By Curt Herron
Marist was definitely a team that was on a mission at Saturday’s Joliet Central McLaughlin Classic and the state’s top-ranked team in Class 3A dominated against a strong field by capturing first-place honors in the 27-team competition in Joliet by 122 points.
Coach Brendan Heffernan’s RedHawks had five champions, five runners-up and four others who placed sixth or better to help them score 343.5 points while Lincoln-Way Central edged Normal Community 221.5-217 to claim second place.
Homewood-Flossmoor (194.5), Wheaton North (180.5), Deerfield (166), Morton (139), Romeoville (132.5), the host Steelmen (121), West Chicago (112), Belleville East (109.5), St. Rita (104), Peotone (102), Stagg (93) and Providence Catholic (85) were next in line.
Last season, Marist made its first appearance in the IHSA dual team finals since 2014 and just its second since 1997, but dropped a heartbreaking 34-33 decision in the Class 3A quarterfinals in Bloomington to Lockport, who wound up claiming third place.
Returning eight of their 11 state qualifiers from a year ago, which includes three placewinners as well as another that fell one win shy of a medal, the RedHawks entered the season top-ranked in Class 3A, one spot ahead of the defending state champions, Mount Carmel.
Marist advanced 12 individuals to the semifinals and 10 to title matches. After dropping their first four matches on the title mat, the RedHawks won all five finals championships from 160 to 220 before taking second place at 285.
Winning titles for Marist were Ricky Ericksen (160), Jacob Liberatore (170), Conor Phelan (182), Peter Marinopoulos (195) and Luke Liberatore (220) while George Marinopoulos (106), Matthew Cornfield (126), William Denny (138), Jesse Herrera (145) and Dontay Fort (285) took second place. Donavon Allen (132) was third, Eamonn Boyle (152) finished fourth, Logan Mishka (120) placed fifth and Tommy Fidler (113) was sixth.
In one of the most dramatic finals, Peter Marinopoulos used a late takedown to capture a 4-3 win over Belleville East’s Dominic Thebeau in a clash of the top two at 195 in the 3A rankings.
“It was a good measuring stick at this point of the year,” Heffernan said. “It was fun to see them be aggressive and to take some initiative. They were letting it fly and going for some big points, so that was good to see, they were wrestling to win.
“We’re focusing on making sure that we don’t let something slip through our fingers again this year. But at the same time, it’s a new year. We had four kids who wrestled in their first varsity tournament, so that was nice to see.
“A lot of them have been through the mix a little bit, so they’re not surprised by anything and they’re not laying back and just kind of waiting to see what happens. They know what they need to do and they’re doing the things that they need to do.”
Normal Community and Homewood-Flossmoor both had three champions. Winning titles for coach Trevor Kaufman’s third-place Ironmen were Caden Correll (106), Cole Gentsch (113) and Zion Crawford (285) while Cooper Caraway (220) claimed second place.
Capturing championships for coach Jim Sokoloski’s fourth-place Vikings were Deion Johnson (120), Vincent Robinson (132) and Jaydon Robinson (145) while Jermaine Butler (152) and Jon Fulgencio (160) claimed third place and Jaylen Augustave (138) and Jeremy Thomas (170) both placed sixth.
Coach Tyrone Byrd’s runner-up Knights were led by champion Nathan Knowlton (126) while Kristian Meloy (145) and Evan Welsh (182) took third, Max Becker (160), Tim Key (170) and Colin Welsh (285) were fourth and Caden Harvey (152) finished fifth.
Other title winners were Rich Township’s Nasir Bailey (138) and Peotone’s Marco Spinazzola (152). Bailey, a two-time IHSA champion and three-time state champion who’s top-ranked at 138, took a 7-1 lead over Denny and then saw that lead cut to 7-5 in the third period before he wrapped up an 8-5 decision. Spinazzola, whose Blue Devils are in Class 1A, was the lone champion not in Class 3A.
