3A Individual finals full of spills, chills

By Mike Garofola for the IWCOA

It was a state tournament that had a little something for everyone.

On the 3A side, fans were treated to a rarity of sorts when they watched both Ben Davino and Dillan Johnson win for their fourth time each, joining 14 others in the long history of the IHSA boys state tournament to win four individual state titles.

The 87th annual state tournament provided plenty of thrills, spills, and chills for a raucous crowd, which did battle with frigid temperatures in order to quench their thirst for the favorite sport and its outstanding young men.

Watch enough state finals inside State Farm Center and you find it can be a cruel sport, one that will test even the most sturdy of the mentally strong during a rollercoaster ride that — for six wrestlers per weight class — takes them on a long journey to a prized state medal.

Ultimately, the Hinsdale Central sectional produced six state champs, Barrington produced four, followed by Conant (3) and Quincy (1).

Here is a detailed look at each weight class when the final whistle ended things in Champaign:

106- Caleb Noble, Warren

In one of the best divisions in Champaign, dominated by freshmen, it would be a pair of rookie sensations that met in the 106-pound final with Caleb Noble (42-3) from Warren and Rocco Cassioppi (43-4) of Hononegah facing off for the second straight weekend.

The thunderous first period throw, and acrobatic back-flip from Noble after the final whistle easily told the big crowd who was crowned state champion after a thrilling 6-5 decision by Noble.

“The two of us know each other really well,” Noble said. “This was our third time we’ve met this season so we were both really very cautious of the other. Even though we had a plan on how to wrestle Rocco, sometimes those plans get thrown out the window and you just let it fly.” 

Noble beat Cassioppi for a Barrington sectional title one week earlier.

Nobles’ early throw brought the crowd alive. His hopes for victory increased when he built a 4-0 advantage after the first period.

It was 4-1 after two periods before Cassioppi closed to within 4-3, but seconds later Noble responded to make it 6-3.

With 30 seconds from time it became 6-4 on an escape, and a late stalling call on Noble gave the Hononegah faithful some life, but Noble was able to fend off any late attempts from his opponent.

“This is a great way to finish my first year of high school wrestling, and on the same night that Aaron (Stewart) won his first state title also,” said Noble.

Noble, Cassioppi, and third place Rocco Hayes (Sandburg, 49-2) can all be found in the top ten of national polls.

Fourth place went to Proviso West freshmen Jamiel Castleberry (33-3), the 18th medal-winner  in program history, and first since 2013 when Jameer Thurman was third at 195.

Normal Community junior Caden Correll (39-7) was fifth after his defeat of Barrington freshman Kaleb Pratt (36-14), who enjoyed a fantastic season under first year head coach Dan Keller.

Correll is now twice a fifth-place medal winner, giving his program its 13th state medal.

113- Nicholas Garcia, Marmion Academy

The path to an unlikely championship began weeks ago for Marmion’s Nicholas Garcia, after he suffered his second defeat at the hands of No. 1 Dom Munaretto of St. Charles East. Munaretto beat the Marmion Academy star at both the Ironman (3-2) and the Flavin (5-3) just before the new year.

“Nicholas came to me right away after DeKalb and said if he sees Munaretto again, he wants to beat him,” said Cadets head coach Nathan Fitzenreider, who along with Garcia, and his staff began to hatch a plan designed to defeat 2023 state champion Munaretto, the No. 5-ranked high school wrestler in the nation.

“We watched a ton of film, worked on cleaning some things up, and just kind of broke things down for him,” Fitzenreider said. “As we got closer to state, we were confident that if they met again, the result would be different.

“Munaretto is a great wrestler, but Nicholas is a real special young man, so he never lost his focus against any of his opponents during the postseason. He always had a great plan in place.”

Munaretto (47-3) leveled his three opponents to advance into the Grand March, including a dominating performance in his semifinal with No. 4 Bruno Cassioppi (Hononegah, 38-5) that ended in a 18-2 tech-fall victory at 5:44.

Garcia would major his first two opponents of the tournament, then recorded a hard fought 3-0 decision against No. 5 Maddox Garbis (Plainfield North, 44-5) yet another superb rival that made up this marvelous 16-man bracket.

It was clear from the start of the 113-pound final that Garcia (45-7) was well-prepared to face Munaretto. Despite Munaretto’s strength, power, and ability to strike at a moment’s notice, Garcia found a way to stymie the Saints super-sophomore.

Garcia would register the second of his two neatly played reversals midway through the second period to double his advantage to 4-2, and that’s the way this pulsating final would end.

Munaretto would start down for the third period, but Garcia rode his rival hard for the next 90 seconds – brushing off a stall warning ten seconds before time – and then triumphantly raised both arms at the final whistle, much to the delight of the Cadets faithful.

