By Curt Herron
For the IWCOA
NEW LENOX – When a coach sees 13 of his wrestlers make trips to the awards stand at one of Illinois’ top tournaments and six of those win titles to help his team to claim the championship in impressive fashion over several other ranked teams, it’s already a great weekend.
Then throw in that you get to enjoy the whole experience while going up against other coaches who either were teammates with you or attended your alma mater, including your brother, and have the final day highlighted by having not just one of your college coaches back but two of them there, with one of those being another brother.
That’s the enjoyable Friday and Saturday that Brendan Heffernan was able to experience at the latest edition of the Illini Classic at Lincoln-Way Central in New Lenox, when his Marist Redhawks turned in their best tournament performance yet for what those involved with the program hope will feature many more special moments throughout the rest of the season.
Marist, which is fifth in Class 3A in Rob Sherrill’s most-recent IWCOA rankings, finished with 274.5 points, placing it well ahead of No. 7 in 3A, St. Charles East, who was the runner-up with 219.5 points, while No. 8 in 3A, Lincoln-Way East, took third place with 179.5 points. This was the RedHawks’ first championship in the Illini Classic since 2016, when they capped a run of three-consecutive titles. The program’s best tournament showings had been third place at DeKalb’s Flavin duals and seventh at the Dvorak.
Plainfield North (120), Bloomington (105), Carl Sandburg (104.5), Lincoln-Way West (103.5), Lincoln-Way Central (99), Providence Catholic (97.5) and Minooka (90.5) rounded out the top-half of the field in the tournament, which featured 12 individuals ranked in the top-10 winning titles as well as nine others in the top-10 who finished second.
The 20-team competition was held at Lincoln-Way Central, which is appropriate since Knights coach Tyrone Byrd initiated the competition that features many teams coached by University of Illinois alumni with 12 teams in 2011 while at Lincoln-Way East and things have grown considerably since then.
A total of 18 head coaches or their assistants were on hand for the unique competition that pays tribute to their alma mater, the U of I, including Pat Heffernan, who was at Illinois at the same time that his brother Brendan was. As has been the case throughout nearly every year, the head coach of the Illini from 1992 to 2009, Mark Johnson, was in attendance to hand out medals and the special Illini singlet to each champion.
As a bonus this year, Jim Heffernan was able to attend for the first time. He was coach Johnson’s assistant from 1993-2009 and then succeeded him as the Illini head coach in 2010 and held that position until last season when he retired and was succeeded by his assistant, Mike Poeta.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to see all of my old guys,” Johnson said. “Of course I like wrestling, but I come up here to see the guys and have fun and joke around. They’re working, but we still have a lot of fun, too. You see what you put in, your legacy that goes on and as they become young men and affect kids in their own right. You get into coaching to make a difference. When you get here, it’s not about who won or who lost, it’s about that time that we spent together. It was good times and the connection goes from me and Jim and now Poeta and all of these guys.
“It’s a very tight-knit bunch of guys. When I talk to people and I’ve been around other programs, I say that one of the things that makes me feel the proudest are these guys. And this thing definitely helps because they’re still close buddies and in contact. The main thing is that it’s about your experience. I know that these men had a great experience at that time of life in our program. We made it fun, were intense and did it by the rules. and hopefully we produced good kids, and now they’re doing that.”
Winning titles for the RedHawks were Owen Dunlap (6-1 at 138), Ricky Ericksen (22-7 at 145), Tommy Boland (26-4 at 160), Jake Liberatore (9-0 at 170), Peter Marinopolous (26-0 at 195) and Ghee Rachal (21-2 at 220).
Taking third place were Michael Esteban (25-7 at 113) and Luke Liberatore (9-2 at 182) while placing fourth were George Marinopoulos (22-6 at 106), Will Denny (21-7 at 120), Matthew Cornfield (14-9 at 132) and Andrew Dado (16-6 at 152) and Conor Phelan (17-8 at 182) finished fifth. Luka Anoshenko (120), Jesse Herrera (126) and Michael Maloney (285) also won matches for the RedHawks.
Leading Marist in team points were Ericksen (29.5, second), Rachal (28.5, T-third), Boland (28, T-sixth), Jake Liberatore (28, T-sixth), Peter Marinopoulos (27, T-ninth) and Dunlap (24, T-14th). The RedHawks led following the first day by a 108.5-92 margin over St. Charles East while Lincoln-Way East was third at 88.5 heading into Saturday.
“It’s nice to see them coming together as a team,” said Brendan Heffernan of his RedHawks. “It’s really the first time that we’ve basically had all 14 starters in there, so it was good to see what that looked like. And they’re really wrestling with confidence now, which is good. All of these kids have had a long couple of years, so it’s good to see them be able to have some success and to enjoy it, so I’m happy for them in terms of that. Right now, we have a nice group that’s been put together and it’s starting to take shape, which is nice.