Also finishing second were Deerfield’s Renzo Morgan (132) and Aiden Cohen (170), Wheaton North’s Devin Medina (160) and Eli Cook (182), Kennedy’s Victor Alvarado (113), St. Rita’s Austin Dangles (120) and West Chicago’s Nolan Allen (152),
Other third-place finishers were Romeoville’s Brian Farley (113) and Johnathan Espinoza-Luna (220) Joliet Central’s Alex Fernandez (120) and Charles Walker (195), Rich Township’s Diondre Henry (106), Deerfield’s Jordan Rasof (126), Belleville East’s Warren Zeisset (138), Wheaton North’s Mikey Rosch (170) and West Chicago’s Alexis Correa (285).
Also finishing fourth were Wheaton North’s Cayden Cahill (113), Sam Lemp (138) and Toby Martin (195), Romeoville’s Savion Essiet (106) and Alan Amaya (126), Peotone’s Ian Kreske (145) and Alex Cardenas (220), Reavis’ Zack Koschnitski (120), St. Rita’s Sean Larkin (132) and Stagg’s Christian Ibarra (182).
Three individuals repeated as champions in the second-year tournament, Johnson (120), Bailey (138) and Jaydon Robinson (145) while Medina (152) finished second for the second year in a row. Romeoville’s Brian Farley (113), who also won a title at the classic last season, lost 4-2 in the semifinals to champion Gentsch.
Two individuals won awards as the Pat O’Connel Wrestlers of the Meet, Homewood-Flossmoor’s Vincent Robinson (132) received the honors for the lower weights while Marist’s Peter Marinopoulos (195) got the same honor for the upper weights. O’Connell was a longtime assistant and also the Steelmen’s head coach and is a 2018 IWCOA hall of fame inductee who helped to get Joliet Junior College’s wrestling program reinstated.
Ericksen (160) had the most team points with 33 while Bailey (138) and Johnson (120) had 32 points. Phelan (182) and Spinazzola (152) scored 31.5 team points while Correll (106), Jacob Liberatore (170) and Vincent Robinson (132) had 31 points, Jaydon Robinson (145) had 30.5 team points and Luke Liberatore (220) and Peter Marinopoulos (195) had 30 points.
The Classic, in its second year, has already become one of the largest early-season invites in Illinois. The event is named for Joliet Central/Township coach Eural ‘Mac’ McLaughlin, a 1991 IWCOA hall of Fame inductee and 2017 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame – Illinois Chapter, who led the wrestling program for 40 years and also coached a variety of sports at the school. Coach Mac was on hand for the event.
Here’s a breakdown of the McLaughlin Classic champions and placewinners
106 – Caden Correll, Normal Community
Caden Correll made an impressive run to become the first McLaughlin Classic champion of the day after collecting falls in his first three matches and then capturing a 14-6 victory over Marist’s George Marinopoulos in the 106 title match.
The Normal Community sophomore opened with a fall in 2:38 and was on the mat for less time in his next two matches as he recorded a pin in 1:32 in the quarterfinals over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Roan Dukes and needed 0:40 to get a fall over Rich Township’s Diondre Henry in the semifinals before going on to become the first of three Ironmen champions.
“We’re working each other hard in every practice and coach (Trevor) Kaufman is the best coach that I’ve had in a long time,” Correll said. “It’s tough in that room, but us little guys and the big guys are sticking together and working every day in practice makes everyone better. With all of the freestyle and Greco stuff, it’s all on your feet, working the fakes and the snaps, all of the stuff that works well in freestyle just transfers over to folkstyle.”
Marinopoulos, who was a state qualifier last season, also made a nice run to the title mat, following a fall in 2:54 with a win by technical fall over Lincoln-Way Central’s Michael Heimberg and then recorded a fall in 3:20 over Romeoville’s Savion Essiet in the semifinals.
Henry won by technical fall over Essiet to claim third place while Deerfield’s Vincent Serwan recorded a fall in 4:30 over West Chicago’s Jonathan Antonio in the fifth-place match.
113 – Cole Gentsch, Normal Community
After claiming a 9-1 major decision over Kennedy’s Victor Alvarado, Cole Gentsch was thrilled to be interviewed for the first time, that is other than being talked to by his high school paper.
