By Randy Whalen
The Seneca Fighting Irish Invitational was back in full force on Saturday.
After being postponed because of COVID and not held in 2020-21, the tourney was back last season. But it was on a much smaller scale.
This season, 19 teams entered the event, which was held for the 32nd time. The host Fighting Irish couldn’t quite pull off a trifecta of consecutive titles, however. They were edged out by Clifton Central/Iroquois West, which won with 211.5 points.
Seneca had 205 points to place second and Orion (185), which had two champions, Mason Anderson at 145 and Phillip Dochterman at 220, placed third.
Fourth-place Kewanee (180) also had a pair of champions, Will Taylor at 138 and Alejandro Duarte at 182. So did fifth-place Evergreen Park (147) as Chance Woods won at 120 and Asael Rubalcava took top honors at 170. Ottawa (125), Pontiac (96), Amboy/Ashton-Franklin Center/LaMoille/Ohio (80), Beardstown (67.5), and Eureka (63) rounded out the top 10 teams.
“This is our first time here in the past three years,” Clifton Central/Iroquois West coach Travis Williams said. “We’re definitely excited to win it. We only have three seniors and also have five freshmen in the starting lineup and we had one champion, four seconds and two thirds in the tournament.”
Leading the way for the champion Comets were title winner Noah Gomez (285) as well as four runners-up, Garrison Bailey (126), Gage Poyner (138) and brothers Gianni Panozzo (145) and Giona Panozzo (152). Taking third place were Kayden Cody (132) and Hunter Hull (195) while Garron Perzee (170) and Maxwell Joseph (182) finished fourth and Brayden Morris (160) and Brody O’Connor (220) both took sixth place.
Williams, a 1999 Ottawa graduate, is in his 17th season as head coach. He took the Comets to back-to-back regional titles in 2016 and 2017. With the exception of the COVID season a couple of years back, the Comets have at least 19 dual meet wins every season since 2010-11.
“We’d love to win another regional this season,” said Williams, who took the team to state in the 2015-16 season. “We just have a great junior high program at Nash Middle School. We are able to build off of that.”
Seneca is also very young.
“We only had one senior (Collin Wright) in the lineup,” said Seneca coach Todd Yegge, who is in his 26th season as head coach at the school. “We had six in the top four and we had 10 placewinners out of the top six in 14 weight classes with a lot of rookie and young wrestlers. I’m very proud of just missing out on a third-straight championship.”
The top placers for the Fighting Irish were champions Asher Hamby (160) and Chris Peura (195) and second-place finishers Ethan Othon (113), Nick Grant (132) and Collin Wright (170). Taking fourth was Nate Othon (145) while Justin Goslin (126) and Alex Bogner (285) was fifth.
Yegge was also very happy that the tournament was back in force.
“Last season we had this tournament in January with a lot less teams than this,” Yegge said. “I think there were 10-to-12 here then. This was an excellent building block for our young team even though we couldn’t quite get past Clifton Central. But we see (the Comets) in a triangular meet on Thursday at Dwight.”
Here’s a breakdown of the Seneca Fighting Irish Invitational champions:
106 – Ivan Munoz, Ottawa
This was the first meet of the season for Ottawa junior Ivan Munoz, who pinned Evergreen Park’s Johan Bonilla in 2:43 in the 106 title match.For his efforts, Munoz was named as Most Valuable Wrestler throughout the lower classes (106 to 145).
“I was sick, so this is my first meet,” Munoz said. “I feel like I’m pretty decent. I went for his leg in the second period, moved for a shot, and it worked out really well. I’m not letting up. I’m just trying to get better and I want to get that title this year.”
In the third-place match, Streator/Woodland’s Nick Pollett won by fall in 23 seconds over Kewanee’s Kingston Peterson. In the fifth-place match, Orion’s Max Larson had a pin in 15 seconds over Seneca’s Wyatt Coop.
113 – Jack Dombeck, Elmwood Park
Elmwood Park sophomore Jack Dombeck jumped out to a 9-0 lead and polished it off by winning on a pin at 5:09 over Seneca’s Ethan Othon in the 113 title match.
“I knew that no one on this day could beat me,” Dombeck said. “I knew it would be a battle but I feel like I can wrestle with anyone in the state. Last year I lost in the blood round at the sectional. So this season I’m looking to bounce back and get on the podium.”
