Michael Cullen was in a class of his own during the two days of competition at the 58th Berman Holiday Wrestling Classic at Palatine High School.
A quartet of opponents were unable to stop the Cary-Grove sophomore, whose desire to win a state title at 113 pounds was never more evident than in his superb performance Friday in the Berman championship, where he delivered a 14-4 major decision over Noey Carrillo of Zion-Benton.
Cullen's work, plus some strong efforts from his teammates, helped the Trojans secure fifth place overall, just 10 points behind Lyons Township (156-146).
A sensational second day of wrestling sent Hinsdale Central past challengers Glenbard East and St. Charles as the Red Devils won their second consecutive team title at Palatine.
"Michael is the face of Cary-Grove wrestling right now, and he is one of the big reasons for what we all hope will be a great second-half run by this team, and a very bright future for our program," said Cary-Grove coach Ryan Ludwig. "We didn't have a real strong first day, but the entire team really put forth a great effort to win a lot of matches in the backdraw today to put us in a position to challenge for a top finish, and that's what I am most proud of."
Cullen (19-0) left the field torn and tattered after a technical fall and a pair of pins sent him into the final, where Carrillo quickly found himself trailing.
"My desire is to dominate each and every opponent that I face, and that's something that I enjoy doing," said Cullen. "While I was glad to get the major decision, I really was after a tech-fall. But give credit to (Carrillo) -- he's a very tough opponent, and he battled hard throughout.
"It's great to win an individual championship at a tournament like this, but (it's) just a small step toward the big prize in Champaign, and I know there's still a lot of work ahead of me."
The other champion from the area came in the first title bout of the day, when St. Charles East senior Ryan Rubino (19-3) outlasted Danny Swan (20-3) of Oak Forest to win the top pize at 106 pounds.
Rubino survived a heart-stopping 16-11 semifinal match with Greg Brusco (Delaware-Hayes, Ohio) to earn his place in the final, once again causing coach Jason Potter and the Saints fans a few nervous moments before the final whistle.
"There were a few too many errors in both of those matches due to (Ryan) being too aggressive," said Potter, "but that's not anything that cannot be fixed. He needs to manage his match a little better and maybe go a little slower, and pick his spots in a more timely fashion."
Potter earlier in the day watched another Saints standout, Isaiah Vela (20-1), get upset in the semifinals on a fall from Jarvis Sanders of Lyons Township. That sent Vela, the top seed, into the backdraw, from where he eventually earned a third-place medal.
"Now the pressure is off of being undefeated, and sometimes that's the best thing that can happen to a wrestler," said Potter.
Both the Saints and Glenbard East, the tournament leader after the first day, saw their chances to keep pace with Hinsdale Central come to a quick end after a rough go in the semifinals allowed the Red Devils to pull away.
Key for Hinsdale Central were three second-place finishes and an individual title from the top heavyweight in the state, Brian Allen, who is now 23-0 after defeating Lincoln-Way East junior Nicky Allegretti 14-5.
"We knew the numbers didn't look very good before the semifinals began, but Hinsdale has just too much firepower than the rest of the teams in the top five," said Potter.
Glenbard East, with eight wrestlers in the semis, got a second-place trophy from Ammar Al-Ghouri (15-5) at 195.
With a pair of second-place medals from freshmen Devin Kane (126, 23-4) and Breon Hoosier (170, 14-2) Metea Valley enjoyed its best finish in its third trip here after finishing dead last as a first-year program in 2010.
"I first have to say if Devin was able to upset the top rated 126-pounder at 2A (Cameron Kennedy of Richmond-Burton) I would have voted for him as the O.W. (outstanding wrestler)," said Metea Valley coach Claudio Torres. "But even with him falling short in his final with Kennedy, he had a great tournament and he was part of a very good tournament for us which saw us go from last (two years ago) to 15th last year, and up to 10th today."
Lake Park senior Austin Schoen managed just a slight smile following his heartbreaking 4-3 loss in OT to St. Patrick senior Steve Galliardo in the 145-pound final.
"I lost to (Galliardo) one other time when I was a freshman, also in triple overtime, so that was tought to take one more time," said Schoen (19-2). "But my coach (Todd Raymond) said to me afterward that our match was like a state semifinal or final, so I will use that to help me go forward and hope that I meet him again downstate."