By Curt Herron
PARK RIDGE – Maine East rightly has great pride that the Mejoe Hernandez Girls Wrestling tournament was one of the first of its kind in the state.
But this year there was a twist to the competition as the boys tournament that also ran on the same day didn’t take place so that the emphasis could be just on the girls.
A total of 27 teams were on hand for the competition in Park Ridge and those in attendance got the opportunity to see many individuals who have placed high at state before as well as several promising newcomers to the sport.
In a competition where no team scores were kept, Huntley had the biggest day as far as maximizing its finalists into champions was concerned and the Red Raiders were the only team in the field to have multiple champions, receiving titles from each of their three finalists.
Huntley came into the competition on a high note after it took eighth place at last weekend’s first-ever Dan Gable Donnybrook Girls Tournament, which took place in Coralville, Iowa. The Red Raiders were the top-finishing team from Illinois and had several high-placing individuals.
Winning championships for Huntley in the Hernandez Invite were Janaiah Slaughter (100), Aubrie Rohrbacher (130) and Jessica Olson (140). West Aurora also sent three individuals to title matches, but had just one champion, Brittney Moran (190).
Others who captured championships were Elgin’s Mali Patino (105), Loyola Academy’s Harlee Hiller (110), Maine South’s Angela Lee (115), Hoffman Estates’ Sophia Ball (120) and Waukegan’s Noelani Rodriguez (125).
Also winning titles were Niles West’s Al Ghala Mariam Al Radi (140), Ridgewood’s Hailey Seggeling (145), Burlington Central’s Jada Hall (155), Larkin’s Maria Ferrer (170) and Rickover Naval Academy’s Jasmine Mejia (235).
The winners of the two highest weight classes, Ferrer and Mejia, repeated as champions.
The tournament is named for the school’s former head coach, Emiliano Hernandez, who was on hand to assist Blue Demons coaches Lizeth Torres and Austin Bautista, who competed for him.
Here’s a breakdown of the champions and their weight classes from Maine East’s Mejoe Hernandez Girls Tournament:
100 – Janiah Slaughter, Huntley
As a running back, Janiah Slaughter knows how to get the ball rolling, and she did just that for Huntley in the finals when she became the first of the Red Raiders’ three champions after winning by decision over Rickover Naval Academy’s Mia Vazquez in the 100 finals.
Slaughter, a freshman who took third place at 100 in the Dan Gable Donnybrook, her team’s best showing and the third-best finish by an Illinois athlete, got a fall in her opener and then captured a major decision over Round Lake’s Riley Kongkaeow in the semifinals.
“I got third and it was a good experience for everybody,” Slaughter said of the Donnybrook. “Everybody came together and we were all one and everybody was cheering for each other, it was like a big old family. Everybody pushes each other and helps each other. I’ve worked on my conditioning and I do football and I’m a running back for Huntley, so this is no big deal. I’m excited that they’ve put a girls team in. I’m very excited.”
Vazquez, a sophomore, became the first of two Lady Sea Dragons to reach the title mat, advancing to the finals with two falls, pinning Hoffman Estates’ Sofia Matias in the semifinals.
Kongkaeow, who won a title at Niles West, captured third place with a fall over Matias. Lane Tech’s Sofia Guerrero took fifth place with a fall over Conant’s Nallely Zaragoza, her second fall in the consolation bracket after losing to Slaughter in her opener.
105 – Mali Patino, Elgin
Mali Patino was the top performer for Elgin, not only becoming the lone Maroon to reach the title mat but also making them one of the 12 teams in the tournament that had a champion.
Patino, a sophomore who is experienced in several sports, opened with a fall and followed with a win by technical fall over Round Lake’s Leslie Jimenez-Chavez in the semifinals. In the championship match at 105, she won by a decision over Maine East’s Eliana Badeen.
“I’m really excited because this is my first year,” Patino said. “But I’ve done similar sports so I have some knowledge of what I’m doing, like jiu-jitsu, muay Thai and boxing, a lot of mixed martial arts. Last year there were only like four girls total on our team and now there’s 10. It’s really fun to see how many other girls out there want to do wrestling.”
Badeen, a freshman, opened with a fall before advancing with a win by forfeit over Round Lake’s Vianey Hernandez. She was one of two Blue Demons who reached the title mat.
