No more team stuff from here on out. It's all about booking your own ticket into the 16-man bracket at Assembly Hall and the IHSA individual state wrestling tournament.
This weekend, the top 4 from each weight class in sectional tournaments advance into the Class 3A and 2A state tournament in Champaign, which begins in the late afternoon next Thursday. Last year, five wrestlers from the Fox Valley area medaled, including Tom Gerszewski (Crystal Lake South) and Josh Symbal from Huntley, who have moved onto the collegiate level at UW-Whitewater and Augustana respectively to continue to compete
One of the truly magical times of the season is about to begin, for some, more memorable than for others. The collective quality at all four sites is impossible to rate, so here's a brief look at a handful of divisions to keep an eye on which feature area qualifiers.
Class 3A at Barrington
When: Friday, 5 p.m.; Saturday: 9 a.m., 3 p.m. finals.
The lowdown: Always one of the most highly competitive of the four sectionals in the state this season, of course, is no different with the addition of DeKalb to the guest list, as well as NIC-10 and state powers Harlem and Hononegah back once again, along with regional champions Barrington, Grant and New Trier, plus a cast of marvelous individual talent from all around the northern half of the state.
Harlem, which outscored its longtime rival for the third time in three weeks to lift the regional trophy, brings a tourney-high 11 wrestlers into the competition following its 49-point victory at Huntley, while both New Trier and Hononegah will have nine in action.
The host Broncos, who edged Deerfield in the final match of the regional, will dress nine as will the Warriors and Cary-Grove, which comes as no surprise when looking at the final tally at the Lake Zurich venue.
Sophomore Michael Cullen (39-0), the heartbeat of FVC runner-up Cary-Grove since making his debut with the Trojans last season, is a superb young talent, whose class on the mat is unsurpassed, and likely the reason the sophomore will cruise past the competition this weekend, and into what appears to be one of the top divisions in Champaign next weekend.
"It's a challenge that I've been looking forward to ever since this season began, but I also know it gets tougher with each match, but I am ready for the challenge ahead," says Cullen, who won it all here last year before going to claim a 4th-place medal in Champaign.
Weight watching: 106 -- No. 6 Austin Ryan (Jacobs, 32-2), John Cullen (Cary-Grove, 31-10), Nick Meyer (Huntley, 28-14), No. 5 Travis Piotrowski (Prairie Ridge, 35-1), No. 7 Andrew Mehrholz (Deerfield, 36-2), Adam Zacharuk (Harlem, 24-11), Anthony Munoz (Zion-Benton, 31-7), Nich Koch (Grant, 33-7), Mitch Stakakis (Barrington, 24-14). Ryan bounced back from a heartbreaking loss on his home mats in the FVC final to Piotrowski to win a third consecutive regional title. The junior is on the opposite side of the bracket from his rival from Prairie Ridge.
132 -- Eric Barone (Crystal Lake South, 32-6), Kevin Conrad (Barrington, 29-11), No. 9 Brian Egan (Buffalo Grove, 31-1), Gresh Henderson (Lake Zurich, 35-6), Israel Santiago (Warren, 21-2), No. 3 Doug Johnson (DeKalb, 36-1), No. 10 Abel Rios (Zion-Benton, 29-1), Alex McKenna (New Trier, 32-9), Jordan Pierson (Hononengah, 36-6), Brad Oldick (McHenry, 29-10). A wicked weight class that features four returning state qualifiers, including Johnson from DeKalb, who last season finished third at the 2A tournament, and enters this weekend with a sparkling 155-21 career record. CL South sophomore Barone may have caught a break as he finds himself on the other side of the bracket, and away from the state-ranked trio, but he's also one win away from facing MSL and regional champ Conrad tonight.
195 -- Brandon Mabry (Huntley, 32-5), Kevin Barbian (Libertyville, 35-7), Jared Lalanda (Grant, 32-7), Deon Rice (Hersey, 30-8), Jackson Wrede (Prospect, 23-14), No. 10 Sage Hecox (Harlem, 17-3), Jim Kirby (Deerfield, 30-9). The Red Raiders' Mabry had hoped to tangle with No. 10 Hecox in his regular-season finale at the Antioch super-duals, but when that didn't materialize, it meant a sure date with the Harlem junior in the regional final. "Mabry (15 pins) was up 6-4 with a minute to go, then Sage sent him for a ride, so we know we're right there with one of the best," says Huntley head coach, BJ Bertelsman. The two could face each other once again on Saturday evening in the final if all goes well for both.
220 -- Ray Griggel (Dundee-Crown, 12-4), Nick Huff (Cary-Grove, 30-11), Connor Haran (Grant, m 36-8), Jack Bornhofen (Barrington, 30-9), Frank Walter (Prospect, 32-6), No. 5 Kailor Hecox (Harlem, 31-5), No. 7 Jacob Suter (GBS, 31-2), John Benson (New Trier, 36-7). "There are no easy matches at a 3A sectional, especially this one. But if Ray wrestles like we know he can, then he has a great chance to get downstate," says Chargers head coach Bob Skillman. "The FVC did well at other regionals at 220, so that's a good sign, because (Ray) was the conference champ. But you don't get downstate without beating 1-2 excellent opponents, and that will be the case for our guy." Griggel opens with Grant's big man Haran where a victory puts him against conference rival, and regional champ Nick Huff.
