Lemont nabs SSC crown

Lemont Wrestling

By Patrick Z. McGavin
For the IWCOA

SUMMIT—Lemont was ready to make a statement.

The Indians are still the defending state champions until proven otherwise.

“There have definitely been high expectations since the beginning of the year,” said coach Erik Murray, who took over for the retired John St. Clair last year.

The Indians won the first state championship in program history by defeating four-time defending state champion Washington 30-26 in the Class 2A State Dual Meet at Bloomington in February, 2020.

With the pandemic wiping out the state dual series, Lemont remains the last team standing.

Lemont made the first statement of the opening salvo by dominating the South Suburban Conference Meet Saturday at Argo.

The Indians had six individual champions to run away with the team title with 224.50 points.

Lemont had nine wrestlers reach the finals.

With three individual champions, Oak Forest was second with 162 points.

Evergreen Park (88), Oak Lawn (80), Hillcrest (78), Reavis (75) and Shepard (72) followed.

The South Suburban is made up of 14 teams, with two seven-team divisions, the Red and Blue.

“When we won the state title two years ago as sophomores, the seniors were the leaders,” senior Mo Khalil said.

“The younger guys just wanted to make them proud.”

Lemont is ranked No. 4 in Class 2A. Washington is No. 1, followed Joliet Catholic and Deerfield.

Lemont (19-3) has lost only to Deerfield and 3A programs McHenry and Stevenson.

Lemont and Joliet Catholic are set to face off at the LaSalle-Peru Regional.

“We have a good group of homegrown kids,” Murry said. “We have six seniors who are leading the way.

“When you get that taste of the championship, you obviously want to get back there.”

The 2022 South Suburban Conference Champions

106–Zack Koschnitzki, Reavis

Apart from his youth, sophomore Zack Koschnitzki shows a rare combination of athleticism, range and composure in such a young athlete.

“I’m long for a 106-pounder, and I just go for the legs,” he said. “Any time I can go for easy shots, I am going to go for them.”

Koschnitzki improved his record to 27-5 by dominating the lowest weight class with his savvy, speed and superior technique. 

He repeatedly got into the legs of his opponents.

He captured the championship with a fall 1:47 over Lemont freshman Julian Vallianatos.

Waiting for his opportunity, he executed a deft cradle to close out the match.

“I just put in the legs, and I went from there,” he said. “I never wrestled him before. I was not really familiar with him.

“I saw that it was open.”

He was fresh and ready. 

Having earned a bye into the semifinals, Koschnitzki posted the 9-0 major decision over Hillcrest’s Elijah Wofford in qualifying for the final.

Vallianatos (16-12) recorded a first period fall of Dutchess King of T.F. South to reach his half of the championship bracket.

Wofford (5-2) earned third-place with the fall over Argo’s Juan Villa at 1:09.

113–Juan Jurado, Eisenhower

For drama and last second excitement, nothing topped what Eisenhower senior Juan Jurado pulled off against Reavis senior Vladimir Vasquez.

Their rematch turned out to be the most pulse-pounding final.

“We wrestled in the first tournament of the year, and he beat me 6-3, or 9-6, something like that,” Jurado said.

“My dad asked me at the beginning of the season whether I was going to win one more tournament before I graduated.”

Jurado (22-4) provided a remarkable family moment.

Seeming out of answers in the closing seconds, he pulled out a reversal with five seconds remaining for the stunning 4-3 victory.

The match played out like a dance between the two rivals. They circled and moved around each other.

Neither athlete quite secured the advantage through the first two periods. Vasquez (26-9) appeared to grab the irreversible momentum with a takedown for the 3-1 lead with just under a minute remaining.

Jurado was awarded a point.

Still, Vasquez appeared in control as the clock worked toward all zeroes.

“Honestly, I don’t even know how to explain it,” Jurado said. “It was just a burst of energy.

“Ever since that first match, I have been working on my training and my conditioning.

Jurado earned a bye into the semifinal, and he posted a late third period pin over Argo’s David Gonzalez.