In the third-place match, Jimenez-Chavez won by forfeit. Huntley’s Valeria Sanche took fifth place after capturing a major decision over Vernon Hills’ Hanna Lee.
110 – Harlee Hiller, Loyola Academy
Harlee Hiller was very efficient in capturing a championship for Loyola Academy, opening with a pair of falls before winning the title with a win by technical fall.
The Ramblers sophomore, who competed in judo for many years and placed third at 105 last season in the IHSA finals, was a winner by fall over Huntley’s Taylor Casey in the semifinals and then won by technical fall over Burlington Central’s Tori Macias in the 110 title match.
“It’s just really cool to be part of this,” Hiller said. “There’s a lot of boys that I get to train with so I’ve gotten so much tougher and stronger from it,. Being a part of that has made me a lot better because I get to train really hard every day. So even if I get up by them, it makes me really tough. It’s so exciting to see how many girls there are that are wrestling, it’s really cool. I’ve been working on trying to get my shots off, because I usually throw a lot more. This is only my second year of wrestling but I’m still trying to get used to it, since I did judo.”
Macias, a sophomore who took fourth at 110 at state, used two falls to reach the 110 finals, pinning Addison Trail’s Veronica Cosio to become one of the two Rockets on the title mat.
Casey, who was a state qualifier last season, was a winner by decision over Cosio in the third-place match. And Conant’s Sam Macek used a pair of falls in the consolation bracket, with the last one over Harvard’s Alexa Herrera, to claim fifth place.
115 – Angela Lee, Maine South
Angela Lee is definitely on a roll, capturing her third tournament championship in three tries.
The Maine South senior added to title wins at Niles West and Waukegan with first place at 115 at Maine East after winning all four of her matches by fall, pinning Huntley’s Addison Drews in the semifinals and then getting a fall in the finals over Round Lake’s Ireland McCain.
“This is a big opportunity and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Lee said. “The numbers are growing by the minute and it’s good to see a lot of girls stepping up to the challenge and they want to be a part of this sport. There’s a lot of people that are putting in hard work and personally, I can’t wait to face more tough girls so that I can get better matches in. We have an official girls team this year and I’m glad that I’m able to be a part of that.”
McCain, a sophomore who took fifth at state at 120 last season, also recorded three falls to reach the title mat, pinning Addison Trail’s Nina Matthews in the semifinals.
Matthews won by fall over Drews to claim third place in the competition. Burlington Central’s Ruby Vences lost to Lee in the quarterfinals but responded with two falls, pinning Taft’s Michaela Yu to capture fifth place.
120 – Sophia Bell, Hoffman Estates
After falling one win shy of a state medal at 115 in the inaugural IHSA finals, Sophia Ball is determined to place herself on the awards stand this season.
The Hoffman Estates sophomore won all four of her matches by fall to claim top honors at 120. She pinned Elgin’s Salome Patino Dyson to advance to the title mat, where she won by fall over Addison Trail’s Lluvia Sanchez-Galvan.
“This sport is really growing, and that’s really fun,” Bell said. “I’ve just been trying to improve on my skills and helping the team out. The team is growing a lot and we actually had our first full team last year so this year is bigger. It feels like we’re all a big, happy family. I’ve definitely worked on my takedowns and think I’ve done a good job working on them.”
Sanchez-Galvan also earned her spot in the title match with three falls. She became the lone Blazer to compete for a championship after pinning Conant’s Beth Ciavarella in the semifinals.
Patino Dyson claimed third place with a win by fall over Ciavarella. And in the fifth-place match, Lane Tech’s Nyah Lovis bounced back from opening-round loss to Ball with two falls, pinning West Chicago’s Alyssa Elizondo in the fifth-place match.
125 – Noelani Rodriguez, Waukegan
Noelani Rodriguez has big plans for this season after getting to be a state qualifier in the inaugural IHSA tournament.
So far, the Waukegan junior is off to a good start of accomplishing more after winning her second tournament of the season. Now she can add a title at the Hernandez Invite to the one she won in her own school’s invite after recording three-straight falls, pinning Addison Trail’s Britanny Mondragon in the semifinals and Hoffman Estates’ Emmy O’Brien in the 125 finals.