Following his impressive run to the 113 title, it’s a good bet that we’ll hear more from the Normal Community sophomore in the future. Gentsch got a fall in 1:57 in his opener, won 13-7 over Morton’s Harrison Dea in the quarterfinals and used a third-period reversal in the semifinals to win 4-2 over Romeoville’s Brian Farley, a champion in the inaugural McLaughlin Classic.
“This is how it is in the first tournament of the year, you just have to forget the seeding and get done what you need to get done,” Gentsch said. “Once I start getting into my offense and getting to where I need to be, I find it hard to not achieve what I know what I set out to do. Caden and I have been practicing and competing with each other at least since we were five years old, so we push each other in the room every single day. He helps me get better and I help him get better. This year the Ironmen have pretty high goals, so it’s exciting for our team in general to know what we can accomplish in the future. I did everything that I could in the offseason to try to get better and freestyle and Greco have definitely helped. And special thanks to Sean Reynolds and Logan Patton for their training in the offseason.”
Alvarado, who was a state qualifier last season, followed a pin in 2:32 with a fall in 0:45 in the quarterfinals over Joliet Central’s Isaiah Kan before claiming an impressive victory by technical fall in the semifinals over Wheaton North’s Cayden Cahill.
Farley bounced back from his tough semifinals setback to claim third place with a fall in 3:15 over Cahill while Stagg’s Jamie Corral took fifth place after capturing a 4-0 victory over Marist’s Tommy Fidler.
120 – Deion Johnson, Homewood-Flossmoor
After seeing his hopes for a state title at 106 dashed last year when he had to injury default in the Class 3A semifinals to the eventual champion, Mount Carmel’s Seth Mendoza, before settling for third place, Deion Johnson is definitely a man on a mission this season.
The Homewood-Flossmoor senior became the first of his team’s three Classic champions when he took top honors at 120 by recording a fall in 3:39 over St. Rita’s Austin Dangles. Johnson opened with a fall in 1:36 before getting a pin in 1:11 in the quarterfinals over Romeoville’s Alex Bahena and then needed just 0:45 for a pin in the semifinals over Reavis’ Zack Koschnitski.
“We’ve been working real hard,” Johnson said. “This is what we’ve been waiting on and all of the hard work is paying off, as you can see and I just hope that we can keep it rolling. I’m just trying to become focused on all of my matches and be smarter in all of my matches. We’re real tough and have a lot of guys with heart, that’s why we’re going to be real good this season.”
Dangles, who took sixth at 113 in Class 2A last season, had a fall in 5:51 in his opener before claiming a 13-8 quarterfinals victory over Normal Community’s Carter Mayes and then getting a fall in 5:26 in the semifinals over Joliet Central’s Alex Fernandez.
Fernandez tied for the best finish for the host Steelmen when he claimed third place by recording a fall in 2:57 over Koschnitski while Marist’s Logan Mishka got a pin in 5:39 over Morton’s Caleb Lenning in the fifth-place match.
126 – Nathan Knowlton, Lincoln-Way Central
Nathan Knowlton is happy to be back on the mat after seeing an unbeaten campaign derailed a year ago due to personal matters.
The Lincoln-Way Central senior is off to a perfect start this season after being his team’s lone champion and helping them to a second-place finish in the McLaughlin Classic after taking top honors at 126. After getting a pin in 1:10 in his opener, he beat Peotone’s Micah Spinazzola by technical fall in the quarterfinals and Deerfield’s Jordan Rasof 7-4 in the semifinals before capturing an 8-4 victory over Marist’s Matthew Cornfield in the title match.
“It was a great start and it’s how I wanted to start it,” Knowlton said. “I want to go undefeated this season. I had to take off last season, but this year I’m back. I was eager to get back and I got a little bigger and a little stronger, so I’m ready to go this season. I’ve done everything over the summer, just getting faster and getting stronger and getting bigger, so I’m ready for the next level so that I can go to college, too.”
Cornfield became one of 10 RedHawks to reach the title mat after recording three first-period falls.He only needed 19 seconds to get his first pin and just 23 seconds to record a fall in the quarterfinals over Joliet Central’s Aleck Allende. He earned his spot in the finals with a pin in 1:13 over Romeoville’s Alan Amaya.
Rasof claimed third place with a fall in 1:25 over Amaya and in the fifth-place match, West Chicago’s Connor Zentner won by forfeit over Morton’s Payton Ferrill.
