Minooka captures title at OPRF Invitational

By Curt Herron

After claiming top honors in the initial Southwest Prairie Conference Tournament for girls one week earlier, Minooka was focused on heading into the postseason with a similar strong showing at the Oak Park and River Forest Invitational.

And thanks to two titles, five second-place finishes, five thirds and three fourths, the Indians head into the Geneseo Sectional on February 10 feeling good about their chances of putting together another strong tournament performance after scoring 244 points, giving them a 39-point advantage over runner-up Andrew, which features athletes from the three District 230 schools, Carl Sandburg, Stagg and Andrew, who finished with 205 points.

J. Sterling Morton (174), Glenbard West (141), Grant (115), Huntley (111.5), Homewood-Flossmoor (104), West Aurora (93), Maine East (91), Unity (90), Oak Park and River Forest (88) and Evanston (85) rounded out the top-12 finishers in the 29-team competition. 

Coach Paige Schoolman’s champion Indians were led by title winners Sophia Rausa (126-130) and Lanie Cecala (144-153) and runners-up Sabina Charlebois (114-122), Kira Cailteaux (118-126), Hayla Hammer (135-141), Kourtni Rogers (143-145) and Sidney Ray (156-170). 

Taking third place for Minooka were Delaini Majetic (134-139), Bella Cyrkiel (140-150), Abbey Boersma (151-158), Jaiden Moody (162-171) and Peyton Kueltzo (189-204) while Brooklyn Doti (109-115), Eva Beck (124-134) and Alyson Nguyen (219-292) claimed fourth. Lexi Lakota (126-136) took fifth, Jocelyn Costilla (104-114) was seventh and Mia Lemburg (179-187) finished eighth.

Schoolman and assistant Jeff Charlebois coached under 2009  IWCOA Hall of Fame Inductee Bernie Ruettiger, who took eight Minooka teams to the IHSA dual team finals, with the highlight being a Class 3A title in 2010 and second-place finishes in 2009 and 2011. Schoolman and Charlebois also led the Indians to state dual team finals appearances while they were the head coach of the program.

“Last year we had 16 girls and took second at the sectionals,” Schoolman said. “And those 16 girls did a heckuva job recruiting and finding other athletes and we started off with about 42 and probably have about 35  around, so we’re excited. We’ve got a lot of sisters of guys or dads who’ve wrestled. And Jeff Charlebois was a huge part of the staffs when made the runs, and his daughter is here and he has come and done a great job. And we also have Jon Calder and Joey Cecala. These girls are lucky to have these guys in the room and helping and a lot of these teams have just one person coaching.

“Kudos to the school district and the administration for giving us enough space to let our girls practice by ourselves and given us the resources of coaches and that’s huge. And the girls have bought in. A ton of these girls just started putting their shoes on in November, they had never even wrestled before. It’s so fun to see them start from scratch. Andrew has been beating everybody in everything all year, so to come in here and beat them by about 40 points is exciting. It’s good for the girls to show that their work is paying off.

“My big preach (before the year) was that if you had never wrestled, we could start you now and by February if you’re an athlete and you’re competitive and you want to listen and be coached, you can be at the state tournament, and there’s nothing else where you could do that. In a four-month span, you can’t take somebody who is a beginner and have them possibly pushing for state medals. If school districts do it right and give enough space and coaches, the girls want to compete. More districts need to jump on board and we’re going to buy in and let their coaches do what they do and coach to do it.”

Top performers for coach Demeri Pajic’s runner-up District 230 team were champions Nola Oben (143-145) and Emma Akpan (165-177) and second-place finisher Lana Shuaibi (126-130) while Lauren Garcia (104-114), Sophia Figueroa (109-115), Sophia Fontana (122-128), Saja Badar (126-136) and Janae Vargas (156-170) took third and Katherine Cygan (114-122), Emily Nieto (115-122), Hala Salem (118-126) and McKenna Patton (151-158) finished fourth. 

The tournament, which was held for the fifth time, has grown from 25 athletes on five teams to 190 individuals representing 29 schools and the interest in it was so great it could have featured even more teams, but OPRF officials turned away some prospective squads.