“There was some talk about going 120 at some point, I was at 117, but I feel so good in this weight class, and the belief in myself, my teammates, and coaching staff went a long way towards this state title,” said Garcia.

Cassioppi would later go to claim third place over Garbis with a 10-0 major decision victory, while the Joliet Catholic Academy freshman Max Cumbee (33-16) – ranked No. 7 at the start of the weekend – grabbed fifth place after his 6-4 sudden victory over Justin Williamson (32-12) of Mt. Carmel.

120- Teddy Flores, Maine South

1968 was an eventful year in world and national news. Locally, it was also the last time Maine South celebrated an individual state champion, when Tom Neuses won the state crown at 133 pounds.

Jon Halverson came this close in 2019 at 182 pounds, but it would be Teddy Flores who would break the long title drought on Saturday, with his 6-5 victory over Jason Hampton (33-16) from Joliet Catholic Academy.

“This win and state title proves that hard work, dedication, and a total commitment to the sport eventually pays off,” said a proud Flores, who placed fourth in Champaign a year ago.

Flores and the Hawks coaching staff felt better things would soon come his way.

“I think all of us felt that Teddy could have been in the final last year, but I know that finish is what inspired him to achieve his ultimate goal of being a state champion,” Hawks coach Kevin Hansen said. “You can imagine how proud we all are of him right now.”

Flores adjusted after last year’s downstate experience.

“I had to change my ways after last year,” Flores said. “It meant doing all of the right things from training to watching my diet, what type of food I put into my body, lifting, fitness – every little thing that needed to be better if I wanted to be the best this season.”

Flores, who recently committed to the University of Michigan, was cool, calm and composed during his 3-0 quarterfinal win over Cole Gentsch (Normal Community, 42-7). Flores then topped Kalani Khiev (Glenbard North, 37-8), when a second-period escape and a third-period ride gave the Hawks senior a 1-0 decision.

Flores appeared to be in control over Hampton in the finals when he escaped and then recorded a take-down to go up 5-0, before the Hilltoppers sophomore made a valiant run at the eventual champion before falling just short.

“Jordan had a great tournament, and his championship match showed the identity of JCA wrestling. He was never out of the match,” JCA coach Ryan Cumbee said.

“He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached, and as a sophomore, you’re only beginning to see just how good he can become.”

The superb career of Batavia senior Ino Garcia (28-6) came to an end when the Bulldogs star claimed his third state medal following his 12-6 defeat over Brady Phelps (25-4) in the third place match. Garcia was sixth a year ago, and fourth in 2022.

Brady Phelps, who was No. 2 in the preseason polls behind Flores, is now a three-time state medal winner in a season when the Schaumburg junior battled meningitis which forced him out of action for over a third of his season.

“There was always a chance that I wouldn’t come back this season, or maybe ever, depending on how severe my case was,” Phelps said. “Even though I wasn’t able to reach my goal of being a state champion, there’s plenty to be thankful for.”

Khiev would later defeat Libertyville senior Luke Berktold (36-9) for fifth place.

126- Seth Mendoza, Mt. Carmel

No. 1 Seth Mendoza has no fear of flying. But you can bet his 126-pound opponents fear the-now three-time state champion.

The Mt. Carmel junior produced yet another sparkling three days of work – culminating in a 13-5 decision over No. 2 Michael Esteban (36-8) from Marist to join former Caravan star Sergio Lemley as a three-time champion, while giving his storied program its 47th state champion.

If Mendoza can repeat next season, he will find himself alongside famed brothers Joe and TJ Williams as four-time state champions.

“It’s always nice to win a state title, it’s obviously one of the goals I’ve set for myself, but it all happens because of my teammates and coaching staff,” Mendoza said. “

Mendoza is proud of his father, Michael Mendoza, a Purple Heart and Navy Cross recipient, which is the second highest award for valor given.

Michael Mendoza was a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Al Anbar Province when he was involved in a firefight which saw him lead his team and injured commander to safety.

One year later he was injured by flying shrapnel while in Afghanistan.

“My dad has been a great inspiration to me, and together we’ve been making several recruiting trips, which has helped me gather the type of information needed to help me make an important decision,” adds Seth.

Mendoza aspires to be a pilot, and is now able to fly solo in a Cessna 172.

“Since fourth grade I’ve been interested in flying, and my dad encouraged me to do so,” Mendoza said. “It’s cool, and something that I’ve really come to enjoy.”

Abdulloh Khakimov (Hersey, 34-7), Christian Chavez (Glenbard North, 39-6), Grant Madl (Elk Grove, 37-5) and Max Siegel (Andrew, 43-9) are all seniors, and are now all well-deserving first time state medal-winners after their third-to-sixth place finish here on Saturday.

Madl, who earlier in the year became the first Elk Grove program history to win 100 matches, also gave the Grens their first state medal since Jeff Shapiro did so in 1984 with his second-place finish.

