Broncos best MSL field for second consecutive season

by Mike Garofola

Wheeling High School –

Luke Rasmussen continued to make his mark at another weekend tournament – this one the 50th Mid-Suburban League conference tournament – using a blistering attack to easily repeat as a league champion, while helping his mates from Barrington lift the championship trophy.

The Broncos 29-point (270.5-241.5) advantage over runner up Prospect gave Dave Udchiks’ club its second straight title, and 8th in program history, all of which have come after 2006.

“After our slow start on Friday night, it was nice to see us rebound (today) and come out and wrestle hard all throughout the brackets, avenge a few early season conference losses, and come out of here with the conference title,” said Udchik.

“We set a lot of goals as a team before the season: one of which is to win the MSL, and even though the ultimate goal is to get guys downstate and win medals, and later have us get to team state to compete for a trophy – it’s still a big deal for us to come in here and win the conference championship,” added Rasmussen, now a sparkling 36-0 after pinning his way to the 170-pound crown.

“We’ve got a great room, with great teammates, and former teammates (who) come in and work  with us each and everyday to help all of us be better,” said Rasmussen (27 pins), who spent all of 3:34 minutes combined in his three bouts on Saturday at host Wheeling High School.

Since the Broncos ‘three-peat’ from 2011 to 2013, the big trophy has been dominated by Prospect, Conant, and of course, Barrington – and on this day, try as they might, MSL East champion Prospect was never able to take a bit out of the Broncos lead.

“I said before the tournament that Barrington was the team to beat – too much firepower and depth – but we made it interesting with our four individual champions, almost two more, and (12) overall medals,” said a proud Prospect head coach, Tom Whalen.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us before regionals, but I am pleased with our four champs, all of which continue to work hard in the room, are coachable, and (today) took chances in order to get us bonus points to help the cause.

Six clubs would own the top of the podium on this second day of action: Barrington and Prospect each claiming four titles each, Buffalo Grove and Fremd two, while Hersey and Schaumburg grabbed one a piece.

One of the championship trophies lifted by a Buffalo Grove Bison came near the very end of the tournament in what was the most anticipated, and highly entertaining bout of the day.

Bison senior, Gio Jackson and Barrington junior, Evan Roper, who have each held the No. 1 spot in the state at 220 pounds at varying times this season – met on center stage in what would be the second, and potentially four matches between these two terrific young men.

Jackson would defeat Roper 5-3 way back in the second week of the regular season, and up until last weekend, was the No. 1 man, according to the IWCOA polls.

His fall from the spot came after Jacobs star, Ryan Golnick sent shockwaves through the old gym at Batavia when he pinned Jackson in the final moments of their final at the Batavia Invite.

“Yeah, that loss to Golnick was the wake-up call I needed,” admitted Jackson, who entered this tournament at No. 2, while Roper held down the No. 3 spot.

An edgy, first period of play would end scoreless, but Jackson’s easy escape, followed by a nice take-down from Roper (25-3) at three minutes made it 2-1, until Jackson recorded another escape thirty seconds later to level the proceedings heading into the third period.

“Their was a lot of hand fighting in our match, and (he) was going to my head from the opening whistle, so I did my best to ‘swat’ his hands off my head – and just looking for my shots while all of that was going on,” said Jackson.

Roper executed a sweet take-down near the edge – carefully keeping his toes inside the line to go up 5-2 after his escape opened the final period.

The big crowd came alive – roaring its approval when Jackson drew back even with 30 seconds left in regulation.

After a whistle stopped the action, Roper, starting down, was allowed an easy escape at 16.8 seconds – until Jackson set the audience into orbit with his game-winning take-down with the clock ready to go to zeros.

“Coach (Kurt Kutska) told me afterwards to pull the trigger more on my shots – I took only two in that match, and both were good,” said an exhausted Jackson, now 32-1.

“That loss to Golnick gave me some new life, and the motivation to work harder this week in advance of knowing that Evan and I would probably meet in the final today,” continued the Bison big man.

“It was a great match, one that everyone here was looking forward to, and they were not let down with all of the action and last second results,” said Udchik.

“We obviously were looking for a better outcome, but those two could meet again at the Stevenson regional, and later sectionals at Barrington, so that will be something to watch later for sure.”

While that final was one of epic proportions – others, while not providing the same dramatic outcome, were still marvelous to watch because of the superb talent competing down on the floor.

Will Basingar and Jack Milos were brilliant at 106 and 132 for Prospect – neither man rarely challenged – both doing so with a relentless, ferocious, all-action attack that left each of their opponents rendered helpless.

The freshmen Baysingar (37-0) is No. 1 at 106 in the state, and the affable Knights rookie says  his lofty spot in the polls has had a positive effect on his overall game.

“Coming in(to) high school, I figured I would be the guy chasing all of the top wrestlers, but being No. 1 doesn’t mean anything (except) having that target on my back has made me work and train harder than I ever have,” says Baysingar, who needed just under four minutes to pin three opponents.

His teammate Milos, himself undefeated in 37 matches, yet surprisingly, behind three others in the polls at 132 – tore through the field on his way to a second MSL crown, his first coming two years ago as a freshmen.

“I think I’ve come a long way from being away from the sport last season, to the Moore-Prettyman where I was gassed in my final, and very sloppy with the way I wrestled,” began Milos, who was a state qualifier two years ago as well.

“Since then, I’ve been working hard in the room, really pushing myself, thanks to my teammates and coaches, and making sure my conditioning improves each week,” added Milos.