Friday fun: 106 -- Cullen vs. Munoz: Off the opening bell of this tournament, this bout will give the Cary-Grove freshman a chance to avenge an earlier 3-1 loss to the Zion-Benton junior.
285 -- Jeramey Dermont (Cary-Grove, 26-15) vs. Sawyer McCaffery (Warren, 32-7): This weight class is awash with exceptional individual talent, far too many to just send four downstate. Dermont has been coming on of late, witnessed by a strong performance during the regional final with the 2012 state qualifier Calamari. A victory in this opening bout puts the Trojans' senior up against two-time sectional qualifier, Jared Carlton (24-8) from Harlem.
126 -- No. 2 Jordan Northrup (Harlem, 37-1) vs. No. 5 Nick Gil (CLS, 36-4). If all goes to form, it will be another championship match between these two stars, the first going to Northrup last weekend in the Huntley final where the Harlem senior came away with a hard-fought 2-1 decision to grab a first-round bye here. The nationally ranked (No. 20) Northrup was the state champion at 113 last year.
Class 3A at Maine East
When: Friday, 5:30 p.m.; Saturday: 10 a.m., 4:45 p.m. finals
The lowdown: Sal Annoreno, Sal Annoreno, Sal Annoreno. The reigning 138-pound state champ from Bartlett is still the talk of the area one year after capturing his championship ring following a fiercely contested three days which resulted in his near flawless victory over Cullen Cummings of Downers Grove North.
Cummings has been rated just a click above the Hawks' star all year long, and atop the 138-pound division, but the DGN two-sport star lost in the regional finals to Juwan Edmond of Hinsdale Central. The NIU-bound Annoreno's lone blemish on an otherwise dazzling 27-1 record came at the hands of Chris Garcia (Montini), the No. 1 rated 38-pounder in 2A
Bartlett head coach John O'Brien says his top man is ready to go, and after a dominating performance at the Glenbard North regional, it appears to be so.
The same goes for Tom Stewart at Elgin, who watched four of his men reach this venue, including the power-packed lower weight duo of Jeffrey Morrow and Zach McCullough (113, 27-3) along with Tyler Von Essen (120, 18-13) and veteran Richie Santana, who like Morrow is making his second straight sectional appearance.
"This is an exciting time for us and the Elgin program, and it's great to see all of the hard work put in by these guys has paid off thus far," said Stewart.
Weight watching: 106 -- No. 12 Morrow (Elgin, 27-3), Logan Gruszka (Schaumburg, 32-7), Danny Madonia (Conant, 27-7), No. 9 Ryan Rubino (St. Charles East, 31-4), No. 10 Robert Campos (OPRF, 33-8), Patrick Augustyn (Glenbard North, 36-5), Carlos Fuentez (Glenbard East). "Jeff didn't wrestle his match in that (4-0) loss to Augustyn from Glenbard North, so he had to take a tougher route through wrestlebacks last weekend to reach the sectionals, but I can tell you he's up for the challenge this weekend," offered Stewart. The junior is on course to face Rubino Saturday morning in the semis.
126 -- Cory Pych (South Elgin, 28-6), Alex Curtis (Streamwood, 27-8), No. 1 Jered Cortez (Glenbard North, 41-0), No. 3 Isiah White (OPRF, 40-1), No. 10 Tyler Svetska (West Chicago, 31-6), Jake Drew (Glenbard East, 32-5), Terry Calkins (Maine South, 27-3, 31-6), Matt Rowland (Willowbrook, 37-6). When the nation's 4th-ranked wrestler (Cortez) is in your bracket, everyone else is playing for the rest of remaining spots available, including the senior Pych, who is looking to book his second straight trip downstate. "When you look at the brackets a little closer, I (now) feel that things in the early going work well for Cory (76 takedowns, 98 near-fall points), and after that, things are always going to get more difficult," said Storm head coach Mark Cameron, who is extremely proud of senior William Aleman (160) and his advancement here as well. "William is one of those kids every coach roots for, and the reason you get into coaching. His work ethic, both in the room and classroom, and passion for the sport makes it all worthwhile."
132 -- Duke Bogicevic (Larkin, 26-11), Benny Clifford (Conant, 32-4), No. 5 Johnny Gosinski (Glenbard North, 31-5), No. 7 Isaiah Vela (St. Charles East, 32-3), No. 2 Larry Early (OPRF, 39-0). The decision to bump his star player up and away from the star-filled class at 126 pounds proved genius for Larkin head coach Steve Hoyt after Bogicevic grabbed a third-place medal behind Gosinski and Vela at the Glenbard North regional. "We're thrilled the gamble to move Duke up a weight paid off for him, but we know he has some tough work still ahead of him," said Hoyt. "Both Duke (14 pins) and Alex Duran (145, 22-16) have been very good this year, going from 16 wins between last year to 48 this season, so the experience they gain this weekend will go a long way." Hoyt's only real disappointment was to see his terrific senior, Kory Plate (182, 21-14) fall short in his sectional qualifying match.