132 – Vincent Robinson, Homewood-Flossmoor
After reaching the Class 3A title mat a year ago and falling 10-5 to Mount Carmel’s Sergio Lemley in that match, Vincent Robinson is clearly focused on finishing on top this season.
The Homewood-Flossmoor senior was definitely all business in his first tournament of the season as he dominated as he rolled to the title at 132. Following a fall in 1:16 in his first match, Robinson beat Lincoln-Way Central’s Jalen Byrd by technical fall and then claimed a win by technical fall over St. Rita’s Sean Larkin in the semifinals before needing just 1:29 to record a fall over Deerfield’s Renzo Morgan in the title match.
“We started off okay and we could have done a little better,” Robinson said. “But that’s what it’s all about, just getting better as we go on through the season. I’m a senior on the team, so I have to be a leader. It was hard missing out on that final last year. We have different people in the room, so there’s a different mindset and a different way that you have to approach practicing.”
Morgan, who placed sixth at 132 in Class 2A last season, got to the title mat by getting a fall in 1:29 in his opener, recording a pin in 0:52 over Peotone’s Santino Izzi in the quarterfinals and then capturing a 7-2 victory over Marist’s Donavon Allen in the semifinals.
Allen claimed third place by injury default over Larkin in a matchup of state qualifiers from a year ago. Reavis’ Vladamir Vasquez took fifth place after recording a fall in 5:24 over Wheaton North’s Ryan Rosch.
138 – Nasir Bailey, Rich Township
After making history by joining brothers Sincere and Bilal as Class 2A champions in 2020 for Thornton Fractional North, claiming a state title in Texas in 2021 and then completing a 41-0 season with a Class 3A title at 132 last season at Rich Township, Nasir Bailey intends to continue his domination as one of the nation’s best.
The Rich Township senior was indeed dominant in his first four matches at the Classic, opening with falls of 1:41 and 1:11 before needing just 36 seconds to get a pin over Noble/Comer’s Malik Wynn in the quarterfinals and then went 1:18 to win by fall over Wheaton North’s Sam Lemp in the semifinals before getting a tighter battle than most expected in the 138 finals from Marist’s William Denny, who cut a 7-1 deficit to 7-5 in the final period before Bailey won 8-5 to become one of the tournament’s three repeat champions.
“I think the main focus right now is getting the fourth state title,” Bailey said. “I just continue to try to hunt people down. I think that that was actually a great match to get ready for the Ironman next week. I knew going into it that it was going to be a battle and I’ll see him again this year. Me and my coach (Mark) Duda we’re working. When everyone else is sleeping, we’re working. When all of the doors are closed and no one is looking, we’re doing work.”
Denny, who fell one win shy of a state medal a year ago, also opened with two quick falls, with the first in 1:05 and the second in 24 seconds in the quarterfinals over Normal Community’s Jayden Campbell. He became one of the RedHawks’ 10 individuals to advance to the title mat after posting an 11-2 major decision over Belleville East’s Warren Zeisset in the semifinals.
Zeisset claimed third place with a fall in 3:09 over Lemp while in the fifth-place match, Wheaton North’s Donovan Avila captured a 5-1 victory over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jaylen Augustave.
145 – Jaydon Robinson, Homewood-Flossmoor
Jaydon Robinson followed in the footsteps of his friends Deion Johnson and Nasir Bailey to become repeat champions in the Classic and joined his brother Vincent as a title winner as the Homewood-Flossmoor junior used a fall, a win by technical fall and three-straight major decisions to capture top honors at 145.
Robinson, who placed third at 145 last season in Class 3A, followed a fall in 2:27 with a win by technical fall before capturing a 23-10 win over Wheaton North’s JD Jones in the quarterfinals and reached the title mat with an 11-2 major decision over Lincoln-Way Central’s Kristian Meloy in the semifinals before winning 19-8 over Marist’s Jesse Herrera for the championship.
“Basically it was almost like my first time coming back on the mat because of an injury,” Robinson said. “So when I got back on the mat, I felt good. You always go forward in a match because once you get tired, you get into a second gear and you feel like you can’t stop. I thank my dad for coaching me through everything and I’m thankful for NC State (North Carolina State), that’s how I got better.”