“It was pretty cool,” Rodriguez said. “I work with the boys since we only have three girls and that gives us a really good opportunity. It’s really nice to gamble on yourself, just to involve yourself in all of this. It’s exactly why I jumped at it, because there’s new opportunities, especially for college. I’ve worked on my conditioning and just having a mindset of believing in yourself and I think that confidence goes a long way.”
O’Brien, a junior who also was a state qualifier a year ago and won a title at Niles West earlier this season, also recorded three falls to reach the title mat, pinning Burlington Central’s Eli Kruse in the semifinals.
Kruse, a senior who won a title at Larkin last week, claimed third place after getting a fall over Mondragon. Conant’s Brooklyn Jones bounced back from a first-round loss to win a decision before claiming fifth place by forfeit over Hoffman Estates’ Kayla Alvarado.
130 – Aubrie Rohrbacher, Huntley
Aubrie Rohrbacher made it 2-for-2 for Huntley on the title mat when she used three falls and a decision to capture top honors at 130.
Rohrbacher, who took ninth at the Dan Gable Donnybrook last week, used three falls and a decision to reach the title mat. She pinned Hoffman Estates’ Eunice Ji in the semifinals and won the title with a fall over Maine East’s Miriam Lupu.
“It was awesome,” Rohrbacher said of the Donnybrook. “Everybody was really supportive and very loud on the side of the mat, and it was great to hear that while I was wrestling. So wrestling for my first year, this is very awesome and it’s exhilarating. Everyone just gets along so well. It’s awesome that girls get to participate in sports like this. I’ve worked on listening to my coaches when they’re on the side of the mat, so if I’m stuck, I know what to do. And I listen to my teammates a lot when they cheer me up because mentally that plays a big part of the game.”
Lupu, a senior who was one of the host’s two finalists, recorded three falls to reach the title match, pinning Downers Grove South’s Alison Garcia in the semifinals.
Ji claimed third place with a fall over Garcia. And in the fifth-place match, Burlington Central’s Soraya Walikonis recorded her third fall of the day, pinning Conant’s Ewa Krupa, who won a title at Larkin, in her final match.
135 – Al Ghala Mariam Al Radi, Niles West
Al Ghala Mariam Al Radi is 3-for-3 in tournaments won after claiming top honors at 135 to go along with previous titles at her school’s invite as well as last week at Larkin.
The Niles West senior, who finished third at 135 in the IHSA finals and fourth in the IWCOA at 138 in 2021, had two wins by technical fall and one by major decision to win the 135 title. She beat Larkin’s Mia Reyes by major decision in the semifinals and won by technical fall over Conant’s Mannie Anderson in the title match.
Anderson, a senior who’s won titles at Larkin and at Niles West and took sixth place last year at 135 and sixth in the IWCOA at 126 in 2021, opened with a fall before capturing a decision in the semifinals over Hoffman Estates’ Abby Ji.
Ji, who was a state qualifier a year ago, recorded a fall over Reyes to claim third place. Addison Trail’s Madeline Beltran had two falls in the consolation bracket with the last of those coming over Oak Park and River Forest’s Mayan Alwaeli in the fifth-place match.
140 – Jessica Olson, Huntley
Jessica Olson capped a 3-0 day on the title mat for Huntley when she claimed top honors at 140 with a major decision over Vernon Hills’ Fernanda Davila.
Olson, a junior who took fourth at 140 at the Dan Gable Donnybrook to help the Red Raiders finish eighth, opened with two falls and pinned Round Lake’s Brianna Perez in the semifinals.
“One hundred percent it helped me here because there were a lot of good wrestlers there,” Olson said of the Donnybrook. “One of the girls in my group had been wrestling for nine years. You can tell that our coaches love the sport and they love to teach it. They’re just so passionate about wrestling. I’ve just been working on technique and on cardio, which goes a long ways and helps a lot for wrestling.”
Davila, a senior, followed a fall in the quarterfinals with a decision over Hoffman Estates’ Gianna Rossi to advance to the title mat.
Rossi won a decision over Perez to claim third place. And Oak Park and River Forest’s Lyra Schaafsma claimed fifth after recording a fall over Rickover Naval Academy’s Joceliyn Quilly.
145 – Hailey Seggeling, Ridgewood
Hailey Seggeling turned in a dominating performance by recording four falls to capture top honors at 145 at the Hernandez Invite.
