Marist takes McLaughlin crown

By Patrick Z. McGavin for the IWCOA

Will Denny is not quite where he wants to be. The top-ranked wrestler in Class 3A at 150 pounds is still rounding into prime shape.

After finishing fourth at the state tournament last year, he is ready for an encore. “It was an awesome experience even though in the end it was not what I wanted,” Denny said. 

“In the long run, it set a fuel under my fire.”

His higher aspirations underscored the Redhawks’ superb collective performance Saturday at the McLaughlin Classic at Joliet Central.

Wrestling at 157 pounds, Denny earned the most outstanding wrestler award in the upper weights, powering the repeat championship by Marist.

“It’s awesome, and definitely an accomplishment,” he said. “My coaches told me to have fun this week, and that’s what I did. It’s truly a blessing to be awarded that. We have a great group of guys, and I love being teammates with them.”

Marist had an unbeatable combination of high-end talent and depth for the 27-team field.

The Redhawks had a tournament-best six finalists and eleven top-five finishes in finishing with 269.5 points. Lincoln-Way Central was runner-up at 217.5 points, followed by Normal (203.5) and Deerfield (173).

Denny and Conor Phelan (190 pounds) won championships for the Redhawks, who had had four runner-up finishes, two thirds, a fourth, and a fifth.

Nine schools divided the 14 championships, with Normal and Deerfield each finishing with three top finishers. Lincoln-Way Central, Joliet Central, Providence, Peotone, Morton (Ill.) and Romeoville had one championship apiece. 

McLaughlin Classic championship match breakdowns:

106 – Jackson Soney, Normal Community

Every wrestler has their own inimitable style. Jackson Soney has his own nomenclature.

“I call it the cow-catcher, where you just put your arm under him, and run it,” the Normal Community freshman said.

Soney overwhelmed Lincoln-Way Central freshman Eric Hoselton with the second period fall in the championship match, and improve his season record to 10-0.

“I was just getting out there and staying aggressive, and just being calm in the stressful moment, and just making sure I know in my head that I trained hard for this tournament,” Soney said.

Soney created the early advantage with two takedowns in the first period. Hoselton responded with some aggressive actions of his own at the start of the second period. Twice he got deep with a single-leg, but Soney maneuvered out of danger.

“I just tried to stay calm, and focus on where he was weak positionally,” Soney said. “I could defend those single legs, and get him back down.” 

Soney authored one of the most dominant runs by ostensibly crushing the field.

His day started with a 0:19 fall, and took off from there. After another fall in under a minute during the quarterfinals he dominated Marist’s Elio Gil with an 11-1 major in the semifinals.

Until he encountered the buzzsaw that was Soney, Hoselton (6-1) swept through the lower bracket, posting two falls and a technical fall (15-0) over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Davion Henry in the semifinals.

Henry topped Gil for third via 5-4 ultimate tie-breaker, and Wheaton North’s Rocco Macellaio posted a second-period fall of Stagg’s Javier Corral for fifth place.

113 – Caden Correll, Normal Community

Caden Correll had plenty of visual evidence to support his most outstanding wrestler honor. He also had the quick, sure, and dominant manner to back it up.

“I always want to be aggressive, and get that first takedown,” he said. “Put as many points on the board, and you’re going to win.”

The Normal sophomore blitzed Harrison Dea of Morton by first-period fall for the championship.

Correll finished fifth at 106 pounds in Class 3A last season. Dea finished fifth at the same weight in Class 2A.

Correll engineered an early five-point maneuver with a takedown and back points, and never looked back.

“He had an under hook, and I felt his pressure,” Correll said. “I trust myself to throw it, and hit it, and that’s what I did. I went for it, and got it.”

Correll (9-0) showed imposing technique, flexibility and skill in demolishing the field to earn the most outstanding wrestler award in the lower weights.

His victory over Dea marked the culmination of an effective and highly-efficient day, posting three falls and a technical fall.

After his 18-3 technical fall over St. Rita’s Jack Hogan in the quarterfinals, he overpowered Stagg’s Jaime Corral with a first period fall.

Despite suffering a quick loss by fall in the final, the sophomore Dea (4-1) marked himself  as a wrestler to watch in central Illinois. He posted a fall, a major decision and a third-period fall over Kennedy’s Victor Alvarado in the semifinals to reach the finals.

Alvarado won by injury default over Corral for third place, and Hogan defeated Homewood-Flossmoor’s Diondre Henry 10-7 for fifth.

120 – Brian Farley, Romeoville

Few wrestlers had such a direct and visceral form of payback staring them down like Romeoville senior Brian Farley.

