By Gary Larsen

December 18, 2019

Existing among the ranks of the unranked can be advantageous for a wrestling team, but IC Catholic Prep coach Kevin Sliva knows his team’s days in that position might be numbered.

“I’d like us to keep flying under the radar,” Sliva said, “but I know that probably won’t continue if we’re winning tournaments.”

Sliva’s Knights had five individual champions and eight medalists at this year’s 19-team Plano Reaper Classic, winning the team title 180-163 over second-place G.C.-Melvin-Sibley.

Sandwich placed third, East Aurora was fourth, and Genoa-Kingston finished fifth at Plano.

IC’s five champions were made up of three sophomores and two freshmen, in possession of a maturity beyond their years.

“We all had the mindset that if we out-worked the other teams, we’d win the tournament,” Knights sophomore Nick Renteria said. “We’re all on the same mission, we have the same mindset, and we’re a family.”

Renteria was named the outstanding wrestler of the lower weights, after he beat three-time Class 1A state finalist and 2018 state champion Pauley Keane of Peotone, by 10-9 decision on the title mat at 126 pounds.

Renteria trailed 7-3 when he took Keane down twice to tie the score, and once more late in the third period to win the match.

Keane is ranked third in 1A at 126, and Renteria also beat sixth-ranked Cale Horsch of GCMS in their semifinal match via 10-6 decision. Renteria isn’t currently ranked, another fact that might soon be remedied.

“He defines ‘under the radar’,” Sliva said of Renteria. “I love to have kids that come in and develop the way he has. He’s a kid where the sky is the limit and he’ll only get better. I don’t think he ever had any sense of fear, not for one second, during the tournament.”

Renteria is also wrestling with a higher purpose this season. He is the cousin of former Oak Park and River Forest state champion Jason Renteria, whose father — Jason Renteria Sr. — recently lost his battle with cancer.

“He coached me since I was six years old and he’s a big inspiration to me,” Nick Renteria said. “He taught me that if you outwork other people, you can beat anyone. I’ve taken that into my mindset this year and everything I do this year is for him.”

The lone Knight ranked heading into the Plano tournament was sophomore Brandon Navarro, who won his title at 160 in four matches without giving up a single offensive point, capped by a 9-4 win over Phoenix Military Academy’s Jalyne Goree.

“I just wanted to score and keep scoring because that’s how I wrestle,” Navarro said. “(Goree) was hard to get out of position but at the end of the day, my conditioning is as good as anyone’s and I think that made the difference.”

Sliva applauded the two-day’s work Navarro put in at Plano.

“He’s super strong, incredibly skilled, and I don’t think there’s a move he doesn’t know,” Sliva said of Navarro. “And he’s never going to give up anything out there. He’s very hard to score on and has a strong mindset for someone his age.”

Also winning individual titles for IC were Saul Trejo (106), Michael DiBennedetto (113), and heavyweight Isaiah Gonzalez. Joe Scott (195) and Jadon Mims (220) each placed third, and Finn Barney (120) finished fifth for the Knights.

“I’m just really excited and happy for the whole team, and all of our champions really impressed me,” Sliva said. “I know they’re good but they just keep getting better. Each of the five of them are getting better every time they step out on the mat, and it’s amazing to me how much they’re improving, especially this early in the season.”

Second-place Gibson City had a pair of individual champions in Cole Maxey (132) and Payton Kean (195) among its eight medal-winners, with Kean winning 6-4 on the title mat against Sammy Dale of Sandwich.

Like many seniors, Kean has turned up the attacking heat in his final season as a high school wrestler, courtesy of a four-year varsity education on the mat.

“My eighth grade year I did pretty well but as a freshman, I got my butt whooped,” Kean said. “I think I saw the biggest change as a junior, when I did a ton of working out in the off-season and became more confident. I started to hit some things I wasn’t hitting before and now I’m confident now in taking just about anybody down.”

Gibson City coach Josh Carter confirmed Kean’s assessment.

“He definitely has gotten more aggressive on the mat,” Carter said. “He trusts himself and he’ll show up and give you everything he’s got.”