132- Ben Davino, St. Charles East

Ben Davino has been the heartbeat of St. Charles East wrestling ever since stepping foot inside the Saints room, and a crucial piece in the machine that Jason Potter and his coaching staff have built.

Davino has been at or near the top of the national polls from the moment he put on the Saints singlet, racking up over 170 career victories against just one loss.

With his scorching pace and dynamic acceleration, lethal finishing ability, and an insatiable taste for winning, Davino (50-0) would claim his fourth state title here in Champaign. He opened the final session with an impressive 20-5 tech-fall victory over a tremendous opponent in TJ Silva (28-5) from Hononegah, himself a returning 1A state champion.

“I’ve had to pinch myself at times because four years, and over 1000 days here at St. Charles East have gone by so much quicker than I’ve wanted them to,” said Davino, who will wrestle next fall at the Ohio State University.

“Being in our room is even better than I ever expected, and to have the coaching staff that we have, and especially coach Potter, they’ve made me a better person and wrestler. I love our room and teammates, which are really my second family, and to be a part of the success this team has had is just amazing.”

Davino tech-falled his way to the 126-pound crown to give him 18 on the season, to go along with (23) pins. Silva, who came over from 1A power Dakota, earned his spot in the final after his tech-fall of Damian Valdez (Addison Trail, 34-13) who lost to Davino in the Conant sectional final.

Hersey junior Maksim Mukhamedaliyev (36-4) was a well-deserving third overall after his major decision (13-4) victory over Mt. Carmel freshman Evan Stanley (37-7).

Zack Parisi (York, 50-5) who will wrestle in the fall at the University of Chicago, grabbed his first state medal after his pin of Valdez gave him fifth-place honors. Parisi gave the Dukes program its 27th state medal, while Valdez’s medal was his program’s 19th, the last coming in 2002.

138- Zach Stewart, Marmion Academy

When St. Charles East’s No. 1 Tyler Guerra went down with an injury just under two minutes into his quarterfinal contest, it opened things up wide to the rest of the 138-pound competition 

Marmion Academy sophomore Zach Stewart – who dealt with his own share of nagging injuries during his rookie season – seized the opportunity with both hands by defeating No. 4 Justin Wardlow of Lockport to claim the state title at 138, and second state title of the day for the Cadets.

“Injuries are a part of the sport,” Stewart said.  “I went through it a year ago so I know. But after cutting a ton of weight last year, I felt really good going at (138) this year and it showed in my results.” 

Stewart won 6-3 over Wardlow (42-7), who was unable to wrestle Massey Odiotti (Loyola Academy) in the 120-pound final last year due to an injury.

The first period resembled more of a chess match with each teasing and testing the other. Stewart knew after two previous wins over Wardlow that he’d have extra motivation to beat him in the final.

“We had two barnburners before (6-5, 6-3) so I wanted to get out to a fast start with the first takedown to help set the tone,” Stewart said. Stewart was ranked third prior to the weekend, just behind No. 2 Donavon Allen (35-7) from Marist.

Allen beat Stewart in a 5-3 sudden victory decision at the Hinsdale Central sectional final.

Off the second period whistle, Stewart executed a wonderful reversal for two against Wardlow, and doubled his advantage to 4-2 with 44 seconds in the period.

Wardlow started down for the third period and quickly made it 4-3 with an escape, but was unable to pry open Stewart down the stretch. Stewart sealed his victory with a take-down just seconds before time.

“I’ve got a great room and some great teammates to go with every day, which has really helped me get this state title,” said Stewart, who fell one win short of earning a state medal at 120 pounds last year.

Allen would go on to claim third place after his overtime (5-4) victory over Ryan Hinger (Sandburg, 44-6) while Lincoln-Way West junior Luke Siwinski went home with fifth place following his pin of Damian Resendez (23-16) from Mt. Carmel.

144- Jayden Colon, St. Charles East

By the time the dust had cleared from the three-round clearance of their opponents, it was abundantly clear that St. Charles East’s Jayden Colon and Fremd’s Evan Gosz both belonged in the 144-pound final.

No. 2 Colon (41-5) would dispatch No. 1 Carson Weber (42-2) to avenge an earlier loss to the Joliet West junior in the Dvorak semifinals, to advance into his third straight championship bout. On the other side of the bracket, Gosz systematically built a big lead to send off No. 5 Aidan Huck (43-7) from Batavia to secure his spot against Colon.

Gosz (37-1), twice a third-place state medal winner, struck first with a first period take-down of the returning state champion. But a strong second period and an even better final period saw Colon record a pair of three-point near falls that led to an impressive 14-5 major decision victory.

“(Colon) is so tough on the mat – it was something that we had hoped to stay away from tonight,” Fremd coach Jeff Keske said. “But Evan had a great season and made some really important strides in his game, so we all know he’ll be back next year with the chance of winning a state title.” 