The sophomore-senior duo of Charlie Fifield and Isaih Pettigrew from Fremd, were just as magnificent as Baysinger-Milos, as each left little doubt as to whom were the best at 126 and 195.

Fifield, just 22-20 last season, improved his record to an astounding 35-2 following his tech-fall performance at 126.

“When I found out that coach (Jeff) Keske was coming over to run our program at Fremd, I knew he was a great wrestler in high school, was a key guy at Poeta, and was someone that could turn all of us around,” said an appreciative Fifield, who won the Mudge-McMorrow earlier in the season.

“It’s because of him that I feel my game has improved so much, and will continue to do so,” said an appreciative Fifield.

Pettigrew, one match from going downstate a year ago in his first full season of varsity play, echoed those statements from Fifield, while adding:

“Coach (Keske) is all about the technical and tactical side of things, and he’ll put the extra work in with (you) – whatever it takes,” said the 195-pound champ, Pettigrew (28-1) who in the early morning lifts and wrestles as part of his training regimen.

“Watching Isiah’s self confidence grow the past year has been impressive,” begins Keske, a former star under Dale Eggert at Libertyville.

“He (Isiah) needed to compete more in the offseason in order to make up for his lack of experience, he’s done that, plus he’s taken his strength training very seriously the past two years, and it has shown.”

“Charlie is becoming a real student of the game, and after wrestling nearly 100 matches during the offseason, he now has the experience needed to compete at a high level,” said Keske of the sophomore Fifield.

The aforementioned Jackson from Buffalo Grove was joined atop the podium by teammate, Alejandro Mejia (22-3) who after missing nearly three weeks to an injury – won his first MSL title at 152 pounds.

“I felt a little rusty in my first two matches, but a lot more comfortable and ready to go for my final,” said Mejia.

“It feels great to win a conference title (it’s) been one of my goals, but there’s more work to do if I want to get downstate.”

Barrington’s Jack Hartman (182, 31-5) collected his first league title after his third pin of the tournament insured victory – while sophomore Brian Beers (113, 32-6) won his second straight, and Kai Conway became the 25th in MSL history to win three individual titles.

“It would have been nice to get four, but (Jack) Lingle (Schaumburg) was deserving of his championship last year,” said a gracious Conway, who lost in overtime a year ago to Lingle, who would later advance to the state tournament.

Conway, a state qualifier as a sophomore, began his Barrington career at 106.

Beers figures his second take-down of Marcus Santos (26-7) in the later stages of the third period was key in his eventual 5-4 decision over his opponent from Prospect as it gave the 2019 state qualifier a little breathing room after Santos drew one point closer (3-2) following his early third period take-down.

“It was big to get those extra points to extend my lead, and it felt good to do my part for the team with my championship, with every point so important in the final team race,” said Beers.

Hartman, also a 2019 state qualifier, admits his first year with the big club was a difficult one, despite his success.

“Coming in at the varsity level and competing at 182 is tough – but it was really tough being at 175 pounds,” said Hartman, who would offset the weight difference with his quickness, despite a more defensive approach and lack of quality shots.

Grant Hansen (27-9) was thrilled with his first league title, which came at 145 pounds following his 6-0 decision over Barrington senior, Trey Cysewski.

“Despite plenty of ups-and-downs this season, the reason for my success today is that I have great teammates, and coaches in our room who continue to work us hard – pushing us to be better each time out,” said Hansen, who was one win away from going downstate last season.

Lennon Steinkuehler and Joe Miller were the other half of quartet of champions from Prospect – both first-time winners, Steinkuehler at 120, Miller 138.

“I tried to stay cool and calm after he (Russell Hoeft, Conant, 25-7) got back into the match and tied it up in the third period,” began Steinkuehler, who is in his first full year with the big club.

The Knights freshmen would explode for (7) points in the second period, fueled by a near fall midway through to take a 7-2 advantage into the final period.

Hoeft would make it 8-4, then 8-6, before drawing level at (8) with a minute remaining – setting up an escape from Steinkuehler (30-9) who held on for the last 14.9 seconds to earn the 9-8 victory.

Tom Whalen would praise Miller for his 138-pound triumph, who would move his overall record to 29-13 after his 11-2 major decision victory over Christian Gilbert (17-6) from Conant.

“What an impressive tournament for (Joe) – he beat the No. 2 seed to get to the final, then the top seed to win it all,” said Whalen of the Knights junior.

Last, but not least, and only due to the usual scheduling protocol that has the 285-pound division at the end of most tournaments – Hersey senior, Austin Korba (29-3) won his second major of the season – this one breaking a long dry spell for the Huskies program.

Korba, a football star, who has transioned nicely into his second sport, earned a MSL crown for the first time in program history since Hunter Rollins, state runner-up in 2013, did so, at 160 pounds.

“This is such a fantastic day for Hersey wrestling, for Austin, and Hunter, who is the guy who coaches Austin,” said a proud Huskies head coach, Joe Rupslauk.

“To think-that (Austin) nearly quit his sophomore season when he started at 0-10 (and) to see how far he’s come in just two short years is really quite impressive.”

“It’s because of Hunter, coach (Jim) Wormsley and coach Shin (Shinhoster) that I’ve been able to improve each time out this year – they have put all the extra time in with me, and have never stopped believing in me,” said Korba, who registered a pin at 4:38 in his final.

“Austin is a real source of pride for our program, is so coachable, and he’s a big reason for the success the guys have had this year – especially compared to last season at this tournament,” added Rupslauk.

For the record: Hersey, fifth overall on this day with 167 points, (10) top six medals, after finishing a dreadful 11th one year ago, with just 61 points, and three medals.

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