Both the third-place match between Somonauk/Leland’s Mason Smith and Orion’s Kaleb Sovey, as well as the fifth-place match between Kewanee’s Chance DeSplinter and Walther Christian’s Caleb Peterson, were double forfeits.
120 – Chance Woods, Evergreen Park
In a close match, Evergreen Park freshman Chance Woods won by a 5-3 decision over Orion’s Luke Moen in the 120 finals. It was 2-2 after two periods before Woods made his move to win.
“We went to natural and I got a takedown,” Woods said. “It feels great. It was a hard match and I pulled it out. This is my first high school tournament so I just want to keep winning and getting better.”
In the third-place match, Amboy/Ashton-Franklin Center/LaMoille/Ohio’s Landon Blanton won by fall in 4:30 over Walther Christian’s Dylan Leonard. In the fifth-place match, Streator/Woodland’s Jesus Martinez had a pin in 1:32 over Pontiac’s Raul Martinez.
126 – Aiden Rowan, Somonauk/Leland
Somonauk/Leland senior Aiden Rowan recorded a pin in 2:17 over Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Garrison Bailey in the title match at 126.
“It’s my first time winning here and it feels pretty good,” Rowan said. “I’ve worked on my bottom game to get better. I took him down in the first period, and I knew I had a good shot in the second after I rode him out.”
The third-place match went to Kewanee’s Ben Taylor with a fall in 2:35 over Beardstown’s Luis De La Cruz. In the fifth-place match, Seneca’s Justin Goslin won by a pin in 2:22 over Evergreen Park’s Ben Sanchez.
132 – Levi Near, Amboy/Ashton-Franklin Center/LaMoille/Ohio
Amboy/Ashton-Franklin Center/LaMoille/Ohio’s Levi Near was nervous at the end but the senior held on to win 3-1 over Seneca’s Nick Grant in the 132 finals.
“I was getting scared at the end, I thought he might get a takedown,” said Near, who took a 3-0 lead with a takedown late in the second period. “But I kept my composure. I kept trying to get him in a cradle and it finally worked. It’s my best finish here. But I wasn’t here last year, I was as a freshman. It feels good but I’ve got more winning to do.”
In the third-place match, Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Kayden Cody won with a pin in 3:03 over Orion’s Carson Peck. In the fifth-place bout, Kewanee’s Landon Mason won by fall in 2:59 over Evergreen Park’s Jackson Shakir.
138 – Will Taylor, Kewanee
Kewanee senior Will Taylor rallied from an early 5-0 deficit to pin Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Gage Poyner at 5:44 in the 138 title match.
“He got an early takedown on me and I was down 5-0,” said Taylor, who led 6-5 going into the third period. “But I run cross country and my endurance and strength won that. It’s awesome, it’s great to win this tournament.”
Walther Christian’s Andrew Rieger won the third-place match with a pin in 3:26 over Amboy/Ashton-Franklin Center/LaMoille/Ohio’s Josh McKendry. The fifth-place match was a double forfeit for Ottawa’s Malachi Snyder and Orion’s Caden Wegerer.
145 – Mason Anderson, Orion
Orion’s Mason Anderson overcame a bit of pain to win by a technical fall over Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Gianni Panozzo in the 145 finals.
“I got hit in the balls midway through,” said Anderson, who is a junior. “Other than that this feels good. This is my first time here. I’m planning to get to state and winning this is a good step. I’ve just got to keep working hard and going at the same pace in the room.”
In the third-place match, Kewanee’s Max Kelly won by technical fall over Seneca’s Nate Othon. For fifth-place, Beardstown’s Bryan Gil won by injury default over Ottawa’s Marek Duffy.
152 – Derrick Wiles, Eureka
Eureka senior Derrick Wiles won his first tournament title ever with a 10-2 decision over Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Giona Panozzo in the 152 finals.
“I’ve been on the varsity three years, this is my first tourney championship and it feels amazing,” Wiles said. “It’s my senior year so I want to go out with a bang and win as much as I can.”
In the third-place match, Kewanee’s Garrett Pettit won by fall in 51 seconds over Ottawa’s Sebastian Cabrera. Evergreen Park’s David Johnson won by pin in 5:09 over Seneca’s Gunner Varland for fifth place.