Colon is grateful for what the Saints’ program has given him.

“I’m very fortunate to be in a great room with some great partners on either side of me to work out with,” Colon said. “To have the chance of winning another state title for our program and coaching staff is something that I’m proud of.”

The Saints star, a key figure in the St. Charles East run last year to its first 3A dual-team state title, won at 145 last year and at  129 the year before when he won at 145 while wrestling at Montini Catholic.

Saturday’s victory gave him four major tournament titles on the season, plus a third-place finish at the Dvorak.

Gosz said after winning his third sectional title he had the better of the downstate draw, with both Colon and Weber on the other side of the bracket. However, he was quick to say he would not take Batavia’s Huck lightly should they meet once again after an earlier match that saw Gosz prevail 5-3. 

Gosz will enter his final season at Fremd with a sparkling 122-8 overall record. 

Huck lost to Weber for third place but broke through for the first time in three tries, leaving Champaign with a state place-medal. Pekin senior RaMez Watson (38-6) earned fifth place honors after his 4-2 victory over Marmion Academy sophomore Ashton Hobson (39-11).

150- Will Denny, Marist

A pin- and tech-fall-happy Will Denny never was given a stern test during this post-season, including his three days of play here in Champaign, where the Marist junior left little doubt as to why he was anointed the No. 1 spot all year long at 150 pounds.

Denny (42-4) pinned his way into the semifinals where he cruised past Gavin Connolly (St. Charles East, 41-11) before doing the same to Barrington senior Rhenzo Augusto (41-6) to claim the first state title of his career, the 12th in program history, and first since 2015 when Marist heavyweight Jake Ford climbed to the top of the podium.

“I wasn’t happy at all with that fourth-place finish here a year ago, so I went back and did a lot of work on my technique, and upped my workout to three times per day, seven days a week in order to go after a state title,” said Denny.

“I’ve really enjoyed being the one guy everyone is chasing this year, and even I know that God has a plan for all of us, so I’ll trust in knowing that, and just continue to work as hard as I can.”

The sudden rise of Augusto, a state qualifier a year ago, comes as no surprise to Barrington coach Dan Keller, who came over to take charge of a young program from Prospect.

“We’re all very proud of Rhenzo,” Keller said. “He’s a ‘yes sir, no sir’ type of person who takes great pride in his training, his teammates, and of just being a part of a team. When you consider how short of a time he’s been serious in this sport after coming over from jiu-jitsu, his success is nothing short of amazing.”

Dominic Serio (West Aurora, 33-4) came all the way back through wrestle-backs to earn a spot against Connolly, who outlasted Serio for third place after his 3-1 decision. Connolly, a state qualifier in 2022, was injured last year but still managed to advance to the sectional blood round and has enjoyed a marvelous final year under coach Jason Potter

Jack Ferguson (Yorkville, 44-12) was fifth, and OPRF sophomore David Ogunsanya (37-11) sixth overall.

157- Aaron Stewart, Warren

If there were any sure things in Champaign this year in 3A, Ben Davino, Seth Mendoza, Dillan Johnson and Aaron Stewart were just that. The quartet was unbeatable, unstoppable, and undeniably the best in their weight class both in Illinois and at the national level.

It would have taken a gargantuan effort to unseat any of these four from their lofty status, but they still had to wrestle in order to claim the top prizes in their respective divisions.

Aaron Stewart (43-2) would kickstart his season with one impressive win after another before overwhelming his competition in the postseason which culminated in three easy victories leading up to his state final match with Edmund Enright (Mt. Carmel) that ended with Stewart claiming his first state crown of his young career.

“Winning here is a goal for all of us, but to be honest, I won at Fargo, and that’s a lot bigger than winning state,” said Stewart, now 43-2 after his 5-2 decision over Enright, whose record moved to 39-4.

Stewart, 12th nationally, took an early lead with a takedown just 30 seconds into this contest, then conceded a pair of escapes to allow Enright, No. 20 in the national polls to get back even with the Warren sophomore.

Stewart would need some quick help from the medical staff when Enright had a firm hold of his left ankle near the edge just after the third period began. After given the all-clear to go, Stewart recorded an escape and would put Enright away for good with one last take-down just six seconds from time.

“I kept my attacks up and always felt in control, even though the (close) score didn’t really reflect how confident I was,” offered Stewart, who was third here a year ago, and was a key figure in the Blue Devils first trip ever to the 3A dual-team state tournament.

Stewart and teammate Caleb Noble would give their program its fifth state championship in history after Russ Schneider (1964) Craig Murphy (1966), and Joel Vandervere (2020) got themselves up on the board in the Warren room.

Hononegah’s terrific freshman Brody Sendele (47-3) who lost to Enright in the semifinals 5-0 finished third overall after his 9-2 victory over Noah Quintana (31-8) from West Aurora.