“You see a bunch of ex-teammates and college roommates and it’s great to see Mark Johnson here every year. And this was the first time that my brother Jim has been here and my twin brother Pat is the coach at DePaul, and Jason (Potter) and I were freshman-year roommates at the U of I. It was a great idea when it was originally brought up and it’s nice that these Lincoln-Way coaches have been able to execute it and keep it going, so it’s nice. It’s one thing to think about it, and it’s another thing to do it.”
Coach Jason Potter’s runner-up Saints had nine individuals in the top-five on the awards stand and four who advanced to the title mat, with two winning championships.
Leading the way for the Saints was Ben Davino (24-1 at 120), who received the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Award after prevailing in a weight class that featured four individuals who were ranked in the top-five in Class 3A or 2A. The Saints sophomore, who’s top-ranked in Class 3A and was an IWCOA champion, led all participants with 30 team points after recording four falls, including pins over Bloomington’s No. 2 in 2A Carson Nishida in the finals and Marist’s No. 5 in 3A Denny in the semifinals.
Also winning a title for the Saints was Tyler Guerra (19-5 at 132) while finishing in second place were Elijah Chiaro (17-2 at 170) and Brandon Swartz (20-6 at 182). Taking third were Ethan Penzato (18-4 at 126), Gavin Connolly (20-4 at 138) and Brody Murray (20-6 at 160) and claiming fifth were Maddox Stieb (4-2 at 145) and Lane Robinson (13-5 at 152) while Anthony Chiaro (13-8 at 195) and Austin Barret (16-9 at 285) both finished sixth.
“We’re clicking and the best part of that is that for the most part, we’re pretty young,” Potter said of his Fighting Saints. “You can see week to week that we are improving and as a coach, that’s what you’re looking for. We’ve stubbed our toes a couple of times, but every one of the kids on our team keep elevating their games and if they fall short in a match, they want to get better. They watch the guy next to them busting their butt and things are happening for them. When we have kids like that who are elite, watching them work hard and then seeing how that translates into performances makes all of these guys want to start to work harder and to do better.
“This is a testament to coach Heffernan and coach Johnson. With them being such good coaches for us, it made us want to aspire to be good coaches for other kids. I think that’s kind of made us raise our game as coaches and I think now our teams kind of show that. It makes itself very competitive, but on top of that, just the environment and being able to see these guys, especially with Johnson and Heff coming up here, too, they’re like families to us. For most of us, it’s like a second dad. So to have that experience and be able to see them at least once a year is fun.They were our role models and that’s why we do what we do. We love coaching because they had such a good impact on us.
“And every day that we step foot in the wrestling room, it’s part of them that’s getting passed on through to the sport of wrestling and the relationships that you build. To have both Heff and Johnson as coaches, they made it clear the whole time that it had more to do than just wrestling. They built relationships with every single guy that they ever coached and that’s why they still know all of their names and they are in contact with them. Probably the biggest impact they had on me is the relationship side of coaching with kids and using the sport of wrestling to do bigger and better things.”
Kevin Rockett’s third-place Griffins were led by champion Gavin Jones (23-0 at 182), runner-up Jack Marion (27-2 at 152) and third-place finisher Ari Zaeske (20-5 at 170). Jones led his squad with 27 team points. Finishing fourth were Alex Lizak (15-6 at 138), Domanic Abeja (15-6 at 145), Dominic Adamo (19-5 at 160) and Zach Lamonto (7-2 at 182). Placing fifth were Tyson Zvonar (26-4 at 120), Connor Lindaur (23-4 at 195) and Alex Knaperek (18-5 at 285) while Brayden Mortell (18-12 at 113) took sixth.
Shepard’s Damari Reed (22-0 at 152), an IWCOA champion who’s top-ranked in 3A at 152, continued his unbeaten season when he captured a 6-5 decision over Marion in the 152 finals. He was 12th in team points with 26.5 after winning his first three matches by technical fall, which was two more than any other individual had.
Plainfield North’s Jacob Macatangay (33-0 at 126), an IWCOA champion, remained unbeaten after capturing a 4-3 victory in the 126 finals over Providence Catholic’s Billy Meiszner (20-4 at 126) in a matchup of the third- and sixth-ranked individuals at their weights in 3A. Macatangay was tied for ninth in team points with 27.
The other team in the tournament that had more than one champion was Carl Sandburg, who received titles from Ryan Hinger (20-4 at 113) and Kevin Zimmer (5-0 at 285). Hinger tied for third with 28.5 team points while Zimmer tied for sixth with 28 team points. Also winning a championship was Lincoln-Way West’s Matt Soltis (22-10 at 106).
Bloomington, which is ranked 11th in 2A, had four second-place finishers. They were Carson Nishida (28-4 in 120), Dylan Watts (24-6 at 132), Jacob Barger (28-7 at 145) and Jack Weltha (25-2 at 220).
