By Curt Herron
NORMAL – Last season, in the debut of girls wrestling as a sanctioned sport by the IHSA, Joliet Central fielded a successful team that was the top-scorer in the Naperville Central Sectional.
However, the other school in its district, Joliet West, did not have a squad and its girls didn’t get an opportunity to compete as a team but still fared well while competing in the same sectional.
But now that both schools are together as a co-op program, Joliet Township may very well be a bigger force to be reckoned with this season considering how it performed in one of Saturday’s two opening-day tournaments, the 32-team Normal Community Invitational in Normal.
Joliet Township had two champions to help it register 168.5 points, which was 20.5 points ahead of runner-up Schaumburg, the champion of the same competition last season, when Normal Community hosted the initial tournament that featured the newest IHSA sport.
Homewood-Flossmoor also had two champions to help it claim third place with 123.5 points while Richwoods finished fourth with 116 points and Minooka took fifth with 103 ;points. Normal West (64.5), Belleville East (60), Canton (58), Gibson-City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher co-op (50) and Granite City (47) rounded out the top-10 teams in the field. Last season, Schaumburg beat Joliet Central 172-100 for top honors.
Winning titles for the coach Liz Short’s Joliet Township team were Eliana Paramo (115) and Itsel Vivanco (125) while Chloe Wong (105) and Anna Franco (135) finished in third place. Briahna Klobnak (130), Wonderful Naw (155) and Alexa Latham (190) took fourth while Kimberly Baron (110) and Nydia Martinez (190) placed fifth. Also scoring points in the B bracket was the first-place finisher at 235, Janiya McMurtry.
Paramo used three falls to win her title at 115, with the quickest coming in the finals in 1:34 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Jaelyn Brumfield. Vivanco opened with a major decision and got a decision in the semifinals before recording a fall in 3:43 over Schaumburg’s Madyson Meyer at 125.
Leading the scoring for Joliet Township were Paramo (28 points), McMurtry (26), Vivanco (23), Franco (15), Naw (15), Wong (15), Latham (13) and Baron (10).
Short, who wrestled for coach Kevin Carlson at Glenbard East and then competed at Northern Michigan University, where she got the opportunity to take advantage of the presence of the Olympic Training Center at the school that’s located in Marquette, Michigan.
After enjoying a successful season with just athletes from Joliet Central competing last year, Short is looking forward to seeing how much better this squad can be with the addition of the Joliet West wrestlers. With so many athletes and not nearly enough help to coach all of them, the Joliet Township coach definitely has her hands full but is happy about this opportunity.
One of the highlights for the Joliet Township co-op team is that they get the opportunity to appear in The Clash in January and the program is hoping to do more fundraising in order to provide the girls with the best possible experience while they’re at the national competition.
“It’s exciting to see the growth,” Short said. “We’ve grown quite a bit and have had some girls in the offseason with some more freestyle. We went from around 20 last year to around 45 to 50 and we brought 30 to the tournament. Now it’s cool to see the girls from last year who didn’t have very many teammates and now they have a whole team and support. The more we have, the stronger it makes our room and the more different partners they have and the variety they can see with different wrestling styles. It’s just an awesome opportunity.
“What’s awesome about really building a sport from the ground level is that in specialized sports like baseball and softball, you have to play club or travel ball, you can’t just pick up a glove and be successful. But in girls wrestling, it’s good since they can see success and that really spurs people to push along and to move forward.
“I like our team culture and how they’re just so supportive. I’ve noticed that they’re good students of the sport and they want to work on technique and want to learn. And they really genuinely seem to be excited about the sport. I love wrestling and it gave me so many opportunities and I just want to share that with everybody. It’s just awesome to see people catch on and get that love of the sport.”
Two champions also took first at last year’s tournament, Normal West’s Angel Bateson at 105 and Homewood-Flossmoor’s Attalia Watson-Castro at 140. Watson-Castro was the lone nationally-ranked individual and 2022 IHSA individual champion in the field. Belleville East’s nationally-ranked and two-time state champion Kiara Ganey didn’t compete on Saturday.