Luke Hamiti (Joliet Catholic Academy, 35-19), who lost his state opener to Sendele, and again in his wrestle-back semifinal, persevered through a trio of matches on Saturday to eventually earn fifth place after his 8-1 win over Ryder Janeczko (23-12) from Yorkville.

165 – Collin Carrigan, Glenbard West

Many would call this weight class the deepest, thanks in part to No. 1 Owen Uppinghouse (Quincy) and his 50-plus victories, followed closely by Collin Carrigan (Glenbard West) and Gunnar Garelli (Lyons).

Garelli and Carrigan have battled each other all season long, most recently the last two weekends prior to this one.

There was plenty more quality all throughout this 16-man bracket. Garelli sent Uppinghouse (56-1) out of the front draw with a 5-1 quarterfinal victory, and Carrigan mowed down his rivals as it became clear late Friday night that these two long-time friends would meet to decide the title at 165.

“Gunnar and I have been friends since fourth grade when we were in club together, so there was little about each other we didn’t know,” said Carrigan, who during the offseason transferred from Marmion Academy to be back in Glen Ellyn, and within minutes walking distance from his home to Glenbard West.

In setting up the finals drama between the two: Garelli earned a 4-3 victory in the regional championship before the Glenbard West home fans, then it was Carrigan who came back to level things with a 5-3 decision to capture the sectional crown at nearby Hinsdale Central.

“When I looked at the brackets, I knew we could meet one last time, and when Gunnar got that big win over Uppinghouse, then (AJ) Gutierrez (St. Charles East) on the top half of the bracket, it all came together for both of us,” said Carrigan. Both he and Garelli are three-time state qualifiers.

The highly-anticipated final did not disappoint, and after Carrigan grabbed an early lead with a take-down, then doubled his advantage seconds into the second period, it appeared as though the North Carolina-bound Carrigan (45-10) was on his way to an easy victory.

However, Garelli (46-3) did not go away, and a pair of escapes halved the lead of Carrigan to 4-2.

When it became 4-3, Garelli uncorked a well executed take-down near the edge to give him his first lead of the match (5-4) only to see Carrigan (46-1) draw back even with 45 seconds remaining to send this into extra time to decide the eventual champion.

Overtime set up one of the wildest scramble sequences, with both having chances to score, much to the delight of the crowd that was fully invested on their side of the stadium, raising the noise level a decibel or two with each move from these two in their attempt to win before time.

Neither wrestler scored in the first overtime, sending things to an additional extra session. When Carrigan escaped, it was a 6-5 tie-breaker victory that give Glenbard West its first state champion since 1966 when Fred Beilfuss did so.

“I got the start I wanted with that first period take-down, and was able to add more points to make it 4-0,” Carrigan said. “But it was a final between two seniors who wanted to go out on top, so I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“My move back closer to home to finish up at Glenbard West has been even better than I expected. Our room is great, and coach (Pat) McCluskey and our staff have made me feel right at home from the very beginning, so I’m thrilled to give something  back to everyone associated with the program.”

Uppinghouse would conclude a remarkable career at Quincy with a second third-place finish after his 45-2 record from a year ago. Gutierrez was fourth overall, DeKalb senior Jacob Luce (44-4) fifth after his 11-2 major decision victory over Max Corral (33-180 the senior from Joliet Catholic.

175- Colin Kelly, Mt. Carmel

Colin Kelly’s sensational postseason effort ended with the Mt. Carmel senior lifting the 175-pound trophy, the second time he’s done so in his career after just missing out last season to-then No. 1 Chris Moore (McHenry) in a tense, hard fought 160-pound final that ended in favor of Moore, 3-2, now a 165-pounder here at Illinois.

“It was a disappointment of sorts losing in my final last year to Chris, but it’s the sport, and life, and you just move on,” said Kelly, whose faith is deep-seeded in the way he lives his life.

“I feel like I am blessed with each and every day from the time that I wake up, to the end of my day,” continued Kelly, who was involved in a car crash earlier in the season, which had a profound effect on the way he lives.

“You kind of have your eyes opened when you have an experience like that so now I don’t let the little things bother me,” Kelly said. “And I’ve done my best to get closer to God to help me with each day.”

On the wrestling mats, few have gotten closer to the Wisconsin-bound Kelly, No. 1 all season long in his high profile weight class, and currently No. 3 in the national polls.

Since regionals, Kelly (42-1) has recorded a pair of majors, three falls, and four tech-falls, including his second of the tournament against Ricky Ericksen (Marist) 31-11) at 2:41 during a 16-1 triumph.

Kelly would defeat No. 3 Brody Murray (St. Charles East, 43-9) in his semifinal, and could likely meet again on Saturday in a 3A dual-team state semifinal should both clubs advance on Friday from their quarterfinal.