Other second-place finishers were Carl Sandburg’s Rocco Hayes (16-9 at 106), Schaumburg’s Callen Kirchner (23-4 at 113), Lincoln-Way Central’s Conor Smetana (28-4 at 138), Plainfield North’s Jared Gumila (33-3 at 160), Harvard’s Nathan Rosas (28-3 at 195) and Lincoln-Way West’s Jake Ziemniarski (22-10 at 285).
Other close finals were at 106 where Soltis edged Hayes 3-2, at 138 where Dunlap prevailed 2-1 over Smetana and at 170, where Jake Liberatore won 3-1 over Elijah Chiaro.
Here is what the official program for the tournament had to say about former University of Illinois coaches Mark Johnson and Jim Heffernan:
Mark Johnson – 1992-2009 (Head coach): Mark Johnson’s career is unmatched at Illinois, as he finished with the most wins, NCAA Champions, All-Americans and NCAA qualifiers of any coach in Illini history. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 1995 and 30 of his 45 All-Americans came in his last 10 years. He led the Orange and Blue to a team title at the 2005 Big Ten Championships, Illinois’ first Big Ten crown in 53 years, and a pair of Big Ten dual titles in 2005 and 2006. He also guided the Illini to a No. 1 national ranking in 2004.
Jim Heffernan – 2010-2021 (Head Coach); 1993-2009 (Assistant Coach): Considered one of the most prominent collegiate coaches in the nation, Jim Heffernan coached 73 All-Americans, 215 NCAA qualifiers, 11 individual NCAA champions and 20 Big Ten champions during his time at Illinois. He helped lead the Illini to Top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships 13 times. And during his coaching career in Champaign, the Illini had at least one All-American on the roster in 28-consecutive seasons.
Current head coaches who competed at the U of I who were on hand in addition to the Heffernan brothers and Byrd were Riverside-Brookfield’s Nick Curby, Niles West’s Anthony Genovesi, Lincoln-Way West’s Brian Glynn, Bishop McNamara’s Jake Kimberlin, Schaumburg’s Mike Levanti, Carl Sandburg’s Clinton Polz, St. Charles East’s Jason Potter and Providence Catholic’s Don Reynolds. Assistants with the programs that also were Illini include Providence Catholic’s Keith Healy, Carl Sandburg’s Tony Siebert, St. Charles East’s Joe Barczak, Marist’s Deuce Rachal, Minooka’s Matt Harding, Morris’ Jon Lanning and Reavis’ Eric Novak.
Here’s a breakdown of the 2022 Illini Classic champions and their weight classes:
106 – Matt Soltis, Lincoln-Way West
For the second time this season, Matt Soltis came up with a hard-earned 3-2 victory over Rocco Hayes in an important matchup in a major tournament.
Last month, the Lincoln-Way West senior claimed a semifinals win over the Carl Sandburg freshman enroute to a championship at 106 at Hinsdale Central’s Whitlatch. On Saturday, Soltis edged Hayes 3-2 in the 106 finals to capture the title of the Illini Classic, giving him two first-place finishes in his two finals appearances. Soltis (22-10) earned his spot on the title mat with a 5-3 semifinals victory over another Carl Sandburg freshman, Madden Parker, after opening the tournament with a pair of falls.
“This was our rematch from the Whitlatch, but luckily I came out on top,” Soltis said. “The third period was really hard but I just persevered with what we’ve been working on all week. At the start of the season it was a little rocky but we just got in the practice room and we worked on it and now we’re back and feeling good. Now we’re working toward conference and the state series. I’m ready to see what I can do and hopefully make it downstate and then place there.”
Hayes (16-9), who also took second at Conant and was third at Hinsdale Central, had a pair of major decisions to start the tournament before beating Harvard senior Brian Hernandez, who’s ranked eighth in Class 1A, by a 5-1 score in the other semifinals match. Parker (18-7) bounced back from his semifinals loss with a fall to advance him to the third-place match, where he pulled out a 2-0 victory over Marist freshman George Marinopoulos (22-6), who posted his best tournament effort of his young career.
Plainfield North freshman Maddox Garbis (29-9) responded to a quarterfinals loss to Hayes by winning three of four matches in the consolation bracket to claim fifth place over Hernandez (14-6) with a 7-4 decision. Garbis also finished fifth at Granite City’s Schmitt while Hernandez won a title at his own invite and was second at Vernon Hills.
113 – Ryan Hinger, Carl Sandburg
Callen Kirchner won titles in his first two trips to the title mat in his initial season while Ryan Hinger settled for second in his tournament debut and was third in his next attempt.
