Grayslake Central's Cramer, Carmel's Palm take 2A titles
CHAMPAIGN -- Both Grayslake Central's Alex Cramer and Carmel Catholic's Riley Palm produced the downstate runs they needed to make history.
The Lake County duo produced performances full of power, offense and intelligence to capture Class 2A wrestling state championships at State Farm Center on Saturday night.
The march into the final by each was swift. Cramer recorded his victory at 160 pounds after three straight majors and an impressive 14-8 decision over Jared Head of Washington.
The 138-pound Palm began with 2 falls and ended with a stunning 11-1 major decision over two-time state champion We Rachal (28-6) of Washington from the Chicago Public League.
"Getting here and winning a state title has been on my mind ever since I won a sixth-place medal here last year on basically one knee," Palm said. "Since then, it's stayed on my mind all the way through this season."
"If there is such a thing as a perfect six minutes, then that's what Riley did tonight," said Carmel coach Bob Kuykendall, who was so superstitious about his top man getting into the final that he didn't bring his suit coat on the ride down in fear of jinxing Palms' chances for the weekend.
"When Riley advanced into the final after the semifinals on Friday, that's when I asked my wife to bring my suit with her so I could wear it in the Grand March," Kuykendall said.
It's the first state champ for Carmel's longtime coach.
"Coach and I said nothing to each other when we walked into the stadium," Palm said. "As we got into position for announcements, we both knew what was at stake, so there was nothing to talk about."
The Corsairs junior forced Rachal to chase the lead early into the second period and heaped a ton of pressure on his opponent, doubling his advantage at three minutes to 4-0, then blowing the match wide open with a takedown near the edge to make it 8-0 with a minute left to go.
"We talked about a game plan that would slow Rachal down by scoring first, changing positions, staying aggressive and never allowing him to get into his game," Kuykendall said. "Riley was close to perfect throughout.
"This means a lot to my men, my coaches, our program and the school," Palm said. "The best part is I'll be back again next year to try to win another."
Cramer (46-1) will have the same opportunity after running roughshod through his half of the bracket, running out to a big lead on Head before the senior from state power Washington could cut into his lead.
"Alex is so cool, calm and composed," Grayslake Central coach Matt Joseph said. "He just never really shows any emotion or nervousness, except maybe tonight for a moment or two when he let Head get a little closer toward the end of his final."
It was also the first state title for Grayslake Central, which got runner-up efforts in 2012 from Dylan Hay and Joey Valdivia.
"My personality is kind of laid back," said Cramer, who qualified to state in his first two seasons. "I don't let much affect me either way, and even tonight, it just seemed like another match for me, even though it was my biggest and most important of my career."
Joseph, a state runner-up at Hersey in 2001, liked what he saw throughout the three-day tournament. He figured his eventual champ was on the road to success after watching his major decision in his state opener.
"He was in synch and wrestling his style right from the beginning, and dominating his opponents like he's never done before," Joseph said. "As long as he stayed that way, we knew the chance for him winning here this weekend was very real."
There was disappointment by not advancing to the state final for Mundelein's Dane Durlacher. But both he and Libertyville's Danny Pucino claimed third-place state medals.
Durlacher, who entered the tournament as the No. 2 rated 106-pounder, roared back from his disappointing semifinal loss to win two straight bouts, including a last-second thriller over Nain Vazquez of Montini, the very opponent who beat the Mustangs senior in his Friday semifinal.
"That's the way to end this tournament and career," Durlacher said following his 5-4 victory over Vazquez. "I opened so well in that semifinal (scoring) on my first three shots, but after that, things went south, and I never really recovered."
The two-time state medal winner will next head to the University of Illinois, where his father (Dave) and uncle (Lindsey) competed.
Durlacher (46-1) is only the third in Mustangs history to win two state medals, the last being Matt Ornoff in 2009 and 2012. His teammate Logan Kvien (41-6) erased a tough loss in his 182-pound semifinal with three straight victories in wrestlebacks to get himself in the third-place bout opposite John Halvorsen, only to fall to the Maine South junior 6-2.
On his way to his first state medal, and the Mustangs' 19th, Kvien added another pin to his record-setting season, collecting his 29th on the year.
"If I had that semifinal match with Nick (Stemmet, Yorkville) to do over, I would have moved and kept busy a lot more than I did," Kvien said. "But I was a little too defensive, and maybe too nervous as well. But it was still great to come away with a state medal."
Pucino didn't hide his feelings about last season' "this close" miss for a state medal. Libertyville's star 132-pounder saw his successful 2018 run to a third-place finish as a sign of bigger and better things ahead.
"Ever since that loss to Trevor Chumbley (Marmion Academy) last year that ended my season one win from getting a medal, all I've thought about was that loss -- actually right up until the start of this tournament," said Pucino, who won 39 matches a year ago and finished at 44-3 this season following his 7-3 victory over Patrick Nolan (37-8) of Sandburg to earn the 34th state medal in Wildcats' history.
"I felt good in my semifinal (Friday) night with Eddie Bolivar (OPRF), but he just was better than me. It happens that way sometimes, but I'll be back next year bigger, better and ready to go."
Pucino and his state-qualifying teammates Michael Gunther and Charlie Schmidt will now begin preparations for Tuesday's dual-team sectional against Barrington.
Joel Vandervere made his statement of intent for the future when the Warren freshman got past Lake County rival Tommy Frezza, then 2017 state champion Joey Melendez to take third-place in the 120-pound weight class.
The No. 6 rated Warren rookie went 4-1, defeating a trio of state ranked opponents on his way, beginning with Nico Bolivar (OPRF), then Frezza, before taking Melendez (40-4) down.
"I always felt I belonged with the best in the state, and after this weekend, I know what to go to work on during the off-season," said Vandervere (43-3) who last summer finished seventh in Fargo at nationals.
Frezza (38-8) got off to a flying start back on Thursday, defeating two high-profile state-ranked opponents before a 3-2 loss to eventual state champion Travis Ford-Melton sent him into wrestlebacks.
Once there, the Stevenson junior and two-time state qualifier suffered that loss to Vandervere, then later, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of his old nemesis Jake Harrier (Jacobs).
Frezza's sixth-place finish gave the Patriots their 12th state medal in program history.
"That weight class Tommy was in was separated by just one takedown. By that, I mean it was so close among the top 8-10 guys, so there was nothing to be ashamed of by finishing where he did," Patriots coach Shane Cook said.
Class 2A regional champion Antioch celebrated two of its own on the podium at the end of the three days: sophomore Alex Barbarise (113) and freshman Danny McPherson. Each earned medals.
Barbarise (40-9) won his 40th match and earned a sixth-place finish. McPherson (40-18) also finished sixth.
"I was fortunate to have a draw like this in sectionals to get to state," McPherson said. "This weekend it was the same, so it was great to be able to take advantage of that opportunity and win a state medal."
Grayslake Central freshman Joey Jens (145) won three times in wrestlebacks, including his fifth-place match with Aron Taylor (41-11) of Carbondale.
"I had a tough start to the season," said Jens, who finished 29-8 with 15 pins. "But coach Joseph, who means the world to me, helped straighten me out, and ever since, things have gone really well for me."