Murray would later defeat No. 2 Matt Kubas (Libertyville, 39-5) for third place.

Kubas, with another state medal to add to his resume, is now the first ever in the acclaimed Libertyville program history to be a three-time all-stater.

“This weight class, and 165 had to be two of the toughest of all 3A classes (so) even though the hope was to be wrestling for a state title on Saturday night, I am still proud of what I accomplished down here,” said Kubas, who also broke the record for career pins set by Mark Friend in 2004 (74) who later went on to star at Penn State.

No. 4 Luke Zook (Yorkville, 48-6) was fifth after his 5-4 decision over AJ Mancilla (44-8) from Bradley-Bourbonnais.

190- Jaxon Penovich, Prospect

Jaxon Penovich decided to change his story after his expectations of glory during his rookie season came apart inside the State Farm Center.

The then-freshman would enjoy a magnificent year leading up to the Barrington sectional, where eventual state champion Cole Matulenko (Libertyville) dominated during a 9-3 decision.

Undaunted, and still brimming with confidence, Penovich won his state opener over Matt Janiak (Plainfield South ) with a major decision, before Marist star Pete Marinopoulos won a tight encounter 3-2 to send Penovich into wrestle-backs.

“I really felt last year that I would be in the state final,” admits Penovich, “but this sport really teaches you a lot about the way life can be, and that loss to Thebeau (Dominic, Belleville East) in my wrestle-back semifinal was kind of the wake up call that I needed.”

Penovich would still finish fifth overall — not bad at a big mans’ weight filled with upperclassmen.

The Knights super-soph made more of a commitment to his fitness, diet, and training, which saw him up the ante by spending more time at the Relentless Training Center, where Matty Jens, who won his second 2A state title for head coach Matt Joseph at Grayslake Central gave him this advice.

“Train hard, have more fun, and just open things  up, and let it go when you’re out there competing,” said Penovich, who took the advice, and has found it to be just what the doctor ordered.

Penovich would start fast on Thursday with his 18th tech-fall of the season, and finish strong with a 13-5 major decision victory over Quinn Herbert (Loyola Academy, 32-9) whom he beat in the Barrington sectional final.

Herbert would enjoy an impressive senior year, despite three straight defeats at the hands of Penovich, the other in a regional final at Glenbrook South. 

Penovich surrendered just one take-down on the season to an Illinois opponent, finished with 22 pins, and would tech-fall, or pin all of his Illinois opponents leading up the state tournament.

The Penovich title is just the third in Prospect program history after Matt Wroblewski did so in 2017 before heading here to Illinois after his perfect 35-0 season in 220 pounds.

Wroblewski was preceded by Matt Boggess (2009) whom Penovich works out with on occasion.

Ryan Breen (Mt. Carmel, 31-9) fifth here in 2023, was third overall after his tech-fall victory over Matt Lapacek (Downers Grove South, 29-6).

Yorkville junior Luke Chrisse (36-17) was fifth following his 3-1 triumph against Joliet Catholic Academy junior Nico Ronchetti (34-12) who came in as the No. 2 man at this weight, but was stunned by Herbert in the semifinals, 7-2.

215- Kai Calcutt, Loyola Academy

Kai Calcutt appears to have a flair for the dramatic – much to the agony of the Loyola Academy faithful, and in particular head coach Matt Collum.

The Ramblers sophomore, for the second consecutive year, found himself embroiled in a state championship contest which needed extra time to decide the winner. But unlike a year ago when Calcutt lost an overtime thriller to Ben Alvarez (Yorkville), the No. 1 man in the state needed little time to secure a 3-1 victory over Marmion’s Joseph Favia.

“It certainly was exciting for the fans to watch, but not for me,” admitted Collum, who in 2004 beat Khris Argue (Mt. Carmel) in the 145-pound state final with a 5-2 decision.

Collum, who was also twice a third-place medal winner at Neuqua Valley, finished with a 182-16 overall record.

Since taking over the Ramblers program in 2019, Collum has sent the first six ever atop the podium, including the first ever state champion a year ago with Massey Odiotti, and now Calcutt (31-4), also a star lineman for the 8A undefeated state champion Ramblers football team.

“I wasn’t totally happy with the way I wrestled in that final – Favia is tough, and defensive minded – but I could have been better. I’m still very happy with my victory,” said Calcutt, who did a flip of his own after the final whistle, a la Caleb Noble, but with a few more pounds to elevate into the air than the 106-pound champion.

“We would have liked to see Kai push the pace more, and to open things up, but Favia knew he couldn’t allow him to do that. So his tactical approach was sound, and he did a good job of keeping Kai at bay,” Collum said.

“During the offseason, Kai, who is super athletic, worked on his movement from left-to-right, angles, and just using his speed and footwork to his advantage, and we’ve seen just how far he’s come from last season.”