“The memory of losing against him last year in the semifinals just motivated me, and pushed me,” Farley said. “I’ve been winning this whole year so far, and today it led me to this moment, and I was ready.”

Farley captured the title with the 7-2 victory over previously undefeated Cole Gentsch of Normal, securing crucial early points with a takedown in the closing moments of the first period.

His second-period reversal and subsequent takedown pulled the momentum decisively in his favor.

“I worked on my legs this year, and just being mentally tough,” Farley said. “I just wanted to keep going, and keep the momentum. My style is to try and control the match.” 

Farley broke the early run of top-seeded wrestlers capturing the championship.

He emerged from the lower bracket with a convincing technical fall and an electric 3-0 victory over Marist’s Tommy Fidler in the semifinals.

Before suffering his first loss, Gentsch (7-1) posted two first-period falls and a major decision over Stagg’s Anas Ahmed in the semifinals.

Fidler captured a 10-0 major over Ahmed in the third-place match, and Plainfield East’s Aiden Villar defeated Deerfield’s Adrian Cohen by 8-2 decision for fifth place.

126 – Tommy Banas, Providence Catholic

Tommy Banas had his own internal clock.

He knew the moment was pressing, and time was slipping away.

“I knew I was down by one, and I had to get this takedown as soon as possible,” he said. “If I lose, I’m going to regret it, and if I win, I’m going to be happy.”

Banas stunned Marist’s George Marinopoulos with a takedown with 19 seconds remaining for a 2-1 championship victory. 

“He opened up and I had the high-crotch, and I was able to finish it,” Banas said. 

The match was a dazzling blend of matching style, technique and strategy. The first period ended without any scoring, and Marinopoulos successfully rode Banas the entire second period.

Marinopoulos appeared to gain the upper hand with the escape at the 4:30 mark. But Banas had one final action.

In improving to 12-0, Banas showed his mettle, balance, toughness and skill on his feet; moving through the lower bracket he encountered little resistance, registering three impressive falls.

His second-period fall of Homewood-Flossmoor’s Robye Williams in the semifinals paved his championship path.

Marinopoulos was equally dominant at the top of the bracket, running roughshod over the field with a technical fall (22-6) and two quick falls during his subsequent rounds.

He defeated Caleb Lenning of Morton with a devastating quick fall at 1:15 in the semifinals.

Lenning captured the third-place match by injury default over Williams. Joliet Central’s Aleck Allende posted a third-period fall of Normal’s Ethan Cavallo in the fifth-place bout.

132 – Luke Reddy, Deerfield

With two excellent wrestlers in constant motion, circling and looking for any advantage, Luke Reddy made his move.

His first period takedown paved the way for the scintillating 3-1 victory over Marist’s Michael Esteban for the championship victory.

His takedown happened at the 1:17 mark and Reddy added a second-period escape in creating further separation.

Reddy improved his record to 10-1 with his superb blend of quickness, speed, skill and grace.

He dominated the lower bracket with two falls and a major decision. His second period fall of St. Rita’s Nino Protti was the ideal prelude to his performance in the championship match.

Esteban was a whirling dervish through the top of the bracket, annihilating the field with his smooth, fluid style and sharp technique.

He ran the gamut through his preliminaries with a technical fall, two falls, and an 11-6 decision over Lincoln-Way Central’s Jadon Zimmer in the semifinals.

Protti edged Zimmer 9-5 in the third-place match. Providence’s Justus Snapp posted the third- period fall of Wheaton North’s David Hyde for fifth place.

138 – Jordan Rasof, Deerfield

Deerfield’s Jordan Rasof imagined his victory, and then applied his own reasoning.

“I went into these matches with the right mindset, and I put the work in, and I knew there was no way the guys next to me were going to beat me,” he said.

Rasof utilized a fast start for an impressive 10-1 major decision over Braden Kelly of Belleville East for the championship. His first period takedown and back points for the 5-0 advantage created the ideal template.

“I like to keep a relentless pace, and just keep the guy guessing,” he said. “I like to break guys, and never give them a chance to breathe.”

Rasof finished sixth at 126 in Class 2A last season.

Rasof (8-2) had an intriguing run to the championship, blitzing his first two opponents by technical fall and making very quick work of his quarterfinal opponent, winning by fall at 0:35.

Marist sophomore Ethan Sonne provided the most significant resistance during a fantastic back-and-forth semifinal that ended narrowly in Rasof’s favor at 10-9.

Kelly used an impressive 8-1 decision over higher-seeded Ethan Harvey of Lincoln-Way Central as a catalyst for his championship match run. His second-period fall of Normal’s Carter Mayes clinched his slot against Rasof in the title match.