Galesburg’s Hannah Almendarez (100), Normal Community’s Pyper Wood (120), Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Avery Schlickman (130) and Homewood-Flossmoor’s Ini Odumosu (235) all won titles after placing second in the event in 2021.
Two 2021 Normal Community Invite champions came up a bit short of repeating. Schaumburg’s Valeria Rodriguez fell to Moline’s Maryam Ndiaye 7-2 in the 155 finals and Normal West’s Sammy Lehr, the first winner of an invite title a year ago, missed out on a finals matchup with teammate Bateson after falling in the semifinals.
Two other returning champions lost in the quarterfinals to eventual second-place finishers and then won three matches to finish fifth, Richwoods’ Kyley Bair (105) and Schaumburg’s Madeline Zerafa-Lazarevic (135).
Runner-up Schaumburg had one champion, Diya Patel, at 110 while Keara Micek (145), Meyer (125) and Rodriguez (155) lost in title matches. Leading scorers for coach Matt Gruszka’s Saxons were Patel (26), Micek (22), Rodriguez (22), Meyer (20) and Zerafa-Lazarevic (17).
Other invite champions included Morton’s Karen Canchola (135), Collinsville’s Alanni Torres (145) and Richwoods’ Jaida Johnson (170). There was officially no champion at 190 since Belleville East had both finalists and Keely Rulo and Kami Ratcliff preferred not to settle the matter. Homewood-Floosmoor also had two teammates meeting in a title match at 235 where Odumosu won a 5-0 decision over Joselyn Williams in a clash of returning IHSA placewinners.
Others who claimed second place finishes were Canton’s Aubrianna Putman (135) and Kinnley Smith (140), Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Justice Mulligan (100), Belleville East’s Alexcia Harden (105), Mahomet-Seymour’s Kalista Granadino (110), LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Jaelyn Brumfield (115), Morris’ Ella McDonnell (120), Pekin’s Jaylah Dalton (130) and Homewood-Flossmoor’s Kristen Roberts (170).
Nine individuals scored 28 team points, Minooka’s Addie Cailteux (120 B), Richwoods’ Kaila Williams (155 B), Almendarez (100), Bateson (105), Canchola (135), Paramo (115), Schlickman (130), Torres (145) and Wood (120) while Watson-Castro (140) had 27.5 team points.
There were 10 placewinners from the initial IHSA finals that were competing and four of them, Paramo (115), Watson-Castro (140), Johnson (170) and Odumosu (235), won titles. Another champion, Wood (120), fell one win shy of a medal a year ago. And 2022 placewinners who took second on Saturday were McDonnell (120), Rodriguez (155) and Jocelyn Williams (235).
Two Joliet Township teammates met for first in the 125 B bracket with Callie Crandall winning by fall over Keily Centeno. Also taking first in the B brackets were Minooka’s Addie Cailteux (120) and Richwoods’ Kaila Williams (155). Cailteux won by fall in her final match over Normal Community’s Trey Fletcher while Williams won 3-1 over Minnoka’s Dylanie Cecala in her finale.
In addition to the girls tournament, there was a junior-varsity boys competition and the host Ironmen had four champions in the main bracket while Mahomet-Seymour and PORTA both had two title winners in that bracket.
Title winners in the first seven weights were Normal Community’s Jackson Soney (106), Austin Chiesi (120) and Jaren Frankowiak (132), Galesburg’s Josh Larkin (113), Mahomet-Seymour’s Auggie Gaudio (100), Moline’s Lemarion Robinson (138) and Morton’s Caiden Robison (126).
Placing first in the last seven weights were PORTA’s Hunter Morris (220) and Issac Gunian (285), Havana’s Gaitlin Servis (160), LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Zach Wright (152), Metamora’s Brant Adams (145), Normal Community’s Victor Reyes (170) and Pontiac’s Carlito Lattin (182).
Here’s a rundown of the champions at the Normal Community Invite:
100 – Hannah Almendarez, Galesburg
After falling one win shy of earning a trip to the initial IHSA finals, Hannah Almendarez is determined to not come short again this season.