Herrera, a state qualifier last year, followed a first-period fall with a win by technical fall over Kenwood Academy’s James Odulaja in the quarterfinals before joining nine of his RedHawks on the title mat after capturing a 12-4 major decision over Peotone’s ian Kreske in the semifinals.
Meloy defeated Kreske 4-0 to claim third place and in the fifth-place match, Belleville East’s Braden Kelly recorded a fall in 1:40 over Deerfield’s Charlie Cross.
152 – Marco Spinazzola, Peotone
All competitors who reach the title match at a major tournament would like to get the chance to earn their championship as opposed to receiving it by default, so that’s why Marco Spinazzola was a bit disappointed since that’s just what happened to him in the 152 finals.
But the Peotone senior, who placed sixth at 138 in Class 1A last season, can take pride that he was the lone Class 1A competitor to reach the title mat at the Classic after opening with falls of 0:28 and 3:16 before winning by technical fall over Deerfield’s Will Holtz in the quarterfinals and capturing an 8-1 semifinals victory over Marist’s Eamonn Boyle before winning the title by injury default when West Chicago’s Nolan Allen was unable to make a go of it in the finals.
“I’ve been just doing a lot of offseason stuff, so hopefully that’s been paying off,” Spinazzola said. “Last year, I cut way too much weight, so I couldn’t be healthy and wrestle at the weight I wanted. Now I feel better and a little more comfortable and I’m more healthy so I feel like this year could be a big difference. Instead of just practicing, I’ve been working on lifting and doing extra reps to get my muscle endurance up and things like the physical aspect, like conditioning better.”
Allen, who was trying to win his second straight title after claiming top honors at Barrington’s Moore-Prettyman Invite last weekend, opened with a fall in 3:18 and then won by technical fall in the quarterfinals over Morton’s Clay McKee before being involved in a long semifinals match against Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jermaine Butler that featured several delays which resulted in a 6-1 win for Allen, but the Wildcats senior was unable to compete in the finals match.
Butler, who was a runner-up to Nasir Bailey in the inaugural Classic last season, bounced back from the rugged semifinals loss to Allen by recording a fall in 3:40 over Boyle to claim third place. Lincoln-Way Central’s Caden Harvey got a pin in 1:28 over St. Rita’s Nolan Kennan to capture fifth place.
160 – Ricky Ericksen, Marist
Ricky Ericksen definitely got the ball rolling for Marist in the semifinals of the McLaughlin Classic when his 13-2 major decision over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jon Fulgencio in the 160 semifinals started a wave of six-straight wins in that round and then he kicked off five-consecutive wins on the title mat for the champion RedHawks.
Ericksen, a sophomore who qualified for state a year ago, recorded three-straight first-period falls to start his run toward the 160 title, getting a falls in 1:12 and 0:27 seconds in his first two matches, recording a fall in 1:28 over Phoenix Military Academy’s Jimmy Lua in the quarterfinals and then following his semifinals win, he got a fall in 5:30 over Wheaton North’s Devin Medina.
“I feel that this is definitely our year to win the whole thing and we’re ranked number one for a reason,” Ericksen said. “We had 10 guys in the finals. Last year’s ending was disappointing and no one wanted that since we really felt like we could have won it last year. So this year, we’ve got a fire under us. We all went out there and did our thing and even had some backups here. I came here expecting to do my thing and I feel like I put on a good show. Just the constant disappointment of not getting to where you want to be really drives you to be the best. I need to start believing in myself since I feel like I really lacked confidence last year. I’m feeling great and ready to go.”
Medina, a senior who took second in the Classic a year ago and also qualified for state, won his opener 9-4 before recording a fall in 11 seconds. After getting a pin in 0:45 in the quarterfinals over Noble/Comer’s Larnzell McNeal, Medina earned his spot on the title mat with a fall in 2:00 over Lincoln-Way Central’s Max Becker.
Fulgencio, who was a state qualifier a year ago, claimed third place after recording a fall in 3:24 over Becker while in the fifth-place match, Belleville East’s Terrance Willis captured an 8-4 win over Deerfield’s Grant Goldsmith.
