CHAMPAIGN -- Magically emerging from a star-filled 160-pound bracket, Hunter Rollins finds himself one victory away from lifting the coveted wrestling state championship trophy.
The Hersey senior hounded and hammered No. 2 Peter Andreotti (Marist, 36-4) from all quarters to deliver an impressive 8-4 victory Friday night, and in doing so advanced to Saturday night's 160-pound final against giant-killer C.J. Brucki (40-6) of Sandburg.
Brucki upset No. 1 Davonte Mahomes (OPRF, 42-1) earlier in the day with a superb six-minute performance in the quarterfinals.
"When Mahomes went out in the quarters, it blew our division wide open, and I knew then it was there for the taking," said Rollins, whose confidence is overflowing after his two outstanding efforts on the day, and in particular against Andreotti, whom Rollins had been waiting to see again for nearly two months.
"He got me at the Dvorak (5-3) and I've been thinking about that loss every since, and kind of hoping I would get another chance (here) at the state tournament."
Once that opportunity arose, the three-time sectional champ, and state qualifier, took full advantage.
He carved out a handful of chances with a strong work rate, and the tactical knowledge that the Marist junior would like nothing more than to slow the match -- and Rollins down to a much slower pace than he would have liked.
"We wanted Hunter to keep moving his feet, and to keep on attacking, because we feel when he does, he is almost unstoppable," said Hersey assistant Nick Blackshaw, who has been joined at the hip with Rollins, and has never let go in the form of everything he needs to know and work on each and every day the Huskies are in the room.
"I wouldn't be where I am right now without Nick," admits Rollins, who built a 5-1 lead at 5 minutes, conceded a reversal moments later, then added on with an escape, before finishing off Andreotti with a takedown with seconds remaining.
Take down is exactly what the aforementioned Brucki would do on Friday, stunning the OPRF faithful with a dominant effort in a 9-4 victory.
Later, he recorded an 8-6 win over Nuntrae Jackson (33-3) of Brother Rice to bracket break many of the fans who figured it would be a Mahomes-Andreoti final.
"Hunter is peaking at the right time, and his effort over the past couple of weeks is right up where it needs to be," said Hersey coach Jim Wormsley.
A handful of area stars are shining brightly enough to be considered medal contenders, including Bobby Alexander (Conant, 120) and Brian Egan (Buffalo Grove, 132).
Egan put a scare into the camp of Larry Early III (OPRF, 45-0) when he went up on the No. 2-rated sophomore in the early stages of his quarterfinal, until the high profile Huskies sensation put a full-court press on to pin Egan.
However, once in the consolation bracket, Egan (38-4) fired back with a 6-2 win to move on, and will now face Brandon Kupczyk (26-8) of York.
Coord Wiseman (Barrington, 31-8) was overpowered by Bryce Brill (Mt. Carmel) the nation's No. 1 rated 145-pounder in his semifinal.
But Wiseman, too, bounced back with a win in wrestlebacks, and is on course to garner his second consecutive state medal.
Teammate Ben Calamari (36-8) was unable to solve Alex Fritz (Marmion Academy) during a 3-2 loss in the quarters, however, the Broncos' captain remains alive in his search for his first medal after a 3-2 win over John Carlos of West Chicago.
Next up for the two-time MSL champ is Chris McDermand (Libertyville) whom he is 1-1 with this season at 285 pounds.
Another heavyweight, albeit a lighter one, Javier Rhoades (Leyden, 26-5) took advantage of his second chance in wrestlebacks by defeating Shola George (Prospect) 9-4.
Rhoades will face Adarios Jones (Moline) while the fine career of George ends with two trips to the state tournament and a 43-5 record this winter.
Matt Stopka of Schaumburg overcame a fall at 2:42 to Sage Hecox (Harlem) in the quarters to win his first bout in wrestlebacks over Joe Page of Bradley-Bourbonnais 16-5. The Saxons senior will open today against No. 4 Jameer Thurman (36-3) of Proviso West at 195 pounds.
Third and fifth-places matches will begin at 1 p.m.
The annual Grand March is set to start at approximately 6:30 p.m. with the finals in all three classes to follow the opening ceremonies.