Twenty-five different weight brackets with as many as eight individuals in them were contested with 16 different schools having champions. Grant and Homewood-Flossmoor each had three title winners while District 230, Glenbard West, Minooka, Unity and West Aurora had two apiece.

Champions for Grant were Snow Khi (104-114), Ayane Jasinski (109-115) and Joanna Szelag (118-126) while Homewood-Flossmoor received first-place finishes from Nina Hamm (110-116), Alima Toheeb-Lawal (140-150) and Ini Odumosu (179-187).

Capturing titles for Glenbard West were Alycia Perez (93-101) and Khatija Ahmed (122-128), finishing first for Unity were Ava Vasey (134-139) and Lexi Ritchie (151-158) and taking top honors for West Aurora were Ionicca Rivera (162-171) and Brittney Moran (189-204).

Other Oak Park and River Forest Invite title winners were Loyola Academy’s Harlee Hiller (103-108), Glenbard North’s Gabriella Gomez (114-122), Westosha Central, WI’s Margaret Gillmore (115-122), Warren Township’s Justyce Sieber (124-134), Downers Grove South’s Allison Garcia (126-136), Niles West’s Al Ghala Mariam Al Radi (135-141), Crystal Lake Central’s Mailei Hudec (156-170), Oak Park and River Forest’s Sarah Epshtein (207-225) and Maine West’s Eliana Garrett (219-292).

There was a 13-way tie for most team points with 26 between Ahmed, Akpan, Al Radi, Garcia, Hamm, Hiller, Khi, Moran, Oben, Perez, Ritchie, Toheeb-Lawal and Vasey while Gillmore and Gomez each scored 25.5 points and Szelag collected 25 team points.

Others who finished in second place were Glenbard West’s Valentina Fantoni (110-116) and Sydney Nimsakont (115-122), Morton’s Leilany De Leon (124-134) and Vivian Varela (189-204), Grant’s Annabelle Melton (126-136) and Yaxaira Russildi (165-177), Unity’s Anna Vasey (140-150) and Phoenix Molina (207-225) and Larkin’s Maria Ferrer (151-158) and A’Ja Young (219-292). 

Also claiming second place were Montini Catholic’s Kat Bell (93-101), Glenbard North’s Nadia Shymkiv (103-108), Evanston’s Ariana Flores (104-114), Huntley’s Taylor Casey (109-115), Maine East’s Deepjwal Rai (122-128), Downers Grove South’s Camila Quiroz (134-139), Oak Park and River Forest’s Megan Barajas (144-153), Homewood-Flossmoor’s Basirat Sodiq (162-171) and Crystal Lake Central’s Denver Gier (179-187).

While 19 of the title matches or deciding matchups of round-robin competition were determined by falls and another was decided by a major decision, there were five dramatic finals. In the closest title matches, Cecala edged Barajas 3-2 by ultimate tiebreaker at 144-153, Sieber won 4-2 by sudden victory over De Leon at 124-134, Rausa got past Shuaibi 1-0 at 126-130, Rivera beat Sodiq 3-2 at 162-171 and Hudec won 2-0 over Ray at 156-170.

Oak Park and River Forest Invitational championship matches

93-101 – Alycia Perez (Glenbard West) F 1:31 Kat Bell (Montini Catholic)

103-108 – Harlee Hiller (Loyola Academy) F 1:52 Nadia Shymkiv (Glenbard North)

104-114 – Snow Khi (Grant) F 2:50 Ariana Flores (Evanston)

109-115 – Ayane Jasinski (Grant) F 3:54 Taylor Casey (Huntley)

110-116 – Nina Hamm (Homewood-Flossmoor) F 3:37 Valentina Fantoni (Glenbard West)

114-122 – Gabriella Gomez (Glenbard North) F 1:34 Sabina Charlebois (Minooka)

115-122 – Margaret Gillmore (Westosha Central, WI) F 3:14 Sydney Nimsakont (Glenbard West)

118 – 126 – Joanna Szelag (Grant) MD 12-4 Kira Cailteaux (Minooka)

122-128 – Khatija Ahmed (Glenbard West) F 0:53 Deepjwal Rai (Maine East)