170 – Jacob Liberatore, Marist
Although Jacob Liberatore has dealt with stomach issues throughout his high school career, the Marist senior’s determination to tough it out is admirable and he demonstrated that grit once again on Saturday during the McLaughlin Classic when he claimed top honors at 170.
Liberatore, who was fifth at 170 in Class 3A a year ago, captured five wins to become one of the 10 finalists and five champions for the RedHawks. He recorded three first-period falls, opening with pins of 0:50 and 1:03 before getting one in the quarterfinals in 58 seconds over Peotone’s
Jackson Bergeron. After winning 13-4 over Wheaton North’s Mikey Rosch in the semifinals, he claimed a 7-3 decision over Deerfield’s Aiden Cohen in the title match.
“In my semifinals match, my stomach disease started acting up and I made it through it,” Liberatore said. “I was upset about it and didn’t know if I would win. But I put my mind to it and I was like, ‘I’m just going to go’. It just makes everything worthwhile and I’m just so proud of myself. Lately I’ve been working on taking shots since last year I was not as good on my feet. So my main goal this year is to start taking shots and getting better on my feet.”
Cohen, a senior who took fifth at 170 in Class 2A last season, opened with two falls, the first in 2:49 and the next in 2:54 in the quarterfinals over Northridge Prep’s Michael Kopecky before collecting a 13-2 major decision in the semifinals over Lincoln-Way Central’s Tim Key.
Rosch, a state qualifier a year ago, took third place after recording a fall in 2:48 over Key and in the fifth-place match, Morton’s Tyus Almasy won with a pin in 5:00 over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jeremy Thomas.
182 – Conor Phelan, Marist
After qualifying for the Class 3A finals last season, Conor Phelan feels like he’s ready to accomplish bigger things and the Marist junior hopes that his championship at the McLaughlin Classic coupled with working in the room against quality teammates helps his cause.
The Marist junior opened with a fall on 0:43 and then got a pin in 1:43 in the quarterfinals over Normal Community’s Justin Curtis before winning by technical fall in the semifinals over Lincoln-Way Central’s Evan Welsh. Then he became the third of five-straight RedHawks champions when he won by fall in 3:50 over Wheaton North’s Eli Cook in the 182 title match.
“We definitely achieved our goal of coming out with intensity and a lot of our newer guys were wrestling really well and a lot of us were getting really good matches,” Phelan said. “We’ve been putting in a lot of work this early season and we’ve started off with a bang, and that’s for a good reason. This helps my confidence and getting the flow going by just knowing what you can do knowing where you stand. I feel like everybody that lost or didn’t get their bonus points (at state duals), they’re putting that on themselves and that’s why they’re so excited to get at it this year. I’ve definitely worked on my conditioning and keeping my pace up so that I can keep my initial intensity throughout my whole match, and of course, I polished up on my basics.”
Cook captured five wins, following a major decision and a fall in 52 seconds with a 9-3 decision over Crete-Monee’s Brandon Alexander in the quarterfinals. The Falcons senior earned his spot on the 182 title mat with a 9-4 semifinals victory over Stagg’s Christian Ibarra.
Welsh captured a 6-1 victory over Ibarra to take third place while in the fifth-place match, Morton’s Brody Wolters prevailed with a 4-2 win over Curie’s Austin Briscoe.
195 – Peter Marinopoulos, Marist
It’s not often that a tournament gets a matchup between the top two-ranked individuals in the state’s largest class, but that’s just what unfolded when top-ranked Peter Marinopoulos and second-ranked Dominic Thebeau met for the 195 title at the McLaughlin Classic.
Marist senior Marinopoulos went 39-1 last year and lost 3-1 in the Class 3A finals at 195 to New Trier’s Jack Cummings while Belleville East senior Thebeau claimed third place at 182. Saturday’s title match at 195 lived up to expectations as Marinopoulos got a late takedown to rally for a 4-3 victory. Marinopoulos opened with a fall in 1:26 and then recorded a pin in 1:00 over Providence Catholic’s Keighan Witte in the quarterfinals and in 1:23 in the semifinals over Wheaton North’s Toby Martin.