The Galesburg junior kicked off her season in impressive fashion when she recorded falls in three of her four matches, including a pin in 2:21 over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Justice Mulligan in the 100 title match. She made history last season when she competed in the first title match at the tournament, but lost in the 100 finals to Normal West’s Sammy Lehr.
After opening with a quick fall, Almendarez won 8-3 in the quarterfinals over Richwoods’ Marisol Perez before recording a pin in 1:58 in the semifinals over Clinton’s Rihanna Ortiz.
“I’ve been trying real hard and working exactly for this and I’m glad that I accomplished something,” Almendarez said. “Last year I got second place in this exact tournament and I was working for first place, but I unfortunately didn’t get that. I’m hoping to get to state this year.”
Mulligan reached the title mat following a pair of first-period falls, needing just 1:00 to pin Galesburg’s Emylee Miller in the semifinals to prevent an all-Silver Streaks finals.
In the third-place match, Miller recorded a 12-7 decision over Ortiz. Perez captured fifth place with a fall in 0:38 over Joliet Township’s Aridna Arciniega.
105 – Angel Bateson, Normal West
After joining teammate Sammy Lehr as the first two girls to win invitational titles in the sport in this tournament a year ago, Angel Bateson intends to make more history in 2022-23 by doing what Lehr also accomplished, qualifying for the debut of the IHSA finals.
Normal West senior Bateson became the first individual to repeat as a champion in the state’s inaugural tournament, after winning the title at 105 and shares the honor with Homewood-Flossmoor’s Attalia Watson-Castro, the lone IHSA champion in the field, who took first at 140.
The repeat title was accomplished thanks to three first-period falls, including one over Joliet Township’s Chloe Wong in 1:38 in the semifinals before Bateson recorded a fall in 1:46 in the finals over Belleville East’s Alexcia Harden. She hopes to qualify for state, something she was unable to do last year since she was sidelined due to an injury.
“I’m very happy that I won this tournament two years in a row,” Bateson said. “My goal this year is to go to girls state and hopefully place first. The key is going to practice every day and working hard. This one is very important to me. I’ve been trying to make girls state for two years years in a row and both years I was out with an elbow injury. This year I’m healthy and going in strong for the season and I’m very confident that I can get to state.”
Harden, who qualified for state last season, was impressive in reaching the title mat, needing less than a minute each time to record three falls, with one in the quarterfinals in 0:36 over a state placewinner, Richwoods’ Kyley Bair, and then preventing an all-Wildcats title matchup by pinning Lehr in 0:44 in the semifinals.
Wong, who qualified for state a year ago, beat Lehr 9-4 in the third-place match while Bair won 3-0 in the fifth-place match over East Peoria’s Bailey Lusch in a rematch of last year’s fifth-place match at the IHSA finals, which Lusch won by a 5-2 score.
110 – Diya Patel, Schaumburg
After recording a pair of first-period falls and then adding another pin in the finals to capture top honors at 110, Diya Patel already is excited about doing something that five of her teammates did a year ago, which is qualifying for the IHSA finals.
The Schaumburg sophomore needed just 32 seconds to get a pin in the quarterfinals over Minooka’s Liliana Delgado and went 44 seconds in a semifinals win over Ottawa’s Kailee Lane to advance to the title mat, where she pinned Mahomet-Seymour’s Kalista Granadino in 2:37 to become her school’s lone champion.
“We were pretty good last year, so I think that the bar has been set pretty high,” Patel said. “And all that we’re looking for is improvement. Last year, I almost made it to state, and was like 10 seconds away. And then doing freestyle afterward motivated me, and I got more aggressive.”
After recording a fall in the quarterfinals, Granadino captured a 4-0 semifinals victory over Homewood-Flossmoor’s London Gandy to become her school’s lone finalist.
In the third-place match, Lane edged Gandy 6-4 while Joliet Township’s Kimberly Baron captured fifth place with a fall in 4:00 over Delgado.
115 – Eliana Paramo, Joliet Township
Eliana Paramo wasn’t all that thrilled about competing against boys on Joliet West’s junior-varsity a year ago but she is understandably excited about her prospects for this season since she now competes against only girls as a member of Joliet Township’s co-op team.