Vasquez also had a first-round bye and dispatched Lemont’s Omar Khraiwesh with a .33 second fall.

Gonzalez posted the first period fall of Khraiwesh at 1:00 in finishing third.

120–Tyler Evitts, Oak Forest

Progress is not always measured in linear movements.

Thankfully, Oak Forest senior Tyler Evitts had the ideal means of recording his growth.

“Every tournament I have competed in since my sophomore year I have gone up in placement,” Evitts said.

“My sophomore year, I took fourth here, so this was another improvement.”

Listed in the honorable mention in 2A, Evitts (16-3) flashed an excellent combination of power, athleticism and grace.

He effectively wore down Oak Lawn’s Eduardo Nunez, Jr., 6-0, for the title.

“I was really good on top today,” Evitts said. “I was able to ride the legs of my opponents, and control the different matches I had.”

Evitts posted the third period fall of TrayVonne Robert’s of T.F. South in the semifinals.

“I was able to hold them down, and tire them out,” Evitts said.

Nunez, Jr. (21-5) qualified for the final by defeating Bremen’s Charles Portis 6-4 in the semifinals.

Portis (14-9) captured third-place with a first period fall of Robert’s (14-9).

126–Caden Musselman, Oak Forest

On paper, the showdown here suggested the best matchup of the day with No. 4 Caden Musselman of Oak Forest against Lemont’s No. 10 Sam Schuit.

Musselman (22-2) was too fast, quick, explosive and elusive for the talented 
Schuit (27-7).

Relying on his jet quickness and length to control Schuit from distance, Musselman posted the highly-impressive second period fall at 2:53.

Musselman put in one of the most exhilarating performances of the day, making fast work of Steven Paredes of T.F. South in the quarterfinals (0:19) and Richards’ Muath Jilani (0:46) in the semifinals.

Schuit also dominated in his part of the bracket.

He posted equally strong performances over Evergreen Park’s Axel Rubalcava (0:39) and Tinley Park’s Alfonso Insalaco (1:31).

Insalaco (23-4) responded with two dominant victories, posting a fall over Bremend’s Gavin Jeronimo in the semifinal wrestlebacks.

He captured third place with a first period fall over Rubalcava (17-7).

132–Johnny O’Connor, Lemont

Junior Johnny O’Connor (24-9) underscored the Indians’ top to bottom dominance.

Ranked No. 6, he proved virtually untouchable in mastering his bracket. His quickness, athleticism and power overwhelmed the opposition.

He posted the fall over Oak Forest’s Joe Loranger at 2:00 for his own conference title.

He also had a second-period fall of Argo’s Paul Hernandez in the quarterfinals.

He qualified for the final with a 15-0 technical fall over Eisenhower’s Kris Barrera in the semifinals.

Loranger (10-7) was one of the revelations of the day. 

He stunned Tinley Park’s Andrew Koepke with a second period fall in the quarterfinals.

He also recorded a fall of Richard’s Luke Kawa to reach the final.

Hernandez (9-3) posted the first period fall of Koepke (25-8) to capture third place.

138–Evan Schiffman, Lemont

Sometimes the best laid plans never quite materialize in clear or obvious ways.

Lemont senior Evan Schiffman had to improvise. He also had to hold clear to his own impulses.

“From my freshman through my junior year, I was really sticking with my carries,” he said.

“That is what has always pushed me through.”

He had to recalibrate on the fly after his opponents worked to take away his trademark action.

“This year I haven’t been hitting it as much, which is probably why I lost two of the matches I lost this year.

“I have been working it out in practice room, and hitting that carry again.”

Practice made perfect.

Ranked No. 6, Schiffman (27-5) put it all together with a seamless and beautiful performance.

He posted three falls, the most impressive coming in just 1:06 against Hillcrest’s talented sophomore Jovan Williams in the final.

“I have been working really hard with my coaches about perfecting all the different kinds of finishes out of the carry,” Schiffman said.

“Today I just executed it better than I have.”

He also posted falls of Evergreen Park’s Adam Viravec (2:17) and Richards’ Dom Paul (1:07) in the preliminary rounds.