“All of the guys have been putting a lot of hard work in the room and it’s paying off for us this year,” Marinopoulos said. “We had a tough loss last year at team state, so we just want to come back better than ever. So we’re trying to get back there again this year and get the medals and trophy that we wanted. It was at the buzzer. I could have done a little better in that match, I didn’t do what I wanted and I froze up a little bit, but ended up with the ‘W’. I have a lot of work to do and I’m going to watch this match and then see what I need to do in the room to improve. I’m trying to put in as much hard work as possible and coach helps me a lot. I froze up in the state finals and I didn’t perform the way I wanted to so this year, I’m just trying to improve as much as possible on the nerves part of it.”
Thebeau opened with a fall in 1:47 and added another in 1:58 in the quarterfinals over Lincoln-Way Central’s Dominick Danno. He advanced with a 3-0 decision over Joliet Central’s Charles Walker in the semifinals to become the lone Lancer to reach the title mat.
Walker bounced back his close semifinals loss to record a fall in 3:16 over Martin in the third-place match. Phoenix Military Academy’s Kaleb Abney claimed fifth place after getting a pin in 1:45 over Kenwood Academy’s Adonis Freeman.
220 – Luke Liberatore, Marist
Luke Liberatore kept the good times rolling for Marist when he capped a run of five-straight wins on the title mat after capturing a 7-4 decision over Normal Community’s Cooper Caraway in the 220 finals at the McLaughlin Classic.
The RedHawks senior had falls of 34 and 37 seconds in his first two matches, with the latter coming in the quarterfinals over Shepard’s Jacob Muhammad. Liberatore got a fall in 2:43 over Romeoville’s Johnathan Espinoza-Luna in the semifinals to earn his spot on the title mat.
“I know that we’re ranked number one, but we’re still level-headed,” Liberatore said. “Going into this, we just wanted to get some matches in for everyone and just let it fly and do what we can. Right now we’re still kind of working on all of the kinks and with some of our performances but we are still doing tremendous things, like you saw, and we’re all super happy about. We didn’t like how things ended last year and it was unfortunate. That kind of lit a fire under us so this year we want to be the best that we can be and not let that happen to us again. I’ve worked more on my hand fighting and my neutral, just to try to elevate myself to a higher level.”
Caraway, a junior who was the Ironmen’s lone state qualifier last season, opened his tournament with a major decision before recording a fall in 25 seconds over Phoenix Military Academy’s Christopher Tillman in the quarterfinals and then won by fall in 0:27 in the semifinals over Peotone’s Alex Cardenas.
In the third-place match, Espinoza-Luna pulled out a 3-2 decision over Cardenas. Niles West’s Braeden Manogura claimed fifth place with a fall in 1:55 over Northridge Prep’s Nathan Betancourt.
285 – Zion Crawford, Normal Community
In a tournament filled with prominent competitors and high rankings, Zion Crawford was kind of an unknown in what looked to be a wide-open field in the 285 bracket.
But the Normal Community senior definitely made a name for himself by combining two first-minute falls with a pair of decisions to cap the competition by giving his team their third championship. Following a pin in 0:31, he won 2-0 in the quarterfinals over Rich Township’s Dylaan Richmond and then won a 6-1 decision in the semifinals over West Chicago’s Alex Correa before capping things with a pin in 0:57 over Marist’s Dontay Fort on the title mat.
“I want to thank my coaches because they trained me for this, they got me prepared,” Crawford said. “Also, I’d like to thank my teammates because they helped me out through all of this. This is the toughest one, so I’m happy. The things that I’ve worked on are just the basics and I’ve just improved working with my friends.”
Fort, a junior who was one of 10 Marist competitors who advanced to the title match, won his first three matches with first-period falls, defeating Romeoville’s Tony Galloway in 1:32 in the quarterfinals and Lincoln-Way Central’s Colin Welsh in 14 seconds the semifinals before seeing his run come to conclusion following a first-period fall.
Correra captured third place with a fall in 0:56 over Welsh while in the fifth-place match, Providence Catholic freshman Dom Infelise turned in his team’s best showing when he pulled out a 4-2 decision over St. Rita’s Teddy Aguilera.