, David Rizzo, whose upset win over the No. 2 seed at regionals in his semifinal guaranteed his first ever sectional appearance.
285 -- Tommy Konwent (Buffalo Grove, 24-12), Jose Ramos (Prospect, 35-4), Anand Batbaatar (Stevenson, 29-9), Charlie Schmidt (Libertyville, 32-4), Matt Wach (Lake Zurich, 17-11), Isaiah Ziegler (Dundee-Crown, 38-3), Anthony Cassioppi (Hononegah, 37-0). The top four here are clearly the favorites to advance, with each having history with one another. Everybody recognizes that No. 1 Anthony Cassioppi is the close to unbeatable. The nation's No. 2-rated heavyweight, and reigning state champion will open action on Friday unbeaten in his last 85 matches. "He's the guy we all want to beat -- it's not likely, but we all want the chance to be the one who does," said Prospect junior Jose Ramos, currently ranked sixth in the state. The MSL champ is on course to meet No. 5 Ziegler in the semifinals, while No. 2 Schmidt has Cassioppi, who's beaten the Northwestern-bound Libertyville star on three occasions. Tommy Konwent will make his sectional debut against Central Suburban League champ McDermed of New Trier.
at LarkinFriday: Session has been postponed Saturday: 9 a.m start, 4 p.m. semifinals, 9 p.m. third-place and championships.
Mat chat: Conant won its second consecutive regional title last weekend, and in the process celebrated six individual champs while sending 10 to this sectional.
"It was a great weekend for MSL wrestling with us, Barrington and Prospect all winning regional titles, but now we'll turn our attention to getting as many as we can out of here and into the state tournament. And looking at the brackets, I feel like we have a chance to get several if not all of our guys downstate if they all come out ready to wrestle," said Conant coach Chad Hay. Here's a quick glance at a handful of classes of special interest:
132 -- Arsalan Afshar (Maine West, 33-3), Reis Ginter (Hoffman Estates, 30-8), Jack Lingle (Schaumburg, 30-7), Daniel Uribe (Leyden, 26-8), Aaron Castellanos (Glenbard West, 39-5), Tyler Podnar (Wheaton North, 26-4), Eddie Bolivar (OPRF, 34-7). Plenty of top CSL and MSL athletes are in this bracket, all of whom are chasing No. 2 Bolivar, whose tournament schedule alone make him the favorite. Four-year veteran and Maine West captain Afshar is in the mix after coming off his first conference and regional titles earned. "All the work he's put in these past two seasons has started to pay off for him -- he's peaking at the right time, and I'm excited to be a part of his success and chance to get downstate," says coach Chris Brassell. Schaumburg coach Mike Levanti believes his man Lingle can successfully navigate this bracket, while Leyden sophomore Daniel Uribe looks to make this one count after a second straight sectional appearance.
138 -- Nicky Amato (Conant, 25-2), Steve Christovisiotis (Maine West, 13-11), Grant Hansen (Schaumburg, 25-11), Niko Derain (St. Charles East, 33-3), Eugene Lee (Maine South, 32-5), Noel Pena (Hoffman Estates, 23-3), Juan Rivero (Glenbard North, 34-10), Will Vesevick (Glenbard West, 31-5). Both Amato and Derain set themselves up well to earn two of the top four seeds after winning regional titles, Amato with a hard-fought 6-5 decision over Hansen, and Derain beating Rivero in a bout between two state-ranked seniors. Amato, who won 26 times last year on his way to Champaign, meets the sixth-ranked Rivero in a second-round bout. Junior Noel Pena, whose two of three defeats were at the hand of Amato, is on course to face No. 5 Derain, also in the second round.
170 -- Cormac Kane (Conant, 27-1), Abe Assad (Glenbard North, 40-0), Trent Johnson (Bartlett, 29-8), Adrian Bytyqi (Evanston), Daemyn Middlebrooks (OPRF, 32-7). This division won't quite match the overall depth of others, but there's plenty to be sorted out come Saturday night where the Conant camp looks to have a Kane-Assad final, which would be a rematch of the Hruska final back in late November. Assad, Kane and Middlebrooks represent three of the top five '70-pounders in the state, with No. 3 Kane on the other side of both Assad and Middlebrooks in the bracket. The Cougars star junior has won three majors thus far, including the MSL and Schaumburg regional, and is after a second straight downstate trip.