“Hopefully I will be able to carry this momentum into the state series,” he said.

Williams (13-2) posted a fall over Tinley Park’s Sam Zayyad and a tight 4-3 decision over Oak Forest’s Hunter Hale to win the lower bracket.

Paul (13-5) had the first period fall of Hale (14-13) to capture third place.

145–Nate Pacetti, Eisenhower

Senior Nate Pacetti delivered the Cardinals’ second champion by defeating Oak Forest’s Connor Nowicki 10-5.

Pacetti (23-2) showed a bracing combination of speed, athleticism and power.

He recorded falls of Evergreen Park’s Ryan Serna (1:22) and Richards’ Xavier Lara (2:45) in dominating the upper bracket.

Nowicki, listed in the 2A honorable mention for his weight class, posted falls over Oak lawn’s John Parquette (2:41) and Lemont’s Noah O’Connor (3:41).

Noah O’Connor (18-14) recovered for the strong first period pin of Lara (17-9) for third place.

152–Damari Reed, Shepard

The obvious question for Shepard’s Damari Reed is what do you do for an encore?

The defending state champion at 152 pounds is making his bid for being one of the state’s top wrestlers, regardless of weight or class.

“I just want to stay focused,” he said. “My end goal is defending my state title and being a two-time champion.

“That’s my motivation to keep going.”

His blend of athleticism, quickness and strength is breathtaking to behold.

He put on a master class with his sharp and mesmerizing second period fall over Oak Forest’s gifted Ivan Corral in the final.

Reed (27-0) posted quick falls over Tinley Park’s Fawzi Zayyad (0:25) and and Hillcrest’s Latrell’s Hall (0:47) in the lead up to the final.

“I think I am a really smart wrestler as far as my selection of moves,” Reed said. “I think on the fly, and I understand my opponents really well.”

His five first period takedowns offset the three escapes he allowed of Ivan Corral in establishing a 10-3 advantage.

His cradle at the start of the second period proved the exclamation point to a remarkable day in which he was named the most outstanding wrestler.

“That’s my go-to move when I want to put a guy away,” he said.

Ivan Corral (21-6) posted falls of Evergreen Park’s Dane Bik and Richard’s Mike Taheny to qualify for the final.

Taheny (21-7) posted the fall, in just 0:29, over Bremen’s Konya Lewis-Hunt, for third place.

160–Max Corral, Oak Forest

After his older brother, Ivan Corral, ran into the buzzsaw in the form of the incomparable Damari Reed, sophomore Max Corral gave the necessary answer.

“I have been wrestling with my brother for a long time, and we have really good competition,” Max Corral said.

Max Corral edged Oak Lawn’s Rakan Eid 5-1 for the championship.

“It feels great because my brother did not win the conference when he was a sophomore,” he said.

After posting a fall in the quarterfinals, Max Corral defeated Tinley Park’s Nate Cossyleon 2-0 in his semifinal.

“I like to throw in under hooks, and get shots out of that,” Max Corral said. “That’s what I was able to do.”

Eid (7-2) upset Evergreen Park’s Aseal Rubalcava with the first period fall. He also defeated Argo’s Luke Wesolowski 9-7 to reach the final.

Rubalcava (25-4) dominated Wesolowski (15-9) for third place with a fall at 0:28.

170 pounds—Alex Tagler, Lemont

Lemont senior Alex Tagler is a known commodity. 

Ranked No. 5, he is been one of the fixtures and a direct link to the state championship team.

He also is not afraid to try and reinvent himself. It is how he stays fresh and impactful.

“One of the things I have become very conscious of is working at a much faster pace,” he said.

“I talked a lot with my coaches about pushing the tempo and scoring my points.”

That strategy paid off with a strong 10-3 victory over Oak Lawn junior Hani Odeh in the final.

The first period ended scoreless. Odeh used his superior length to frustrate Tagler.

A late second period reversal put Tagler in charge. Using his superior strength, he made a dramatic charge for a late takedown and three-point near fall for the final margin.