Becoming Ridgewood’s lone individual to reach the title mat, she pinned Hoffman Estates’ Annie Rakoci in the semifinals and then won by fall over Conant’s Jasmine Zavaleta in the finals.
Zavaleta, a freshman, followed up on a decision with a pin in the semifinals over Evanston’s Natalie Graettinger to become the second Cougar to reach the title mat.
Rakoci recorded a fall over Graettinger in the third-place match. And for fifth place, Grayslake North’s Quinna Sheets followed a fall with a decision over West Aurora’s Karma Gomez.
155 – Jada Hall, Burlington Central
Jada Hall capped a good day for Burlington Central by becoming its second finalist and first title winner when she claimed top honors at 155.
Hall, a junior who also won a title at Larkin, got a fall in the semifinals over Evanston’s Marlowe Lang and then won a major decision over Grayslake North’s Rebekah Monciviaz in the finals.
Monciviaz, a senior, recorded three falls to reach the title mat, pinning Hoffman Estates’ Nikki Hubbard in the semifinals, to become the lone Knight to compete for a championship.
Hubbard won by fall over Lang to claim third place. And in the fifth-place match, Rickover Naval Academy’s Camilla Martinez recorded a fall over Addison Trail’s Mia Santana.
170 – Maria Ferrer, Larkin
Maria Ferrer experienced the excitement of winning the IWCOA title at 170 in 2021 and then took fourth last season at 170 in the first IHSA finals.
The Larkin senior wouldn’t mind getting back to the top of the podium this season and looked impressive by winning the 170 title with four falls, pinning Rickover Naval Academy’s Clara Biela in the semifinals and winning by fall over West Aurora’s Ionicca Rivera in the finals. She was one of two individuals who repeated as champions.
“I have seen a lot more competition,” Ferrer said. “I’ve seen a lot of first-years that are really keeping it together. They’re fighting hard, even though this is their first year, so I’m really impressed. This is a new generation so we should support them. This is amazing.”
Rivera, a junior who fell one win shy of a state medal at 170 last season, won titles at Niles West and Larkin. Rivera also rolled into the title match with three-consecutive falls, pinning Huntley’s Gretchen Sweeny in the semifinals.
Biela recorded a fall to claim third place over Sweeny. And in the fifth-place match, Maine South’s Angelina Guanajuato captured a decision over Waukegan’s Jennifer Perez.
190 – Brittney Moran, West Aurora
After placing sixth at 190 a year ago in the first IHSA finals, Brittney Moran wants to move up the awards stand this year at state.
Moran, a sophomore who also won a title at Niles West, followed a win by disqualification with three falls, pinning Hoffman Estates’ Anji Gonzalez in the semifinals and Oak Park and River Forest’s Trinity White in the 190 title match.
White, a junior who placed fifth at 170 last year and was second in the IWCOA at 160 in 2021, recorded two falls to reach the title mat, pinning Evanston’s Ashland Henson in the semifinals.
Gonzalez, a sophomore who won a title at Niles West, captured third place with a fall over Henson. And for fifth, Oak Park and River Forest got another medalist at 190 as Tamera Erving won by fall over Addison Trail’s Elizabeth Vilasenor.
235 – Jasmine Mejia, Rickover Naval Academy
Jasmine Mejia capped a successful day for Rickover Naval Academy as she became its second finalist and initial champion after taking first at 235.
Mejia, a sophomore, recorded a pair of falls, pinning Ridgewood’s Medina Kadic in the semifinals and West Aurora’s Cece Rubio in the finals to make the Lady Sea Dragons one of the 12 teams that captured a Hernandez Invite title. She joins Larkin’s 170 champion Maria Ferrer as the only two title winners that also claimed first-place finishes last year.
“Women’s wrestling has grown a lot since last year,” Mejia said. “Last year I came to this tournament and there were three heavyweights and now we’ve doubled. I think we’re coming really far as a sport and as the years go on, it will continue to get harder and more challenging. As they’re adding cities, and when they add Chicago, the competition will grow a lot more.”
Rubio, a senior, recorded a fall and then won by forfeit over Taft’s Kennedi Atkocaitis to become the Blackhawks’ third individual to reach the title mat, all in the final three weight classes.
Kadic won third place by default over Atkocaitis while in the fifth-place match, Downers Grove South’s Brianna Fellows won by fall over West Chicago’s Alyssa Schliephake.