Mayes captured third place with – second period fall of Sonne. In the fifth-place match, St. Rita’s Enzo Canali defeated Harvey 4-1.

144 – Mark Martinez, Deerfield

Mark Martinez created his own state of mind.

“I really tried to stay aggressive, take my shots, and I wanted to set the tone and wrestle my match, and not let them take it to me,” he said. 

He registered two takedowns in each of the first two periods, and parlayed it into a commanding 16-3 major over Ameer Alamawi of Lincoln-Way Central for the championship.

Martinez (8-1) made a commanding assertion as the most dominant wrestler of the invitational.

He posted three first period falls in reaching the championship match. He needed, respectively, just 1:20, 1:47 and 1:39, of wrestling time to knock out the opposition.

His first-period fall of Brian Ingram of Homewood-Flossmoor in the semifinals propelled him into the championship round.

Alami (6-1) was equally impressive, stunning top-seed Micha Spinazzola of Peotone with a second-period fall during the semifinals of the top bracket. Alami also posted a first-period fall, and a decisive 7-1 victory over Belleville East’s Dewayne Taylor in the quarterfinals.

Spinazzola rebounded from his first loss for a second-period fall of Ingram in the third-place match. Marist’s Matthew Cornfield earned a first period fall over Joliet Central’s Jorge Robles on the fifth-place mat.

150 – Steven Marvin, Morton

Talk about a reversal of fortune.

Life changes quickly in the sport, a point of emphasis for Morton’s Steven Marvin.

Trailing for a solid portion of his championship match against Jalen Byrd of Lincoln-Way Central, Marvin pulled out a remarkable comeback with a late fall at 5:54.

It was the kind of classic back-and-forth where every action appeared linked to an equally opposite reaction.

A Byrd takedown in the first period was matched by a Marvin reversal. Byrd appeared to get the upper hand with a second period reversal.

Byrd took the 4-2 lead into the final period, where he began on top, and Marvin made his move with just over a minute remaining for a match-tying reversal.

He was not satisfied. With Byrd trying to escape, Marvin began to turn him. Byrd tried to get out by switching positions but Marvin caught him on his back for the stunning final action. 

Marvin finished in the top eight last season in Class 2A, one match away from a state medal. 

Marvin (4-0) emerged from the lower bracket, revealing a versatile and skilled style that flummoxed his opposition. He posted two falls, and a 9-2 decision over Ryan Rosch of Wheaton North during the quarterfinals.

He foreshadowed his championship match with a second-period fall of previously-undefeated Jayden Campbell of Normal in the semifinals.

Byrd (6-1) was virtually untouchable leading up to the final moments of the championship match. He posted two falls and a 16-0 technical fall over Nolan Keegan of St. Rita in the semifinals of the top bracket. 

Campbell responded to his semifinal defeat with a first-period fall of Keenan for third place. Rosch won by technical fall (21-5) over Marian Catholic’s Jonah Greenwood for fifth place.

157 – Will Denny, Marist

Will Denny was electric on his feet, and overpowering at close contact.

His three first period takedowns created an unstoppable momentum in a 23-8 technical fall win over Plainfield East’s Niko Duggan in the championship.

Denny kept cutting Duggan to continue attacking on his feet.

“I like to be under control, and make it my match and not worry about what other people are doing,” Denny said.

The technical fall in the championship provided the perfect symmetry for Denny, underscoring his credentials for the most outstanding wrestler in the upper weights.

Denny (4-0) had two falls and two technical falls, creating the perfect bookend to his breathtaking performance.

He posted two quick falls in the preliminaries, leading up to his 23-8 technical fall win over Providence Catholic’s Geno Papes in their semifinal match.

Despite his championship loss, Duggan (8-1) showed considerable promise of his own, posting two lightning-fast pins in under a minute in qualifying for the semifinals of the lower bracket.

He dispatched Caden Harvey of Lincoln-Way Central with the 10-2 major decision.

Papes edged Harvey 7-5 in the third-place match. In the fifth-place match, Belleville East’s Killian Rauch defeated Bishop McNamara’s Tristin Golden by medical forfeit.

165 – Ian Kreske, Peotone

Even if his football season ended with a second-round loss against eventual state champion Byron, Peotone’s Ian Kreske earned special value.

“I played linebacker and tight end, and we were a big running team,” he said. “I felt like that helped a lot. You saw that today. With my conditioning, and just staying on them constantly, I was really able to push the pace.”

Kreske outlasted Marist’s Kevin Tompkins 7-3 to capture the championship, gaining early momentum with a first-period takedown. 

