Libertyville's Gunther takes second at 160
CHAMPAIGN -- Joey Gunther fell at the final hurdle in his efforts to bring home a state wrestling title to Libertyville.
But what a gallant run it was.
The Wildcats' star 160-pounder was unable to solve senior Matt Rundell (34-3) of Oak Park-River Forest, dropping a 3-2 decision on the big stage at State Farm Arena on Saturday night in Champaign.
Rundell's third period takedown proved the difference, and a pair of late single points from Gunther (36-2) failed to be enough.
"Joey prepared for this final so well, just as he has for his final season with us, but Rundell is a fine wrestler himself and we just could not solve a guy who was so strong and able to defend whatever we threw at him," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert.
"It was a real battle out there," said Rundell, "but that's what wrestling is, and the both of us were competing like gladiators tonight."
There were plenty of tie-ups but not much real action in the first period as both wrestlers tested one another for weaknesses. But some strong work from Rundell in the second period may have helped decide the final outcome.
The OPRF senior rode Gunther hard for nearly two minutes, not giving an inch. And when the roles were reversed to start the third period, Rundell escaped from the bottom position to take the lead.
"We couldn't get anything going in that second period, and when it became 1-0, we had to create something in order to get that takedown, and turn the match in our favor," said Eggert.
The two-time North Suburban Conference and regional champ picked up the pace afer the escape, and nearly finished a shot at Rundell's feet. But the eventual state champion defended that shot and soon went up 3-0 when he recorded his takedown.
"It's a tough way to lose, but Joey gave it his best shot, and it wasn't enough tonight," said Eggert. "He still has had a wonderful senior year, and a sensational career at Libertyville, so whatever happened tonight doesn't define a great couple of years he's had."
Teammate Mark Dunsing also capped a wonderful final year at Libertville with a fourth-place medal after losing out to Kailor Hecox (Harlem, 24-2) in their third-place bout.
"I am very pleased with the outcome down here, especially after having an injury-filled season last year, and not even being in the starting lineup my sophomore year for regionals," offered Dunsing, who finishes the season with a sparkling 41-11 after battling a staph infection for much of the previous season. "The goal is always come down here and win a state title, but despite not having the opportunity to do so, I couldn't be happier with the way things ended for me."
Both Dunsing and Stevenson senior Tyler Harrington captured NSC and regional titles this season, with Harrington (41-7) coming out of a high-profile 182-pound division with a fourth-place medal in Champaign.
"When I transfered here from Ohio, I knew I was coming into a terrific program with a great head coach (Shane Cook) -- but I could have never imagined what I've learned here, aside from all of the fantastic help I've received to get better as a wrestler," said Harrington, who is on his way to North Dakota State to wrestling next fall. "Cook has instilled a lot of pride into our program, and with it, great ethics and morals, plus how to be a program which has a lot of pride and respect for each other, and a commitment to each other as well.
"You saw that the past couple of weekends at sectionals and here at state, where dozens of students and wrestlers come out dressed in those crazy neon t-shirts and cheer every move and point until your match is over," said Harrington, who won nearly 80 matches over the past two seasons. "It's something I will never forget."
"We've been very lucky to have a guy like Tyler come aboard," said Cook, "and we'll certainly miss everything about him.
The Patriots have used back-to-back individual state championships from Danny Sabatello (now wrestling at Purdue) as a springboard to the program's overall success, leading up to its first NSC title last month.
It would be hard to imagine a first trip to Champaign going much better than it did for both Michael Tortorice (Carmel, 113) and Cody Sawyer (32-9, 195) of Grayslake North. Both are coming home Class 2A third-place finishes.
Sawyer rebounded from his semifinal defeat to two-time state champion Andrew Marsden (Crystral Lake Central) on Friday to win his final two matches of the tournament and snare third-place honors.
Tortorice (39-6), a junior who sat out last season after his transfer from Wauconda, impressed from the opening match. He advanced to the quarterfinals, where he lost his semifinal to eventual state champ Jabari Moody (Rich Central) before defeating two-time state medalist Francis Edelen of Oak Forest and then pinning Christopher Tucker in his third-place match.
"I just never stopped working this year, and it finally paid off in the end," said Tortorice, who joins teammate Anthony Swindell as the second from Carmel to earn a state medal.
Sophomore Patrick Schoenfelder (48-7) was a shining star for Antioch coach Wil Borrero from the time he walked into State Farm Center on Thursday morning, advancing into the 145-pound semifinals, then coming back later to grab a fourth-place medal.
"He just has an engine that goes and goes, and never stops, and I really felt coming down here he was worthy of a state medal if he performed well enough, and he did just that," said Borrero.
Schoenfelder fell one win short of a medal in his rookie year last winter.
Teammate Nate Dlugopolski (42-13) came back from his opening tournament loss to collect his sixth-place medal in his first trip downstate of his career.
"It is so amazing to be able to get out of this bracket and come home with a medal," said the junior, who put a golden touch on his medal with a pin at 5:51 during his state-qualifying bout.
The terrific trio from Grant -- Christian Kantzler, Noah Drabek (132, 44-9) and Mike Kouvelis (152, 41-13) -- all were unable to squeeze their way one match closer to a guaranteed state medal on Saturday. That ended the terrific careers of both Drabek and Kouvelis, both two-time state qualifiers. Kantzler (126, 33-12), a junior, hopes to make a third visit here next season.
"They all wrestled hard, and right up until the very end of their final matches down here, but sometimes it just quite go the way you want here," said Bulldogs coach Ryan Geist.
Vernon Hills heavyweight Joe Blitstein fell one short of bringing a medal back for the Cougars when the two-time state qualifier was eliminated in the wrestleback quarterfinals.
Despite the loss, Blitstein finished with a gaudy 40-12 overall record.