But when the two freshmen clashed in the 113 title match at the Illini Classic, Carl Sandburg’s Hinger, who’s ranked fifth in 3A, finally got his breakthrough when he defeated Schaumburg’s Kirchner by technical fall in 3:44 for his first tournament title following a second at Conant and a third at the Whitlatch to improve to 20-4. The Eagles champion opened with a pair of first-period falls before claiming a 12-4 semifinals victory over Marist freshman Michael Esteban.
“Just hard work and dedication is really all you need and it just comes down to how much you want it and how much time and effort that you put into the sport,” Hinger said. “I really love my coaches because they help me. I just learn new technique and they push me a lot. I definitely like my stamina and how I just keep going at it, you just have to put your head down and work.”
Kirchner (23-4), who finished first at Buffalo Grove and Niles West, won 7-4 in the quarterfinals before recording a fall in 4:45 in the semifinals over Plainfield North sophomore Cayden Amico. The losers in the semifinals bounced back with falls of just under 4:00 in the consolation bracket to advance to the third-place match, where Esteban (25-7) won by injury default over Amico (28-10). It was the best showing for Esteban, who was fifth at the Dvorak, while Amico’s best effort is a second-place finish at Granite City.
In the fifth-place match, DePaul College Prep received its best finish when freshman Max Rosen (19-3) recorded a fall in 2:34 over Lincoln-Way East freshman Brayden Mortell (18-12). Rosen, ranked sixth in 1A, had a title win at Fenton to his credit while Mortell was fourth at Niles West and fifth at Wheaton Warrenville South.
120 – Ben Davino, St. Charles East
Ben Davino is 2-for-2 in Outstanding Wrestler Awards in major Illinois competitions after adding to his 120 championship at the Dvorak with a title at the same weight in the Illini Classic and competed for his his third title with his lone loss in a 24-1 season being in the finals at the Ironman to Marc-Anthony McGowan of New Jersey’s Blair Academy.
The St. Charles East sophomore, who was an IWCOA champion and is top-ranked in 3A, recorded four falls in 7:23 and led all competitors in the field with 30 team points to claim his second OWA following a fall in 1:29 over Bloomington senior Carson Nishida in the title match. His lone fall that didn’t occur in the opening period came in the semifinals, when he needed 2:34 to record a fall against Marist freshman Will Denny.
“It felt good and it was dominant all the way through,” Davino said. “I think there was just one second-period pin, and that was it. Other than that, I’m just having fun out here. I work as hard as I can every day so that I get better every single day. It’s nothing special, just hard work. I love my team. We’re coming together and we’re getting a lot better and we just have a great bond. So I think that we’re going to come out pretty high at the end of the season.”
Nishida (28-4), ranked second in Class 2A and an Illini Classic runner-up in 2020, was hoping to add to titles that he won at Conant, Civic Memorial and Sycamore, but still advanced to the finals for the fourth time in five tournaments following a pair of first-period falls with an 8-2 semifinals victory over Lincoln-Way Central’s Joey Malito, handing the senior his first loss of the season. Malito (32-1), ranked third in 3A and a champion at Glenbrook South and Lincoln who also took third at the Illini Classic in 2020, responded with two wins, including a 5-3 decision in the third-place match over Denny (21-7), who’s ranked fifth in 3A and whose best previous showing was a fifth at the Dvorak.
Lincoln-Way East freshman Tyson Zvonar (26-4) captured a 14-8 win over Lincoln-Way West sophomore Jase Salin (24-10) for fifth place. Zvonar, son of the school’s very successful football coach, Rob Zvonar, won a title at Wheaton Warrenville South and was second at Niles West while Salin was a runner-up at the Whitlatch.
126 – Jacob Macatangay, Plainfield North
Jacob Macatangay has plenty of decisive victories to his credit in a 33-0 season, but the IWCOA champion also is very adept at pulling out close wins when he needs to, which has especially been the case in his three tournament title matches.
That was once again the case in the finals at 126 at the Illini Classic where the Plainfield North senior claimed a 4-3 victory over Providence Catholic senior Billy Meiszner in a showdown of two of the best at their weight in 3A and also two IWCOA finalists. Macatangay, who’s ranked third, added to title wins at the Dvorak and Granite City, while Meiszner, who’s ranked sixth, was fifth at the Dvorak. Macatangay followed two falls with a 16-5 major decision over St. Charles East junior Ethan Penzato in the semifinals.
Macatangay competed in the finals at the Illini Classic for the third time, also winning a title in 2019 while Meiszner placed fifth in the event two years ago.
“I’m real happy with all of the success that I’ve had,” Macatangay said. “I’ve been wrestling really good competition and am just getting better and better every week. I just like getting pushed in the room by my coach every day and getting a little beat up during practice really pushes me and it drives me to succeed.”