Kreske (4-0) smashed through the upper bracket with some sharp and telling performances. After opening the preliminary action with a fall and technical fall, he edged Jerry Nono of Plainfield East 8-5 in the semifinals.

In the lower bracket, Tompkins (3-1) fought through a tough quarterfinal against Kristian Meloy of Lincoln-Way East. His 5-3 decision propelled him to the semifinals against Malakai Scott of Crete-Monee.

Tompkins swept into the final by dint of a 13-0 major over Scott.

Nino posted a second-period fall of Scott in the third-place match. Wheaton North’s Julian Flores captured a 7-4 decision over Lincoln-Way Central’s Kristian Meloy for fifth place. 

175 – Tim Key, Lincoln-Way Central

It was a victory with a bit of an asterisk, when Lincoln-Way Central’s Tim Key won by injury default on the title mat against Marist’s Ricky Ericksen.

Ericksen used a takedown and near-fall points to lead 7-0 at the end of the first period, but even amid the positive moments the warning signs emerged.

Ericksen had to be medically evaluated at the end of the period, and twice during the second period. He was up 7-3 when the match was called with 3:23.

Key (6-1) had a difficult path to the championship navigating the lower bracket. After two convincing victories with a major decision and first-period fall, he won 4-3 against Romeoville’s Mason Gougis in the semifinals.

Ericksen (3-1) breezed through the top bracket with his sharp and telling command of form, style and punishing strength. He began with an 18-3 technical fall, and never slowed down, registering a quick quarterfinal fall before beating Providence’s Michael O’Connor by fall in their semifinal.

Gougis captured a major decision over O’Connor for third place. In the fifth-place match, Wheaton North’s Jammey Waters posted a second-period fall against Morton’s Tyus Almasy.

190 – Connor Phelan, Marist

The toughest choice of the coaches and the tournament directors was undoubtedly the outstanding wrestler in the upper weights.

If Denny was a memorable and just choice, his teammate Conor Phelan had his own telling arguments.

Phelan (5-0) rampaged through the field with five falls, and only one of those matches lasting into the second period. Phelan finished third at 182 pounds in Class 3A last season.

He won the championship with a fall at 1:47 of Wheaton North’s Milo Saenz Palencia that was a master class in strength, power, and force.

Five matches, five falls, and it was lights out for the competition.

Until he ran into the buzzsaw that was Phelan in the championship round, Saenz Palencia was terrific in his own right, posting three falls and a major decision in blasting through the lower bracket.

His late third-period fall of Shepard’s Yazen Ashkar in the semifinals set up his match against Phelan.

In the third-place match, Aiden Hennings of Lincoln-Way Central registered a first-period fall of Ashkar. Morton’s Brennan Bjorling edged Belleville East’s Cedric King 2-1 for fifth place.

215 – Charles Walker, Joliet Central

Just call the hometown hero the perfect ten.

Charles Walker made sure the home fans had something profound to cheer about. Walker posted a 15-2 major decision over Deerfield’s Max Drumke to win the Steelmen’s lone individual title.

“This means a lot to me,” Walker said. “I’m not sure my team expected this, but I did.”

After a scoreless first period, Walker took control with a five-point move off a reversal and back points. He never looked back.

“I chose the down position, and I hit the switch, and I went on top,” he said. “I’m usually an upper-body strength guy, but today I really focused on my shots and quickness.”

Walker finished in the top eight in Class 3A last season, one match away from a state medal.

Walker (10-0) annihilated the top half of the bracket with three falls in reaching the final. After dispatching his quarterfinal opponent in under a minute, he needed just 1:24 to win by fall against Romeoville’s Mohamad Almadani.

Drumke (9-2) was also commanding and dynamic coming out of the lower bracket. He had three falls through the early series, the most significant his second-period fall of Marist’s Tommy O’Brien in the semifinals.

In the third-place match, O’Brien posted a first-period fall of Almadani. Wheaton North’s Zeke Psenicka posted the 12-5 decision over St. Rita’s Pat Conneely on the fifth-place mat.

285 – Cooper Caraway, Normal Community

Cooper Caraway was in a slightly surreal place: down in a title match after Stagg’s Terrell Williams secured an opening takedown.

“Honestly, it was a wake up call, but we practice every single day and I was able to get back into my stuff,” Caraway said.

Caraway recovered and quickly took control, with a reversal and takedown he converted into a fall at 0:59 in the championship match.

After helping the football team to a 12-1 run to the Class 7A semifinals, Caraway is already in mid-season form. “I’m still knocking some of the rust off,” he said. “Football was fun, and we went as far as we could.”

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