The senior Maxey posted a pair of tech fall wins before winning a 3-1 decision on the title mat at 132 against Braulio Flores of Sandwich.

“(Flores) was good,” Carter said. “Cole wrestled a smart match and didn’t do too much to get himself out of position. He hit an ankle pick in the second period and that was the difference in the match.

“Cole has matured a lot since his freshman year. He’s had growth on the mat as well, but it’s been his growth in terms of leadership and being a good teammate and that sort of thing that stands out.”

Carter also got a second-place finish from Andrew Ferguson (120) and thirds from Cale Horsch (126) and Kaden Gream (145) among Gibson City’s eight medalists.

“I feel like we got some good, solid kids and the goal is just to get better each time we get on the mats,” Carter said. “Cale bounced back from a tough loss and both he and Gream came back to win big matches for us.”

Like IC and Gibson City, third-place Sandwich sent eight wrestlers to the awards stand, spearheaded by the second-place finishes of Flores (132) and Dale (195). Sandwich also got thirds from Aidan Linden (138) and Jackson Murphy (170) among its core of eight medalists.

Remaining champions:

For a team that wasn’t close to fielding a full lineup, sixth-place Genoa-Kingston had a nice success ratio at Plano. The Cogs had three individual champions in Luke Bennett (138), Jesse Torres (145), and Erik Garcia (220), and Tristan Mangum reached the title mat at 182 for coach Chad Wilmarth.

“I thought it was great,” Wilmarth said. “We only brought eight kids and we’re young, with a lot of sophomores. So to take sixth and place right behind East Aurora, I was very happy with that and with how we wrestled from top to bottom.”

Bennett won an 8-3 decision on the title mat at 138 against Winnebago’s Hayden Faworski, while both Torres and Garcia won by fall in their title matches.

“Luke is one of the most talented kids on his feet but he’s a well-rounded wrestler,” Wilmarth said. “With guys like him it’s those little changes that make the difference in those big matches, and he made them.

“That’s the best I’ve seen (Garcia) wrestle. He wrestled smart, under control and he stayed focused. And Jesse is on a mission this year. He was second at Richmond-Burton wrestling up a weight and it was nice to see his mental approach at Plano, in terms of walking himself through his match and knowing what to do and when to do it.”

At 120 pounds, Yorkville Christian freshman Jackson Gillen seemed to pick up steam as Plano’s two-day tournament unfolded.

Gillen opened with a 4-3 decision win, then a 6-2 decision win before winning by fall in the semifinal round. Gillen capped his tournament with a fall on the title mat against Gibson City’s Andrew Ferguson.

The freshman Gillen has plenty of funk in his style and he’s working to become a complete wrestler.

“I’ve been funky the whole time I’ve wrestled so it’s always been there,” Gillen said. “This year I’ve been trying to shoot more and not be so defensive, but I know if I ever get into bad positions that I’ll be okay.”

Gillen had another chief quality that helped carry him to a Plano title.

“He’s got a huge gas tank,” Yorkville Christian coach Mike Vester said. “He can go three periods and look like he’s ready to go another match. He pushes the pace, keeps good positioning, and he’s able to weather the storm early.”

Peotone’s Sam Bierdon won a Plano title at 182 with a pin over Genoa-Kingston’s Mangum, and Jason Ramos of Kelly won the title at 152 with a pin over Somonauk’s Joey Rowan.

The outstanding wrestler of the upper weights at Plano was East Aurora’s Jaycee Gonzalez. Gonzalez posted two pins and a major decision at 170 before winning in sudden victory on the title mat against Winnebago’s Bryce Faworski.

Coach Frank Davidson has a top-flight chain wrestler on his hands in Gonzalez, a senior in his first season wrestling at East Aurora.

“We’re just excited to have hm,” Davidson said. “He’s a very confident kid and a good kid to be around.”

Faworski was awarded a late escape to send the title match into overtime. Gonzalez earned a takedown in the first overtime to win a 9-7 decision.

“He’s pretty well-rounded and he’s good on his feet,” Davidson said of Gonzalez.“I haven’t seen anyone hold him down yet, and he can pin people. He doesn’t lose composure and he’s just a very good chain wrestler.”