195 -- Jake Bellizzi (Maine West, 26-4), Joe Cunha (Schaumburg, 22-12), Anthony Feliciano (Leyden, 12-8), Demarco Lee (Lake Park, 27-6), Ben Pham (Glenbard East, 37-6), James Bartell (Maine South, 25-2), Elijah Osit (OPRF, 22-2). In a surprise result at the Niles West regional final, seventh-ranked Bellizzi was upended by unranked Maine South junior Bartell. "We'll sort a few things out, and clean up a couple of minor items up to get Jake ready to go for sectionals -- and we know he'll use that loss as the inspiration to get him back downstate for a second time," said Maine West coach Brassell, who earlier saw Bellizzi beat Bartell 6-4 in a Central Suburban League semifinal.
220 -- Ryan Jaffray (Leyden, 33-5), Mason Sykes (Conant, 10-4), Jesus Facio (Larkin, 26-7), Anthony Gulyk (Lake Park, 27-10), Jesus Lopez (Glenbard East, 35-10), Quintin Terry (Glenbard North, 35-6), Ramin Abraham (Evanston, 18-0). Leyden junior (Jaffray) is in a terrific spot to advance despite having Lopez and Abraham on his side of the bracket. One of four with 33 wins plus, Jaffray has impressed from the get-go in just his second year with the big club - winning the Leyden Invite, and last week, regionals at home. Sykes' upset of the top seed insured his place here this weekend, and help Conant win its second straight regional title.
285: Ed Gosche (Conant, 23-14), Anthony Greco (Elk Grove, 23-5), Hadi Mashhadiabolgha (Schaumburg, 17-12), Justin Hull (St. Charles East, 34-3), James McNicholas (Glenbard East, 32-12), Piotr Krupa (Taft, 20-2), Josh Mathiasen (York, 25-14). Always a weight class full of surprises at this time of the year, it was Schaumburg's (Mashhadiabolgha) who "mashed" the field at his own regional to walk away with a championship ring and top-four sectioanl seed. The Saxons junior won a stunning three straight 3-2 decisions, the last coming over MSL West rival Gosche to claim the top prize. Two-time sectional qualifier Greco hopes this is the year to get downstate, as does Upstate Eight and regional champ Hull of St. Charles East.
at Grayslake CentralFriday: 4:30 p.m. Saturday: 10 a.m.
Mat chat: St. Viator coach Jason Churak says he's the luckiest wrestling coach around after having supervised James (Anthony) Valentino for four years, and now current captain and two-time East Suburban Catholic Conference champion Jake Wolf.
"I don't know why I deserved to have two guys who were great student-athletes, led by example in and out of the room and amazing young men, who everyone in the program looked up to," said Churak, who hopes to guide Wolf and junior Elijah Black into their first state tournament trips.
"There are so many examples of the type of kid Jake is, but one of my favorites was the time he drove home one of our younger guys from practice to Bartlett -- he lives Lake Zurich, which is 22, 23 miles one way. He would drive someone to the moon and back in order to have everyone in the room and training."
Wolf says Valentino's influence had a lasting effect.
"Valentino was the guy around here during his four years," Wolf said. "And for me I feel that it was my responsibility to be the person who others looked to for a variety of things, but most importantly the leader in the room, duals, tournaments and every other thing associated with St. Viator wrestling."
The three-year veteran provided the Lions faithful with some last-second dramatics during his regional final with Zac Finn of Wauconda, using a reversal at the whistle to defeat the 2017 state qualifier 4-3 for his first regional crown.
"That was big on several levels, perhaps the most important was getting a first-round bye at sectionals, which helps me prepare for others on my side of the bracket," said Wolf (24-4), who's on the opposite side of second-ranked Jaden Glauser (Richmond-Burton, 30-0) and fifth-ranked Dylan Butts (Fenton, 34-3).
"It's a high-stress but exciting time of the season and my career," Wolf said. "But I'm not done yet, and I want it to continue one more weekend after this."
-- Mike Garofola