124-134 – Justyce Sieber (Warren Township) SV 4-2 Leilany De Leon (Morton)

126-130 – Sophia Rausa (Minooka) D 1-0 Lana Shuaibi (District 230)

126-136 – Allison Garcia (Downers Grove South) F 0:48 Annabelle Melton (Grant)

134-139 – Ava Vasey (Unity) F 2:36 Camila Quiroz (Downers Grove South)

135-141 – Al Ghala Mariam Al Radi (Niles West) F 2:36 Hayla Hammer (Minooka)

140-150 – Alimatu Toheeb-Lawal (Homewood-Flossmoor) F 1:57 Anna Vasey (Unity)

143-145 – Nola Oben (District 230) F 0:45 Kourtni Rogers (Minooka)

144-153 – Lanie Cecala (Minooka) UTB 3-2 Megan Barajas (Oak Park and River Forest)

151-158 – Lexie Ritchie (Unity) F 3:07 Maria Ferrer (Larkin)

156-170 – Mailei Hudec (Crystal Lake Central) D 2-0 Sidney Ray (Minooka)

162-171 – Ionicca Rivera (West Aurora) D 3-2 Basirat Sodiq (Homewood-Flossmoor)

165-177 – Emma Akpan (District 230) F 4:10 Yaxaira Russildi (Grant)

179-187 – Ini Odumosu (Homewood-Flossmoor) F 3:51 Denver Gier (Crystal Lake Central)

189-204 – Brittney Moran (West Aurora) F 0:45 Vivian Varela (Morton)

207-225 – Sarah Epshtein (Oak Park and River Forest) F 4:43 Phoenix Molina (Unity) – RR

219-292 – Eliana Garrett (Maine West) F 1:39 A’Ja Young (Larkin) – Round Robin/RR

Here’s a look at the Oak Park and River Forest champions and their weight classes:

93-101 – Alycia Perez, Glenbard West

Alycia Perez made it 4-for-4 in tournament finals this season when she claimed top honors at 93-101 with a fall in 1:31 over Montini Catholic’s Kat Bell, her third fall of the day, to become one of two title winners for the Hilltoppers. Ranked fourth at 100, the junior who only started wrestling last season, followed up on a West Suburban Conference title and took firsts at Larkin and Hoffman Estates. Bell, ranked eighth at 100, fell a win shy of a medal at 100 last year.

“I am really happy with how I’m doing,” Perez said. “Mainly, it’s the coaches, they’ve been really helping me since I haven’t been wrestling that long. It’s really exciting because I didn’t think that I would be here. I did sports when I was younger, but this is the only sport that I do now.”

In the third-place match, Morton’s Paris Flores claimed a 5-3 decision over Wheaton Warrenville South’s Ainsley Hughes. And District 230’s Layan Saleh took fifth place with a fall in 1:24 over teammate Justina Nieves.

103-108 – Harlee Hiller, Loyola Academy

Although Harlee Hiller hasn’t had the opportunity to be in many tournaments since she has to compete and practice with the boys team, she certainly knows what she needs to do when the postseason begins next weekend. The Loyola Academy sophomore, who’s top-ranked at 110 and took third at 105 in the first IHSA finals, added to an earlier title at Maine East with a fall in 1:52, her third of the day, in the 103-108 finals over Glenbard North freshman Nadia Shymkiv, who’s ranked fourth at 105 and had won titles at Larkin, Ottawa and Batavia. 

“I am very excited and I’ve had a lot of fun,” Hiller said. “This is my first girls tournament in a little bit, I’ve been wrestling boys for awhile, so it was good to get these matches right before sectionals. Usually I wrestle against James Hemmila or Gavin Pardilla. I’ve only done three tournaments and everything else has been all boys. I think that this is really fun and it’s cool to see all of these girls here, I was surprised to see how many girls are here. I started wrestling freshman year and have done judo for all of my life.”

Morton’s Hope Donnamario won by forfeit over Huntley’s Janiah Slaughter to finish third while Naperville Central’s Annika Hull took fifth with a fall in 5:32 over Maine East’s Elianna Badeen. 