“I was trying to push the pace, and I went heavy to his head and it worked out,” Tagler said.

“He went to his back.”

After a first-round bye, Tagler posted a pin of Richards’ Jeremiah Gill to reach the final.

Odeh (19-8) had an opening pin and then upset second-seeded Mike Torres of Evergreen Park 10-9 in their semifinal.

Torres (25-3) responded with a first period fall of Reavis’ Anas Everette for third place.

182–Mo Khalil, Lemont

Lemont junior Mo Khalil is the Indians’ highest ranked athlete at No. 4.

He also entered the conference meet with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

He lost a regular-season dual against Oak Lawn’s Evan Zambrano 4-3.

“I was coming out of a state quarterfinal playoff game in football, and I was not even sure I was going to wrestle that particular dual.”

Khalil had a message for Zambrano. 

“I told him I will see you come conference time.”

Khalil (26-4) exacted his revenge with the 1-0 victory.

He secured the victory by securing his escape with just under a minute remaining in the third period.

Khalil, who was fourth in the state last year, posted a fall in the quarterfinal. He secured the 9-1 major decision over James Williams of Evergreen Park in the semifinals.

“Two years ago, Williams beat me inn the blood round to go downstate because of a bad throw by me,” Khalil said.

“I beat him 5-0 last week in our dual. I just feel like I have made big strides this season.”

Zambrano (27-4) posted consecutive falls to capture the upper bracket.

James Williams (23-5) posted the first period fall of Argo’s Ethan Medel (15-7) for third place.

195–Alex Jackson, T.F. North

Alex Jackson was just trying to catch his breath.

“My arms felt numb,” he said.

A volatile and wild third period showdown with Lemont’s Cole Brannigan had all manner of possibilities.

Jackson utilized his superior quickness for the 6-3 lead into the third period.

A bang-bang sequence, illustrating his fatigue, saw Brannigan pull off a stunning reversal and near fall.

Jackson recovered and executed his own reversal for the 8-7 lead.

He granted No. 8 Brannigan the escape for the 8-8 tie.

His fourth and final takedown proved the difference in the riveting 10-9 victory.

Jackson (13-0) maintained his perfect mark.

“I try to wrestle very smart,” he said. “My conditioning has not been very great this year because we have not been able to practice a lot.

“I like to wrestle slow, and what happened is that he started pushing, and I had to move and slow it down.”

Jackson had two falls to reach the finals.

Brannigan (26-5) also had two impressive pins in the upper bracket.

Hillcrest’s Rodney Sims (6-2) posted the first period fall of Shepard’s Gabe Smith for third place.

220–Tyler Wilms, Lemont

Lemont senior Tyler Wilms proved the immovable object.

Ranked No. 9, he ran over everybody in his path.

Wilms (22-3) needed just over the equivalent of one regulation match to secure the title.

He posted the fall in 1:38 of Shepard’s Niko Bucio for the championship.

He had earlier pins of Oak Forest’s Adam Rickter and T.F. North’s Bryant Bobadilla to qualify for the final.

Bucio (10-6) emerged from the pack to capture the lower bracket.

He edged Angelo Temko of Reavis 5-3 and recorded the fall of second-seeded Eduardo Antunez of Evergreen Park in his semifinal.

Rickter posted the first period fall of Temko for third place.

285–Alex Pasquale, Lemont

Alex Pasquale is young. He also has the savvy to understand the need to stay unpredictable.

“Today I was just trying to do things I haven’t done so far this year,” he said.

Mission accomplished.

Pasquale completed a sharp performance with the fall at 3:08 of Bremen’s Eric Perez-Nava for the individual title.

“I was trying to go for that single, and that worked into my power move, which is how I got most of my pins today,” Pasquale said.

Ranked No. 8, he also posted pins in the two preliminary rounds. 

“This means a lot to me,” he said. “Usually sophomores are not expected to win big tournaments like this, especially at heavyweight.”

Perez-Nava (19-3) also posted falls in the two preliminary rounds

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