The junior, who placed fifth at 115 at the IHSA finals, definitely made quite an impression on her new teammates from Joliet Central after becoming one of her team’s two champions, recording three falls, with the last two in the opening period, to capture top honors at 115.
After getting a pin in 3:48 to win her quarterfinals match against Schaumburg’s Nina Akimoto, Paramo recorded a fall in 1:38 over Richwoods’ Baya Perez, a state qualifier last year, in the semifinals and then needed a few seconds less than that to get a pin in 1:34 over LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Jaelyn Brumfield.
“It’s really awesome to have the opportunity to just wrestle girls and to be able to go against girls that really love wrestling,” Paramo said. “It’s awesome because this is our first year of having a combined team with both Joliet West and Joliet Central. So this is my first year actually being able to wrestle in the girls tournaments. Last year, I didn’t get to wrestle much because of COVID and West wasn’t really going to girls tournaments, so I was on the J-V team for the boys. This year I finally get the opportunities so that I can work toward my goals.”
Brumfield followed a first-period fall in the quarterfinals with a 7-4 decision over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Nina Hamm, a state qualifier last year, in the semifinals to reach the title match, joining Morton’s Karen Canchola, who won top honors at 135, as the only finalists who were their school’s lone representatives in the competition.
Hamm recorded a fall in 2:37 over Perez to win the third-place match. Akimoto bounced back from her quarterfinals loss to Paramo by recording three-straight falls of 45 seconds or less, including 0:41 in the fifth-place match against Minooka’s Brooklyn Doti, who was a state qualifier a year ago.
120 – Pyper Wood, Normal Community
After coming up one win shy of earning a state medal at the initial IHSA finals, Pyper Wood is definitely on a mission this season to get to the awards stand.
And the Normal Community senior started her quest to return to state and come away with a medal in a good fashion as she followed three falls with a 4-3 victory over Morris’ Ella McDonnell, who is a returning state placewinner, in the 120 title match.
Wood recorded a fall in 3:50 over Minooka’s Sabina Charlebois in the quarterfinals and then got a pin in 2:57 over Deer Creek-Mackinaw’s Josie Barham in the semifinals to reach the title mat, where she went on to become the host’s only champion in their season-opening tournament.
“I definitely want to place this year,” Wood said. “In my freshman year, state got cancelled and then sophomore year, everyone just came together and there were no sectionals. I definitely like the fact that this builds work ethic and along with the idea of becoming a role model for younger girls that are wrestling.”
McDonnell, a junior who took fourth at 105 last season, opened with a fall before winning 8-0 in the quarterfinals and then got a pin in 2:28 in the semifinals over Collinsville’s Emma Ford.
Barham claimed a third-place finish with a fall in 0:56 over Ford. Richwoods’ Isabella Motteler followed a 4-2 quarterfinals loss to Barham by recording two falls to reach the fifth-place match. The sophomore, who was sixth at state at 115 a year ago, completed the run with a fall in 1:51 over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Ava Anderson, a 2022 state qualifier, to take fifth place.
125 – Itsel Vivanco, Joliet Township
Itsel Vivanco saved her best for last in her quest to be one of her team’s two champions at the season-opening Normal Community Invite.
After capturing a 10-2 victory over Minooka’s Olivia Rojas in her quarterfinals match at 125, the Joliet Township co-op senior defeated Lemont’s Molly O’Connor 5-0 in the semifinals.
Then in a clash of qualifiers from last year’s inaugural IHSA finals, Vivianco recorded a fall in 3:43 over Schaumburg’s Madyson Meyer to join teammate Eliana Paramo as a champion of the competition that her team won the title of by 20.5 points over the defending champion Saxons.
“I think that since this is my last year, it’s good to have a good start because I feel like that sets the pace for the rest of the year,” Vivanco said. “And it’s nice to get a feel for everything that I’m going to go through. All of our girls were really pumped and really ready. A lot of girls won matches and they were placing and bringing home medals, which is really good for our team. They’re really hard-working, no matter what. Even if they’re struggling, they all want to learn.”