Alvarez was not able to repeat this season, he did however pick up a third place medal after his 8-4 decision over No. 3 Owen McGrory (Libertyville, 45-5) who lost a 3-2 heart-breaker to Favia in the semifinals.

Cooper Caraway (Normal Community, 46-5) was fifth overall following his 3-1 victory over Naperville Central senior Nicholas Besteiro (29-8) who pushed Favia to the brink during his 3-2 defeat in their semifinal on Friday night.

285- Dillan Johnson, Joliet Catholic Academy

Big men rule and Dillan Johnson proved it to be true, with one last sensational state tournament that saw the Joliet Catholic Academy senior collect his fourth state title on Saturday night when he recorded his fourth pin of the weekend.

“I have not really given much thought about the legacy that I’ll be leaving behind, but I can say all of the hard work, and dedication to excellence is something that I am most proud of,” Johnson said. “And I have been very fortunate to be in a room with such a great staff and teammates during my four years.”

Johnson has a remarkable 143-1 overall record.

“Dillan is a quiet and humble young man, who leads by example, and has the respect of all his teammates,” said head coach, Ryan Cumbee. “Coaching Dillan is a once in a lifetime opportunity. There will never be another like him, and I feel blessed to have been his coach.”

As most know, Johnson had committed to Northwestern until the university sent football coach Pat Fitzgerald on his way last July, forcing Johnson to change his mailing address to the University of Wisconsin, where he will decide if it’s back to the two-sport grind of football and wrestling.

At the start of February, Johnson was No. 1 in the latest national poll, which he further validated with his four-pin effort, all of which took just a tick of 4 1/2 minutes in total.

“I can tell you with confidence (Dillan) has had one of the most dominating careers ever with over ninety percent of his victories coming by pin,” said Cumbee. “Our program will always be remembered as the team that Dillan Johnson wrestled for, and I think that is just awesome.”

Hinsdale Central senior Marko Ivanisevic (41-3) twice a fifth place state medal winner would earn a well deserved second place trophy after going past No. 4 Wyatt Schmitt (Joliet West) then 2023 runner-up Jonathan Rulo (Belleville East) to advance into his final with Johnson.

Ivanisevic joins the Allen brothers (Brian and Jack), Juwann Edmonds, and Cody Tavoso as three-time state medal winners after collecting the 36th state medal in program history.

Tavoso, fourth here a year ago, is now wrestling at Princeton University.

William Cole (Round Lake, 45-3, fourth) earned his first state medal ever, as 

did Tyler Fortis (Maine South, 44-6) who beat Asai Hernandez (40-10) for fifth place. All three will be back next season.

Class 3A Championship matches

3A 106 – Caleb Noble (Warren Township) 42-3, Fr. over Rocco Cassioppi (Hononegah) 43-4, Fr. (Dec 6-5)

3A 113 – Nicholas Garcia (Marmion Academy) 45-7, So. over Dom Munaretto (St. Charles East) 47-3, So. (Dec 4-2)

3A 120 – Teddy Flores (Maine South) 48-1, Sr. over Jason Hampton (Joliet Catholic Academy) 33-16, So. (Dec 6-5)

3A 126 – Seth Mendoza (Mount Carmel) 42-2, Jr. over Michael Esteban (Marist) 35-9, Jr. (MD 13-5)

3A 132 – Ben Davino (St. Charles East) 50-0, Sr. over Thomas Silva (Hononegah) 28-5, Jr. (TF 3:35 20-5)

3A 138 – Zach Stewart (Marmion Academy) 30-8, So. over Justin Wardlow (Lockport Township) 42-7, So. (Dec 6-3)

3A 144 – Jayden Colon (St. Charles East) 41-5, Sr. over Evan Gosz (Fremd) 37-1, Jr. (MD 14-5)

3A 150 – Will Denny (Marist) 42-4, Jr. over Rhenzo Augusto (Barrington) 41-6, Sr. (MD 15-7)

3A 157 – Aaron Stewart (Warren Township) 43-2, So. over Edmund Enright (Mount Carmel) 39-4, Sr. (Dec 5-2)

3A 165 – Collin Carrigan (Glenbard West) 46-1, Sr. over Gunnar Garelli (Lyons Township) 47-3, Sr. (TB-1 6-5)

3A 175 – Colin Kelly (Mount Carmel) 43-1, Sr. over Ricky Ericksen (Marist) 31-11, Jr. (TF 2:41 16-1)

3A 190 – Jaxon Penovich (Prospect) 46-3, So. over Quinn Herbert (Loyola Academy) 32-9, Sr. (MD 13-5)

3A 215 – Kai Calcutt (Loyola Academy) 31-4, So. over Joseph Favia (Marmion Academy) 37-7, So. (SV 3-1)

3A 285 – Dillan Johnson (Joliet Catholic Academy) 39-1, Sr. over Marko Ivanisevic (Hinsdale Central) 40-3, Sr. (Fall 1:58)