160 – Asher Hamby, Seneca
Seneca junior Asher Hamby won by pin in 55 seconds over Pontiac’s Dylan Ramsey to claim first at 160.
“I finished fifth here last year, so it feels good to win it,” Hamby said. “I hit a throw move and I was really proud to get our team’s first win on our home mats here. It will help me get better.”
Both the third-place match between Eureka’s Dillon Wiles and Kewanee’s Jaxson Hicks, and the fifth-place match between Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Brayden Morris and Orion’s Keagan Blessman, were double forfeited.
170 – Asael Rubalcava, Evergreen Park
Evergreen senior Asael Rubalcava made his first trip to the invite a winning one with a 9-4 decision over Seneca’s Collin Wright in the 170 title match.
“I’ve been on the varsity all four years but it’s my first year here,” Rubalcava said. “I kept my lead by staying on top and wrestling low to high. I just have to be dedicated in the weight room and push myself and my teammates harder the rest of the season.”
Amboy/Ashton-Franklin Center/ LaMoille/Ohio’s Lucas Blanton won the third-place match with a pin in 3:31 over Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Garron Perzee. In the fifth-place match, Beardstown’s Gunner Looker won by a fall in 57 seconds over Ottawa’s Anthony Evans.
182 – Alejandro Duarte, Kewanee
Moving up in weight after growing a lot over the last year, Kewanee sophomore Alejandro Duarte won by technical fall over Orion’s Aiden Fisher for the 182 title.
“It was just wanting to work,” Duarte said. “I didn’t place here last year at 160. This year I’m bigger and it was just being in the gym practicing. I want to get to state, so I just have to put in the extra practice and work in the gym.”
In the third-place match, Pontiac’s Carlito Lattin won by a pin in 1:37 over Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Maxwell Joseph. The fifth-place match was a double forfeit between Seneca’s Landen Venecia and St. Bede’s Grady Gillan.
195 – Chris Peura, Seneca
Seneca picked up its second win on its home mat when junior Chris Peura won by fall in 1:06 over Ottawa’s Ryan Wilson in the 195 finals. It was the second-straight tournament title for Peura, who was named the Most Valuable Wrestler at the upperweights (152 to 285).
“I started off on the tougher side of the bracket, and I knew I could go back-to-back with another title,” Peura said. “It’s the second year in a row I’ve won here and it feels great. I want to get to state and it’s going to motivate me to keep on going throughout the season.”
The third-place match went to Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Hunter Hull, who won by fall in 1:03 over Pontiac’s Hunter Melvin. The fifth-place match resulted in a double forfeit with Orion’s Maddux Anderson and St. Bede’s Jake Migliorini.
220 – Phillip Dochterman, Orion
In the most exciting match of the day, Orion junior Phillip Dochterman avoided overtime with a late escape to capture a 3-2 decision over Eureka’s Landon Wierenga in the 220 finals.
“I had pinned everyone in the tourney until this last match,” Dochterman said. “I was able to get an escape at the end and it was just a fun match. My most exciting one of the season. It’s my first time here and I’m now 10-1 on the season. I want to get to state.”
University High’s Isaiah Im and Ottawa’s Charles Medrow had double forfeits in the third-place match. The fifth-place match went to Evergreen Park’s Eduardo Antunez with a pin in 4:52 over Clifton Central/Iroquois West’s Brody O`Connor.
285 – Noah Gomez, Clifton Central/Iroquois West
The champion Comets got their lone title of the day in the final bout when junior Noah Gomez got a pin over Putnam County/Hall’s James Irwin in 2:27 to secure the heavyweight title.
“I just got my left arm around his body and was able to keep it there as I got him down with my leg,” said Gomez of his seventh pin in eight matches as he remained undefeated. “I can thank my coaches for that. t’s pretty good to win it as a team, It felt good at the end to bring it together for the team. I’m aiming for state. I just have to keep working in practice.”
In the third-place match, Pontiac’s Tyson Cramer won with a pin in 2:20 over Evergreen Park’s Gerald OHare. In the fifth-place match, Seneca’s Alex Bogner won by a pin in 23 seconds over Beardstown’s Chunk Dailey.