Meyer competed for just over a minute in both of her first two matches, going 1:03 in the semifinals before recording a fall over Erie/Prophetstown’s Michelle Naftzger.
Naftzger claimed third place with a fall in 2:46 over O’Connor and Minooka’s Sophia Rausa, a state qualifier last season, followed a 4-2 win in the wrestlebacks over Westville/Georgetown-Ridge Farm’s Laney Cook with a 5-0 decision over Richwoods’ Indhira Moore to place fifth.
130 – Avery Schlickman, Gibson City-Mevin-Sibley/Fisher
In the day’s only title matchup between two individuals who both took second place in last year’s historic Normal Community Invite, Avery Schlickman figured to have her hands full when she faced off against Jaylah Dalton for top honors at 130.
In a clash between two individuals who also represented their teams in the inaugural IHSA finals, the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher sophomore recorded a fall in 3:59 to cap a day where she recorded a fall in 15 seconds in the quarterfinals over Morris’ Madison Lauterbach and then won by fall in 1:42 over Joliet Township’s Briahna Klobnak in the semifinals.
Dalton recorded three-straight falls to reach the title mat, needing 0:41 to record a fall over Joliet Township’s Izabel Barrera in the quarterfinals and then 0:45 in the semifinals to pin Minooka’s Kira Cailteux.
Cailteux defeated Klobnak 11-4 in the third-place match and Schaumburg’s Munkhchuluun Khuderchuluun bounced back from a fall in her opener against Dalton to record falls in nine and 16 seconds before pinning Joliet Township’s Alexandra Rosas in 2:48 to claim fifth place.
135 – Karen Canchola, Morton
Although she was one of four individuals in the tournament who were sole representatives of their schools, Karen Canchola made Morton proud by claiming top honors at 135 after following up on falls in her first three matches with a 1-0 decision over a state qualifier on the title mat.
Canchola won by fall in 1:25 in her opener with Mahomet-Seymour’s Gabby Dawson before pinning Joliet Township’s Veronica Klobnak in 0:54 in the quarterfinals. After recording a fall in 0:39 over University High’s Addison Nord in the semifinals, the Potters sophomore edged Canton’s Aubrianna Putman for the title. Last season, she reached the sectional semifinals, where she lost to the eventual 155 champion, Unity’s Lexi Ritchie, but then lost her next match.
“This sets my priorities high,” Canchola said. “Last year I went to the first girls sectionals. Because I competed in the sectionals, but didn’t make it, I think that’s pushed me harder to try to do it this year. So I’ve put more commitment and dedication into this sport, since it’s a very difficult and hard sport that’s not meant for everybody.”
Putman followed a fall with a 12-1 victory over a 2021 Normal Community Invite champion and IHSA qualifier, Schaumburg’s Madeline Zerafa-Lazarevic, before winning 8-1 over Joliet Township’s Anna Franco to earn her spot on the title mat.
Franco edged Nord 5-4 to capture third place while Zerafa-Lazarevic, who fell one win shy of a medal at 130 in the initial IHSA finals, recorded three first-minute falls in the consolation bracket, wrapping up fifth place with a pin in 0:16 over Klobnak.
140 – Attalia Watson-Castro, Homewood-Flossmoor
As the lone IHSA champion in the field and one of one of just three defending champions in the Normal Community Invite who were able to get back to the title mat, it was a pretty good bet that Attalia Watson-Castro would hand her school its first title of the day.
And that’s just what happened as the nationally-ranked Homewood-Flossmoor senior who won last year’s IHSA title at 135 joined Normal West’s Angel Bateson as a champion after winning by fall in 3:52 over Canton’s Kinnley Smith in the 140 finals to cap a day where she won by technical fall over Minooka’s Lexie Lakota in the quarterfinals and recorded a fall in 2:36 over another Minooka athlete, Hayla Hammer, in the semifinals.