Class 3A Third Place matches

3A 106 – Rocco Hayes (Carl Sandburg) 49-2, Jr. over Jamiel Castleberry (Proviso West) 33-3, Fr. (Dec 3-1)

3A 113 – Bruno Cassioppi (Hononegah) 38-5, Fr. over Maddox Garbis (Plainfield North) 44-5, Jr. (MD 10-0)

3A 120 – Ino Garcia (Batavia) 28-6, Sr. over Brady Phelps (Schaumburg) 25-4, Jr. (Dec 12-6)

3A 126 – Abdullokh Khakimov (Hersey) 34-7, Sr. over Christian Chavez (Glenbard North) 39-6, Sr. (Dec 3-2)

3A 132 – Maksim Mukhamedaliyev (Hersey) 36-4, Jr. over Evan Stanley (Mount Carmel) 37-7, Fr. (MD 13-4)

3A 138 – Donavon Allen (Marist) 35-7, Jr. over Ryan Hinger (Carl Sandburg) 44-6, Jr. (TB-1 5-4)

3A 144 – Carson Weber (Joliet West) 42-2, Jr. over Aidan Huck (Batavia) 43-7, Sr. (MD 10-2)

3A 150 – Gavin Connolly (St. Charles East) 41-11, Sr. over Dominic Serio (West Aurora) 33-4, Jr. (Dec 3-1)

3A 157 – Brody Sendele (Hononegah) 47-3, Fr. over Noah Quintana (West Aurora) 31-8, Sr. (Dec 9-2)

3A 165 – Owen Uppinghouse (Quincy Senior) 56-1, Sr. over Anthony Gutierrez (St. Charles East) 38-12, Jr. (Dec 7-4)

3A 175 – Brody Murray (St. Charles East) 43-9, Sr. over Matt Kubas (Libertyville) 39-5, Sr. (Fall 5:47)

3A 190 – Rylan Breen (Mount Carmel) 31-9, Sr. over Matt Lapacek (Downers Grove South) 29-6, Sr. (TF 6:00 17-1)

3A 215 – Ben Alvarez (Yorkville) 47-6, Sr. over Owen McGrory (Libertyville) 45-5, Sr. (Dec 8-4)

3A 285 – Jonathan Rulo (Belleville East) 36-1, So. over William Cole (Round Lake) 45-3, Jr. (Fall 2:00)

Class 3A Fifth Place matches

3A 106 – Caden Correll (Normal Community) 39-7, Jr. over Kaleb Pratt (Barrington) 36-14, Fr. (MD 21-7)

3A 113 – Max Cumbee (Joliet Catholic Academy) 33-16, Fr. over Justin Williamson (Mount Carmel) 32-12, Fr. (SV-1 6-4)

3A 120 – Kalani Khiev (Glenbard North) 37-8, Jr. over Luke Berktold (Libertyville) 36-9, Sr. (Dec 8-2)

3A 126 – Grant Madl (Elk Grove) 37-5, Sr. over Max Siegel (Andrew) 43-9, Sr. (Dec 4-0)

3A 132 – Zack Parisi (York) 50-5, Sr. over Damian Valdez (Addison Trail) 34-13, Sr. (Fall 3:30)

3A 138 – Luke Siwinski (Lincoln-Way West) 32-15, Jr. over Damian Resendez (Mount Carmel) 23-16, Sr. (Fall 1:25)

3A 144 – RaMez Watson (Pekin) 38-6, Sr. over Ashton Hobson (Marmion Academy) 39-11, So. (Dec 4-2)

3A 150 – Jack Ferguson (Yorkville) 44-12, Jr. over David Ogunsanya (Oak Park and River Forest) 37-11, So. (Dec 3-1)

3A 157 – Luke Hamiti (Joliet Catholic Academy) 35-19, So. over Ryder Janeczko (Yorkville) 23-12, Jr. (Dec 8-1)

3A 165 – Jacob Luce (DeKalb) 44-4, Sr. over Max Corral (Joliet Catholic Academy) 33-18, Sr. (MD 11-2)

3A 175 – Luke Zook (Yorkville) 48-6, Jr. over AJ Mancilla (Bradley-Bourbonnais) 44-8, Sr. (Dec 5-4)

3A 190 – Luke Chrisse (Yorkville) 36-17, Jr. over Nico Ronchetti (Joliet Catholic Academy) 34-12, Jr. (Dec 3-1)

3A 215 – Cooper Caraway (Normal Community) 46-5, Sr. over Nicolas Besteiro (Naperville Central) 29-8, Sr. (Dec 3-1)

3A 285 – Tyler Fortis (Maine South) 44-6, Jr. over Abisai Hernandez (Mundelein) 40-10, Jr. (Dec 10-3)

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