Meiszner (20-4) opened with a fall and added a win by technical fall before claiming a 10-0 major decision over Schaumburg junior Caden Kirchner in the semifinals. Penzato (18-4) bounced back from his semifinals defeat with a fall in 0:50 over Minooka junior Dominic Shiavone (15-2) to claim third place. It was the best tournament showing of the season for both Penzato and Shiavone.
Kirchner (24-4) claimed a 12-0 major decision over Riverside-Brookfield senior Mateo Costello (21-4) in the fifth-place match. Kirchner had title wins at Buffalo Grove and Niles West to his credit while Costello, who was also sixth in the Illini Classic in 2020, is ranked seventh in 2A with a title win at Fenton and runner-up showing at Harvard.
132 – Tyler Guerra, St. Charles East
After just missing out on a medal in the prestigious Ironman in his first tournament of the season, Tyler Guerra has definitely been on a roll in his next two competitions, going 6-1 and finishing third at the Dvorak and then getting a fall, a major decision and a win by technical fall to capture the 132 title at the Illini Classic.
The St. Charles East sophomore improved to 19-5 after capturing his first championship and was one of two title winners and four finalists for the Fighting Saints. After claiming a 17-5 semifinals win over St. Rita’s Sean Larkin, Guerra, who’s in his first year with the Saints, won by technical fall in 2:23 over Bloomington junior Dylan Watts in the 132 finals.
“It feels good and my hard work is finally starting to pay off,” Guerra said. “Coming to St. Charles East has really helped my wrestling career and I got a lot better. It’s awesome since we have a lot of hammers in the room. More than just Ben Davino, there’s Gavin Connolly and Lane Robinson, it’s our whole team and everyone is scrapping. This team, we’re all just so close. and coach Potter is awesome, so I love the program. It’s awesome and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Watts (24-6), who won a title at Sycamore and was third at Conant, followed up on a pair of falls with a 4-3 semifinals victory over Lincoln-Way Central freshman Caden Harvey. The two semifinals losers were beaten in the wrestlebacks by Minooka sophomore Cale Stonitsch and Marist sophomore Matthew Cornfield and Stonitsch won a 5-0 decision between the two to finish in third place. It was the best tournament performances of the season for the two sophomores.
In the fifth-place match, Larkin (15-6) won 6-4 in sudden victory over Harvey (18-8).
138 – Owen Dunlap, Marist
As a three-time state qualifier and placewinner in 2020, Owen Dunlap figured to be a key contributor for Marist but prior to this weekend, he had competed in just three matches.
Four matches and four wins later, things are looking very positive for Dunlap (6-1), a senior who’s ranked ninth in Class 3A. He won three close decisions and added a fall in 0:22 in the quarterfinals to claim top honors at 138 after pulling out a 2-1 decision over Lincoln-Way Central senior Conor Smetana in the 138 finals. After winning 5-1 in his first match and then getting the quick fall, he earned his spot in the title match after capturing a 6-4 semifinals victory over St. Charles East sophomore Gavin Connolly. This was the third time that he placed in the Illini Classic, also winning a title in 2020 after taking second in 2019.
“We have a real young team with a lot of talent on it and we’re hoping that we can continue this success down the stretch,” Dunlap said. “And I want to help the team out as much as possible and hopefully we can make a run at state because I think that we have the guys to do so. I can’t wait to get down there, back in Champaign, where there’s a whole different feel, so it definitely will be exciting. We want to go as far as we can. We’re all tight together and if anything bad happens, everyone is there to pick each other up. We’re all there for each other and pushing each other as much as we can and just getting the best out of each other.”
Smetana (28-4), who’s ranked eighth at 132 and also finished second at Glenbrook South and Lincoln and was fourth in the Illini Classic in 2019, earned his third-consecutive trip to the finals with a a pair of pins in just over a minute and then a fall in 0:55 in the semifinals against Minooka junior Elijah Munoz. Connolly (20-4) bounced back from his semifinals loss to Dunlap to claim third place with a fall in 3:43 over Lincoln-Way East freshman Alex Lizak (15-6), who won his first title at Wheaton Warrenville South.
Munoz (14-7), who previous-best was a sixth at the Whitlatch, took fifth place after winning by technical fall in 3:40 over Plainfield North senior Carter Alexander.
145 – Ricky Ericksen, Marist
Ricky Ericksen made a breakthrough performance by not only becoming one of the four members of his team to win their first tournament titles of the season but it’s the first title of what the freshman hopes is many more during his career.
Ericksen (22-7) recorded a fall in 3:24 in the 145 finals over Bloomington senior Jacob Barger to highlight a weekend where he kicked things off with a win by technical fall and then recorded a pair of first-period falls, including one in 1:02 in the semifinals over Lincoln-Way East sophomore Domanic Abeja. Thanks to those results, Ericksen was second in the entire tournament in team points with 29.5, which was just one-half point behind the leader, who also happened to receive the OWA, St. Charles East’s Ben Davino.