Smith followed up on a fall in 1:16 in her opener by getting a pin in 1:03 in the semifinals over Rantoul’s Jac Corbin to give the Little Giants competitors on the title match at consecutive weights with Aubrianna Putman also advancing at 135.
Hammer, who opened with a pair of first-minute falls before running into Watson-Castro, closed out her day on a high note by recording an 18-7 win over Corbin to take third place. In the fifth-place match. Erie/Prophetstown’s Jayda Rosenow, who qualified for state last year, bounced back from a quarterfinal fall to Smith with two quick pins before defeating Minooka’s Eva Beck by fall in 2:29 to take fifth.
145 – Alanni Torres, Collinsville
Alanni Torres didn’t need to spend a whole lot of time on the mat in order to capture top honors at 145 in the Normal Community Invite.
The Collinsville sophomore captured the title with a fall in 1:37 over Schaumburg’s Keara Micek. That followed a pin in 1:16 over another Saxons athlete, Olivia Furlan, in the semifinals and Torres kicked off her successful day with a pin in 0:30 over Bloomington’s Alicia Swank.
“It feels nice,” Torres said. “I want to thank my coaches because they push me every day in practice and make sure I do everything that I’m supposed to be doing. And it feels nice to win since I really didn’t wrestle a lot last year. This was very exciting.”
Micek also didn’t waste much time advancing to the title mat. After opening with a fall in 0:42 in the quarterfinals, she got a pin in 1:26 in her semifinals match with Lemont’s Suzanne Knutte.
Knutte recorded a fall in 2:54 over Furlan to claim third place while Swank needed a 2-1 win by ultimate tiebreaker over Richwoods’ Nakiza Williams to advance to the fifth-place match, where she captured a 10-5 decision over Minooka’s Beth Castro.
155 – Maryam Ndiaye, Moline
Maryam Ndiaye was excited to see Moline get back to the state dual team finals for the first time since 2000 last season and she hopes that coach Jacob Ruettiger can also help lead the Maroons junior and her teammates to a very successful season.
Ndiaye kicked off the campaign on a high note by capturing top honors at 155 with a 7-2 victory over Schaumburg’s Valeria Rodriguez on the title mat. Rodriguez not only won a title at the same weight in last year’s historic initial competition but also placed third at state at 155.
After getting a quick over Minooka’s Abigail Boersma, Ndiaye won 6-2 over Canton’s Katelyn Marvel, a state qualifier a year ago, in the quarterfinals and then recorded a fall in 0:34 in the semifinals over Olympia/Heyworth’s Jordan Bicknell, who also qualified for state last year.
“It’s great to wrestle at Moline,” Ndiaye said. “Knowing that our boys and girls are kicking butts is how you know that Moline is doing great. I believe that I can go far in wrestling and I believe that my performance could have been better. I realized today that I wanted to get first place. The things that I’ve done to help me is due to my mentality. If you want to win and you put that in your head, then no matter what, you’re going to win. And if you don’t win, you still have that mentality that helps you when you’re wrestling.”
Rodriguez opened with a first-minute fall before capturing a 2-0 quarterfinals win over Plainfield South’s Teagan Aurich. The Saxons junior assured herself of being her team’s fourth finalist when she won by fall in 2:43 over Joliet Township’s Wonderful Naw in the semifinals.
Bicknell impressed as her school’s lone representative by claiming third place with a fall in 2:56 over Naw. Marvel captured fifth place after recording a pin in 0:54 over Aurich.
170 – Jaida Johnson, Richwoods
After placing third in the IWCOA tournament in 2021 and second a year ago to Unity’s Lexi Ritchie at 155 in the initial IHSA finals, Jaida Johnson obviously has her sights set on capturing a state championship this season.
Claiming a title in the opening tournament is a great start toward that goal and winning a close title match is a bonus. Following a fall in 0:33 over Clinton’s Kyndall Taylor in the quarterfinals and a fall over Granite City’s Samir Elliott in 3:11 in the semifinals, the Richwoods junior captured a 1-0 decision over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Kristen Roberts for the 170 title.
