Conant rallies past Stevenson at Leyden

By Mike Garofola
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 1/9/2016 7:47 PM

When is a big lead big enough to hold off Conant?

The reigning Mid-Suburban League wrestling champions, trailing Stevenson by 29 points as late as the Leyden Invitational semifinals, slowly chipped away at the Patriots' huge advantage.

The Cougars used a dazzling consolation round to pull within 5 points before taking over for good and capturing a fifth consecutive Eagles Invite inside famed Farina Fieldhouse in Franklin Park on Saturday.

"It wasn't very pretty out here today, but it proves this really is a team sport with the way so many guys came through, especially in the consolation round to help us get plenty of bonus points to help get us back in it with a chance to win it all," said Conant coach Chad Hay, just moments before his team lifted the top trophy at this 39th annual tournament.

"We knew coming in that (Conant) was the team to beat -- they (beat) us the other day (34-28) in a dual," said Stevenson coach Shane Cook. "We were in a position to win it all, but we left a lot of points out there today, and that's something we cannot do with the conference, then regional tournaments getting closer."

Hay pointed to individual titles from Danny Madonia (126, 21-1) and Kyle Peisker (138, 20-1) as keys to the Cougars' fight-back, but only after mentioning a handful of others who made their presence felt when the pressure was on during their consolation bouts.

"Steve Hanks got us a big third-place win for us to likely clinch our championship at the same time Stevenson's heavyweight lost in his final, but Hunter Egan (113), Josh Deaton (120) and the freshmea, Joey Perez at 126, came through for us when we needed them to."

"We were without three starters today, and that meant others had to step in, and that's what our team is all about," said Peisker, who along with Madonia claimed their second straight titles here.

The Cougars' second-half heroics would eventually gave them a 2-point victory (191-189). Two years ago, Conant won in similar fashion, edging Class 2A power Oak Forest 259.5-258.5 with a late surge.

Tourney host Leyden, inspired by titles from seniors Wesam Alabed (21-4) and Jeremiah Recinos (145, 23-6) and junior Husam Alabed (160, 22-6) collected enough points (156.5) to give coach Mike Fumagalli's team a third-place finish ahead of Oak Forest, which finished with 144 points.

"This is quite a day, and quite a weekend for Leyden wrestling," said Fumagalli, who on Friday watched 40 wrestlers from his program visit the homeless and feed them in a local community center.

"This is a real close and tight bunch we have on this team, and spending the time together at the community center brought us all together that much more," said Recinos. "It's a way to give back to the community as well, which it's all really about."

Alabed was particularly pleased with the turn of events.

"I don't know really what to say," said Alabed, who needed just 49 seconds to register a pin in his 126-pound final. "But it's an amazing feeling to win as a senior, and in the Farina Fieldhouse. It's something I've been focused on all this week, after we competed at the Berman tournament (hosted by Palatine) last week."

Recinos' efforts included an exciting 7-5 win over Nick Catalano of Conant in the final. He earned Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament honors, as chosen by the coaches.

"Jeremiah unraveled in his semifinal, so we went downstairs, looked at some film, regrouped, and then went out and beat a first-class, state-ranked opponent (Catalano), which was no small feat," said Fumagalli.

The runners-up Patriots carried off three championships, using titles from Dylan Geick (152), Nikita Nepomnyashchiy (170) and Michael Kordek (182) to keep the defending North Suburban Conference champs in the hunt during the Conant comeback.

Geick (24-2), a junior, continues to impress during his first year at Stevenson, and his dominance was evident throughout his three bouts.

"It's a little different now than it was earlier in the season, when nobody knew who I was -- many of my opponents are more aware of what I can do, so their tactical approach is more of a challenge, which is something I have adjusted to pretty well," said Geick, who lost to top-ranked Nick Foster of Belleville West 7-6 in the Hinsdale Central final recently. "That match came down to the last 19 seconds, and after injury time, so I feel confident that I'm right there with Nick and I look forward to the next time we meet -- which is hopefully for the state title."

Vernon Hills and Lakes finished fifth and sixth, respectively. Vernon Hills senior Connor Wood (29-11) won at 195 pounds with a pin in 4:38 against Jose Gonzalez of Maine East.

"With a lot of support from my teammates and the coaching staff, plus extra work during the off-season training with the Mike Poeta club, I've come a long way," Wood said with a smile.

Wood was brought up to varsity on the eve of regionals last February, and he quickly showed he belonged by qualifying to the sectional and falling one win victory short of advancing into the 2A state tournament.

The Lakes threesome of Chase Deatherage (113), Jared Smith (170) and Marshall Rice (195) all finished third.

Burlington Central, here for the first time in its history, ended its day with 71 points, good for ninth place overall. That counted as a big success for coach Vince Govea, who wrestled for Leyden and graduated in 2001.

"It was great to bring the guys back to where I began, and it was fun to have them in an enviroment that has such a rich history in this sport and to have them compete against so many talented 3A teams, including Conant and Stevenson," said Govea, who watched the young and exciting duo of sophomore Austin Macias (20-1, 120) and freshman Nick Termini (19-3, 126) take second-place finishes.

"Austin did great today, but he ran into an opponent (Jaleel Hollingsworth of Proviso West) who's a top-10 rated kid in the state. So he learned a few things that will help him prepare for the 2A tournament in a few weeks. Same thing for Nick. He was a freshman going against a senior in his final, but he showed well throughout the day, and he, along with the rest of the team, battled hard and learned some valuable lessons from being here."

Rockets seniors Adam Mengel (145) and Ray Rushing (152), who combined for nearly 40 victories between them a year ago, were next highest for Govea, earning third- and fourth-place medals for their efforts.

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