“This feels pretty good,” Ericksen said. “This year has not been going as well as I planned it to, but coming in here, I felt pretty good and showed it out there. I’m trying to get my name out there and get kids to respect me. It’s all about the partners in the room and how they’re getting me better every day and we’re helping each other to get better. I didn’t do as good as I wanted to at the Dvorak, but when I came here, I was ready to go. This team is great. I feel like this could be our year to go out and make a name for ourselves.”
Barger (28-7), who won a title at Conant, advanced to the finals for a second time this season and placed sixth or better for the fifth time. He definitely went the hard route to reach the finals, opening with three-straight decisions, which featured one-point victories in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, edging Harvard senior Ivan Rosas 10-9 in order to reach the title mat, which assured him of an improvement from his third at the Illini Classic in 2020.
Rosas (22-4), who’s ranked sixth in 1A and won a title in his own school’s invite and was second at Leyden and fifth at the Mid-States in Wisconsin, bounced back from the tough semifinals setback to take third place after capturing a 3-0 decision over Abeja (15-6), who was second at WW South’s Ewoldt and third at Niles West. St. Charles East senior Maddox Stieb (4-2) took fifth after claiming a 5-3 win over Plainfield North senior Brody Wyller (24-14).
152 – Damari Reed, Shepard
The IWCOA champion at 152 remained perfect on the season at 22-0 and captured his fourth-straight tournament title but things certainly weren’t easy for him in the 152 finals after he dominated in order to reach the title mat.
The Astros senior, who’s top-ranked in Class 3A and has also won titles at Joliet Central, Berwyn/Cicero Morton and Geneva, captured wins by technical fall in his first three matches, which was two more than anyone else in the field had. That included a semifinals win by technical fall in 4:51 over Marist junior Andrew Dado. But in the title match, Lincoln-Way East senior Jack Marion showed why he had only lost once thus far when he forced Reed to go the full six minutes before he prevailed by a 6-5 score.
“It was a close match, but I had the match under control the whole time,” Reed said. “I have to give it to him since he was a tough opponent and I’m glad that I got a tough match. I always have to fight my way up in some type of way so with me being the number one now, I just have to hold my position and continue to do what I was doing in order to get to the top. My school really appreciates it and supports me a lot as far as being the first state champion in a lot of years. And my friends support me, too, and wish me good luck before my matches and I appreciate that. Ever since I was in eighth grade, it was my goal to at least get two state titles. I’ve got one, now I’ve got to get two.”
Marion (27-2), who’s ranked fifth in Class 3A, competed in his third-straight tournament finals after winning titles at Niles West and WW South’s Ewoldt. He reached the title mat with two falls and a decision, recording a pin in 3:30 over Bishop McNamara junior Luke Christie in the semifinals. Christie (15-2), who’s top-ranked in Class 1A who won a title at Unity in his only other tournament appearance, took third place after winning 5-2 over Dado (16-6), who’s ranked tenth in 3A and turned in his best showing of the season. In 2020, Dado took fifth and Christie was sixth at the Illini Classic.
In the fifth-place match, St. Charles East junior Lane Robinson (13-5) edged Lincoln-Way West senior Cameron Knepper (24-12) by a 3-2 score.
160 – Tommy Boland, Marist
Tommy Boland prevailed over Jared Gumila 11-6 in the 160 championship in a clash of two state-ranked seniors who not only have both placed before at state but also have qualified at least twice.
Marist’s Boland (26-4), a two-time qualifier who took fifth at the IWCOA, is ranked fifth in 3A with a fifth-place showing in the Dvorak his previous-best of the season. Plainfield North’s Gumila (33-3), who’s ranked seventh in 3A, is a three-time qualifier who was fourth in the IHSA in 2020. Boland, who fourth in the Illini Classic in 2020, earned his spot on the title mat with two first-period falls before getting a pin in 3:21 in the semifinals over Lincoln-Way East senior Dominic Adamo.
“I think our team did a great job this weekend,” Boland said. “Our goal was to just go out and have fun, because when you’re having fun, you’re wrestling your best. We have great depth on the whole team and there’s really no weak spots. Whenever we wrestle in practice, we make sure to push each other so that we always are getter better every day. We all want each other to do their best and when everyone is doing their best, then it’s a lot of fun.”
Gumila (33-3), who also was a runner-up at Granite City’s Schmitt and a fourth-place finisher at state in 2020, also opened the tournament with two first-period falls before capturing a 14-5 major decision over St. Charles East sophomore Brody Murray in the semifinals. This was the third time that the Tigers senior placed in the Illini Classic, placing third in both 2020 and 2019.