“This was our first tournament and for a lot of us to place, I feel like that is great,” Johnson said. “We work hard in practice and we’re working every day. This is a very good program and we always have fun even though we’re always working. I think that’s a very important combination because when you combine fun and work ethic, it keeps you motivated. I feel like placing first in state is a really big deal for me because I feel like I have to go from third to second and I don’t want to back track. So I want to keep a stellar rating and finish first this year.”
Roberts, who was a state qualifier a year ago, opened with a fall in the quarterfinals and then pinned Minooka’s Hannah Herman in 0:48 in the semifinals to become one of four Vikings who reached the title mat.
Elliott, a senior who was second at 182 in 2021 in the IWCOA and qualified for the IHSA finals last season, took third place after recording her third fall of the day, with this one coming in 2:52 over Herman. Minooka’s Sidney Ray recorded four-straight falls in the consolation bracket with the last one in 0:43 over Taylor in the fifth-place match.
190 – Kami Ratcliff and Keely Rulo, Belleville East
It’s not often that a tournament doesn’t have a champion, and while Keely Rulo and Kami Ratcliff would naturally have each liked to have won a title at the season-opening Normal Community Invite, they were quite content to go down as unofficial co-champions.
After the two Belleville East athletes reached the title match at 190, senior Rulo and junior Ratcliff decided not to square off, providing the bright spot of the day for the Lancers, who didn’t have nationally-ranked and two-time defending state champion Kiara Ganey on hand, but her influence on the pair of finalists was quite obvious.
“It feels good competing against somebody who’s number one in the country because it gives me more competition,” Rulo said of Ganey. “I just wished that my teammate wasn’t in my bracket so we could have both done good and got first. I feel like this is finally my year and I’ve got my head all the way in the game.”
Ratcliff pinned Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jazaria Akins in 1:26 in the quarterfinals and won a 4-0 decision over Moline’s Ruby Sepeda in the semifinals while Rulo reached the title mat with three falls, winning in 1:03 in her opener with Homewood-Flossmoor’s Basirat Sodiq, then going 1:39 in a quarterfinals win against Normal West’s Maria Milani and needed 2:40 in the semifinals to pin Joliet Township’s Alexa Latham.
“I feel like I’m finally in my prime this year,” said Ratcliff, who was a state qualifier last season. “I just wish that my teammate wasn’t in my weight class and then I would have been first.”
Sepeda, who qualified for state last year, took third with a fall in 2:42 over Latham while Joliet Township’s Nydia Martinez followed up on a 6-5 consolation win over Akins to claim fifth with a pin in 0:34 over Milani.
235 – Ini Odumosu, Homewood-Flossmoor
In the second clash of teammates in a title match, juniors Ini Odumosu and Jocelyn Williams capped a successful day for Homewood-Flossmoor with Odumosu winning 5-0 over Williams on the 235 title mat in a matchup of two Vikings who won medals at the inaugural IHSA finals.
Odumosu, who took fifth at 190 a year ago, opened with a fall in 0:40 in the quarterfinals over Ottawa’s Shelby Rank and won by fall in 3:29 over Minooka’s Peyton Kueltzo in the semifinals.
“It was a little nervous because we both know our skill levels and how each of us wrestle,” Odumosu said. “So it was kind of like figuring out what I had to do because we both know each other so well. In the end, we just had to get on the mat and do what you have to do to come out victorious. Last year we had eight girls out of our whole team at state, which is very impressive. The veteran girls that we have are really working toward getting the new girls on our team to step up so they’re comfortable with wrestling at such a high level,”
Williams, who placed fourth at 235 last season, won 8-1 over Normal Community’s Shelby Hailey, a state qualifier who fell one win shy of a medal a year ago, in the quarterfinals before capturing a 6-0 semifinals win over Westville/Georgetown-Ridge Farm’s Savanna Buckellew.
Kueltzo, who also qualified for state last year, won by fall in 1:26 over Buckellew to claim third place while Belleville East’s Alonna Rehmer, another 2022 state qualifier, followed up on a 5-3 decision over Pekin’s Brooklyn Garcia with a 9-0 victory over Schaumburg’s Nadia Razzak in the fifth-place match.