195 -- Richie Santana (South Elgin, 28-3), No. 12 Matt Stopka (Schaumburg, 32-6), Kellen Cleveland (Wheaton North, 34-3), Ammar Al-Ghoul (Glenbard East, 28-12), Danny Tomasello (Addison Trail, 24-8), No. 6 Andre Lee (OPRF, 29-7), Noah Fleckenstein (York, 4-3)."Richie got away from what he does so well in his regional final against (Kellen) Cleveland and big, tall opponent who can use that leverage to his advantage. But he knows it, and he'll be ready to go on Friday," said Stewart.
Friday fun: Santana vs. Tomasello (Addison Trail): The Maroons' captain, with a win over Tomasello, would like nothing more to get a shot at the state-ranked Lee during the evening session, knowing his hard-fought loss to Ryan Berg from Naperville Central (3-2) in the Hoffman Estates final puts him on par with Lee, who defeated the No. 12 ranked Berg by the same 3-2 decision.
Class 2A at Antioch
When: Friday 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m., 4:30 p.m. finals.
The lowdown: Hampshire's youth movement made another step forward in its development after a quartet of varsity newcomers all went through from its own regional, alongside its captain, Travis Keeling, who advanced at 170 pounds for coach Terry Wilkinson.
"This will be a great experience for all of these guys," said Wilkinson. "Finding success in this tournament will go a long way for their future, and the future of our program."
Wilkinson is anxious to watch how his freshman duo of Kyle Szienik (106, 19-12) and Wylie Allen (23-16) fair in their first time out, as well as sophomore heavyweight, Gabe Reyes (10-9) whose pin at 5:05 in his sectional qualifying match helped put him through.
"For a kid who won just a few JV matches, then go on to be a sectional qualifier, it's just real exciting, and we're all very proud of Gabe," Wilkinson said.
The same goes for another sophomore, Anton Krocko (27-7), who also pinned his way to Antioch last weekend.
"I like the way how things shake out for him this weekend, he's young, but he always seems to find a way to win," offered Wilkinson, who will watch his 182-pounder open with Zach Eckstrom (Vernon Hills, 28-15).
Weight watching: 170 -- Travis Keeling (Hampshire, 33-6), No. 2 Andrew Marsden (CLC, 36-4), No. 3 Michael Maduko (Montini, 18-12),. Keeling opens with another senior, Mike Falger (13-5) from Carmel, and is one victory away from meeting Maduko, a seasoned pro from the wrestling rich program of 2A team state champion Montini.
"It's an old cliché, but it really is all about taking one match at a time. For me this week, the focus will be working from the bottom, where I struggled to do much of anything against (Andrew) Marsden in my final at regionals against him," said Keeling, who hopes to attend the University of Chicago next fall, and continue to wrestle, and perhaps begin his studies in the field of medicine.
The Whip-Purs' senior, who is ranked 15th in a class of 275, was a sectional qualifier a year ago, and finished with 21 victories.
Class 2A at Rochelle
When: Friday 4:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m., 2 p.m. finals.
The lowdown: If the IHSA is thinking about corporate sponsorship to help fill its coffers, this site could easily be dubbed the Mileage Plus sectional. The competition trail stretches from the far western part of the state (Geneseo), to Peoria, Rock Island, Wheaton, and parts all the way around and through small towns very few could find on the map.
Burlington Central is the lone representative from the area, and just two Rockets advanced from regional play at Sycamore, where the hosts enjoyed a successful day with 10 qualifiers, six of them individual champions.
Weight watching: 132 -- Brady Weinrich (Burlington Central, 32-10) No. 3 Esai Ponce (Kaneland, 30-4), No. 5 Stephen Richardson (Pontiac, 33-3), No. 7 Chase Wiggins (Rock Island, 30-6), No. 8 Rudy Meneweather (Washington, 35-7). The Rockets' captain was here two years ago, and the disappointment of not advancing last season has stayed with him. Weinrich was within one victory of a berth downstate in his sophomore season.
"I agree that missing out last year was all the motivation he needed this year, but he's always been a hard worker, who has competed and trained during the offseason," says Rockets' first-year head coach Vince Govea. "He flat out puts the time in, and that's why he will be successful. You can see the focus and determination each time he steps into the room, and I think that's where the biggest improvement has come this year."
170 -- Craig Kein (Burlington Central, So, 21-10), No. 5 Brandon Mizlo (Geneseo, 30-5), No. 6 Michael Cole (Rock Island, 29-6), No. 8 Marcus Murphy (East Moline United, 23-5), No. 9 Martex Cox (Peoria, 36-1). Kein's first sectional appearance finds the sophomore in a state-ranked filled side of the bracket, including his first-rounder with Mizlo, who was the NI Big 12 Conference champ this season.