The two semifinals losers bounced back to compete for third-place with Murray recording a fall in 5:27 over Adamo, who was third in the Illini Classic in 2019 and fifth in the event in 2020. It was the best tournament showing of the season for Murray (20-6), who’s ranked eighth in 3A, while Adamo (19-5) took second place at Niles West and the Ewoldt. In the fifth-place match, Harvard senior Bailey Livdahl (24-8) won by fall in 4:15 over Lincoln-Way Central senior Dustin Kozlowski (13-9). It was the fourth top-six finish for Livdahl, who took third at Leyden while Kozlowski was fifth at Lincoln.
170 – Jake Liberatore, Marist
There was a time when doctors advised Jake Liberatore that he should no longer compete in the sport due to serious issues that he was dealing with involving his stomach.
But the Marist junior was determined to continue on and as his resolve strengthened, so did his health, and Liberatore, who’s ranked sixth in Class 3A, is off to a 9-0 start, which includes a 4-0 effort in the Illini Classic where he opened with three falls before getting a decision to win the 170 title. He beat St. Charles East senior Elijah Chiaro 3-1 in the finals to claim his first tournament championship and now hopes that he’s done battling serious health issues and can finally begin to experience a normal career in the sport.
“It’s just amazing to be back, it’s beyond words,” Liberatore said. “In my freshman year, I was hospitalized and then in my sophomore year I also had COVID. This year I had COVID and my stomach issues again, so I was out for six or seven weeks. They actually told me that I wasn’t going to be able to wrestle again, and I kind of said no. When I was in the hospital, I called my dad and I told him that I wanted to leave and go back to practice. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. But I love the sport. Since I was five years old, I loved watching it and I wanted to be able to compete at the highest level, just like the guys that I was watching.”
Chiaro (17-2), who’s ranked seventh in 3A, also posted his best tournament showing of the season thanks to a major decision, a fall and a 5-4 decision over Lincoln-Way East junior Ari Zaeske in the semifinals. Zaeske (20-5), who also took third at Niles West, recorded a fall in 3:29 in the third-place match over Riverside-Brookfield senior Brock Hoyd (21-4), who has title wins at Fenton and Harvard to his credit.
In the fifth-place match, St. Rita’s Jon Fulgencio (14-7) recorded a fall in 3:38 over Shepard senior Dominic Chillmon (15-9).
182 – Gavin Jones, Lincoln-Way East
Gavin Jones admits that many people may not know much about him, but after improving to 23-0 and winning a championship at 182 pounds at the Illinois Classic, it’s a good bet that he will be more on the radar as regular season competition winds down and the postseason discussion heats up.
The Lincoln-Way East senior led the way for his program that took third place in an event that they originally hosted after capturing the title at 182 with a 14-6 major decision over St. Charles East sophomore Brandon Swartz. After recording a quick fall in the quarterfinals, Jones, who’s ranked sixth in 3A and also has a title win at Niles West, captured a 3-1 victory over Griffins teammate, junior Zach Lamonto, in the semifinals to earn his spot on the title mat.
“This year, everything has started to click,” Jones said. “In the past years, I’ve either had problems making the spot or I just haven’t been able to put it together in matches. But this year, I’m pretty proud that I’ve been able to put it together against the higher-ranked guys and guys that I’m not supposed to beat and being the underdog feels pretty good. Last year was kind of so-so since the year was kind of cut off. I had some success at the lower levels but I’ve always been in the same weight class as some of the top guys.”
Swartz (20-6) advanced to the finals with falls in his first two matches and then a 6-2 triumph over Marist junior Luke Liberatore in the semifinals. His best previous showing was seventh at the Dvorak. In the third-place match, Liberatore (9-2) recorded a fall in 3:59 over Lamonto (7-2) for third place to post his best tournament effort of the season.
Like Lincoln-Way East, Marist also got two individuals on the award stand at 182 after sophomore Conor Phelan (17-8) got a fall in 1:36 over Providence Catholic senior Sean O’Connor in the fifth-place match.
195 – Peter Marinopoulos, Marist
After making news a few weeks back as one of the first individuals to go from team manager to Dvorak champion in two years, Peter Marinopolous can now start focusing on bigger things both individually and for his team after claiming top honors at 195 at the Illini Classic.
The Marist junior, who’s second-ranked in Class 3A with a perfect 26-0 record, picked up his second tournament title of the season when he captured an 8-0 major decision over Harvard senior Nathan Rosas in the 195 title match. Marinopoulos followed a fall in the quarterfinals with a 5-3 semifinals victory over Bloomington senior Anthony Curry to become one of six individual champions for the RedHawks, who easily won the title of the 20-team competition by 55 points over St. Charles East.
“I’m very excited,” Marinopolous said. “It’s the first time in a while that I’ve been just dominating everyone. I’m getting into my offense and riding people out and everything has been great. We had six finalists, six that went for third and one that went for fifth, so we’re all doing great. Everyone in the room is super excited about how we would do toward the end of the year and we’re shining right now. It’s very intense, everyone stays focused and there’s no goofing around. We’re all very focused on what we have to do and we’re working on our craft. I think that we’re all going to do great at the end of this year and hopefully come out with the team trophy and that would be great for the program.”
Rosas (28-3), who’s ranked third in Class 1A and has placed fifth at state the past two seasons at 195, won titles at his own school’s meet and at Vernon Hills and now has placed third or better in five-straight tournaments. He followed two falls with an 8-2 semifinals victory over Lincoln-Way East senior Connor Lindaur to reach the finals.
Curry (27-6), who’s ranked fifth in 2A with seconds at Conant, Civic Memorial and Granite City and two thirds in five tournament appearances, claimed third place with a 7-0 decision over Minooka senior Louis Johnson (20-9), who also placed fourth in the Whitlatch. Curry placed fourth in the Illini Classic in 2020. Lindaur (23-4), whose best showing is a third at Niles West, captured fifth-place with a 9-1 major decision over St. Charles East senior Anthony Chiaro (13-8), who had his best tournament finish.
220 – Ghee Rachal, Marist
After placing fourth in the IWCOA and pushing the bar even higher with an eighth-place showing at Fargo in Greco-Roman for champion Team Illinois, Ghee Rachal clearly is focused on the big picture as he prepares to make his third appearance in state competition.
The RedHawks senior is 21-2 and improved upon his previous-best, a third-place showing at the Dvorak, when he claimed top honors at the Illini Classic at 220 with a 13-5 major decision over Bloomington senior Jack Weltha. He advanced to the finals with a pin and a win by technical fall in 4:25 over Lincoln-Way West senior Michael Sneed. Beside being one of six RedHawks champs and the second-leading scorer in team points for the first-place team with 28.5 points, Rachal has plenty of U of I connections since his brother, Deuce, a Marist assistant, competed there, and twin brothers, Baan and We, are currently with the Illini.
“Two of my brothers are twins and they go to the U of I now and one graduated and he coaches at Marist now,” said Rachal, who was a runner-up in the last Illini Classic in 2020. “I feel pretty good, I just have to win state. It takes hard work and fixing mistakes, like watching out for cradles.I think that we can win team state this year. We like to get ourselves ready for matches. I’ll talk to someone and tell them that it’s just a match and there’s no nerves and we get 100 percent.”
Weltha (25-2), ranked second in Class 2A with title wins at Sycamore and Conant and a second at Civic Memorial where he suffered his other defeat, 6-5, to Waterloo’s top-ranked Jordan Sommers, earned his spot in the finals with two falls, with the last of those coming in 4:42 in the semifinals over Providence Catholic senior Liam McDermott. The Purple Raiders senior placed fifth at the last Illini Classic.
McDermott (33-3), who’s ranked third in 3A with a title at Antioch and a fifth at the Dvorak, bounced back from his semifinals loss to claim third place, just as he did in the last Illini Classic in 2020, with a 4-1 decision over Sneed (20-7), who turned in his best tournament finish. In the fifth-place match. Carl Sandburg senior Yazan Arafeh recorded a fall in 1:22 over Minooka senior Josh Gunther.
285 – Kevin Zimmer, Carl Sandburg
After being disappointed with a second-place finish as a sophomore and not getting the chance to compete in IHSA competition last season, Kevin Zimmer is focused on the big prize as he made his return to the mat for his senior year after recovering from an injury.
Ranked third in Class 3A, Carl Sandburg’s Zimmer used three falls and a decision to capture the 285 title at the Illini Classic and improve to 5-0 in the process. In the title match, he recorded a fall in 4:13 over Lincoln-Way West senior Jake Ziemniarski, which followed a 9-3 semifinals decision over Lincoln-Way East senior Alex Knaperek.
“This is my first full week back and I had two matches right before this tournament,” Zimmer said. “It’s been seven or eight months too long, I’ve been ready to get back to sports. It was long and tough, but I stayed positive and kept a good attitude, looking at the main goal of a bracket board at the end of the season. In the past three or four weeks, I’ve been going full go, my cardio is good and I feel good. I feel super fresh and this is like the start of the season for me and I get it right for the state series, so that’s awesome.”
Ziemniarski (22-10), who’s ranked eighth in 3A and whose previous best finish was a sixth at the Whitlatch, followed two falls with a 4-2 win by sudden victory over Lincoln-Way Central senior Braeden Barrett (31-4) in the semifinals. Providence Catholic’s RJ Schneider (25-11), wrestled back from a quarterfinals loss to Ziemniarski to claim third-place with a 5-2 victory over Barrett, who was a runner-up at Glenbrook South and Lincoln.
In the fifth-place match, Knaperek (18-5), who was second at the Ewoldt and third and third at Niles West, claimed a 3-1 decision over St. Charles East junior Austin Barrett (16-9), who had his best finish of the season.
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