104-114 – Snow Khi, Grant

Snow Khi hopes to get back to the state finals where she came up one win shy of winning a medal at 105 and the senior looks like she might be able to do just that after being one of three Grant competitors who won titles after taking first at 104-114 with a fall in 2:50 over Evanston’s Arianna Flores, a senior also who was a state qualifier a year ago, to add to an earlier title win at Waukegan. Khi won all three of her matches by fall.

“I actually started in my junior year,” Khi said. “It’s been a lot of hard work. The two girls that I wrestle with, they both beat me every day in practice. I’ve been involved with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I love the team spirit.”

Claiming third place was District 230’s Lauren Garcia, who pinned Huntley’s Valeria Sanchez in 3:02. And Warren Township’s Alyssa Bentley took fifth place with a fall in 2:27 over Morton’s Emma Valenzuela.

109-115 – Ayane Jasinski, Grant

After placing fourth a year ago at 100, Ayane Jasinski is thinking about even bigger things this season as the regular season concludes. The Grant junior, who’s ranked fifth at 110, added to an earlier title win at Palatine by taking first place at 109-115 with a fall in 3:54 over Huntley’s Taylor Casey to help the Lady Bulldogs to be one of two teams that had three title winners, 

taking first along with Snow Khi and Joanna Szelag. Jasinski had two falls and a decision. Casey, who’s also a junior and ranked sixth at 110, also looks for a return trip to state.

“It’s really good to see people that you work with also being successful,” Jasinski said. “This is my third year wrestling. It’s really fun and I’ve always been around it since my brother (Vince) wrestled, and he’s younger than me, so he’s been wrestling since kid’s club. This is really cool.”

For third place, District 230’s Sophia Figueroa won by fall in 4:35 over Minooka’s Brooklyn Doti. And in the fifth-place match, Oak Park and River Forest’s Andrea Munoz got a pin in 0:29 over Morton’s Anahi Banuelos.

110-116 – Nina Hamm, Homewood-Flossmoor 

Nina Hamm won her first tournament title of the season and in the process helped Homewood-Flossmoor to tie Grant for most champions with three, joining teammates Alima Toheeb-Lawal and Ini Odumosu, three-time title winners, on top of the awards stand. And it helps being at a school like H-F, which has some of the best boys wrestlers in the state . A state qualifier a year ago, Hamm, a sophomore, got a forfeit in her opener and a fall in the semifinals before winning by fall in 3:37 over Glenbard West’s Valentina Fantoni in the 110-116 finals.

“We have such a big diversity, so it’s great,” Hamm said. “It’s a really good environment when the boys are doing well. They really help us a lot and cheer us on, and that’s great. This is super fun and I never thought that I would like it this much as a freshman. I only did it because my dad comes from a family of wrestlers and my brother is a wrestler, so I guess I just thought that I would try it.” 

Evanston’s Kyra Rivera won an 8-0 major decision over Morton’s Liliana Garcia to claim third place. And Wheaton Warrenville South’s Andrea Jaimes Alvarez took fifth place when she recorded a fall in 0:37 over District 230’s Kendel Richards.

114-122 – Gabriella Gomez, Glenbard North

Gabriella Gomez hoped to compete in a bigger tournament in anticipation of the upcoming IHSA postseason. But last year’s state champ at 105 who’s ranked among the nation’s best and top-ranked at 115, went out and took care of business to add to titles at Larkin, Ottawa and Batavia. The runner-up in U-17 World competition last summer, won by fall over Minooka’s Sabina Charlebois in 1:34 in the 114-122 finals, her second pin to go with a win by technical fall.

“I think this tournament had a good turnout and there were a lot of good girls here,” Gomez said. “But I really think that it should not have been blocked weights since we’re in season and these girls need to be disciplined. The only way to get to that next level is to know discipline about your weight. I weighed in at 117 because I want to wrestle the girls that I wrestle at state. But these girls that maybe weighed in at 105 and wrestled at 110, aren’t going to wrestle girls that they’ll see there. 

“It’s good seeing girls who are coming in and trying a new sport, that’s definitely not the easiest out of all of them. It’s really cool because I started when I was only eight, so seeing girls in high school come in and just want to try it is amazing and I think that this sport could go really far. It doesn’t just change you as a wrestler, it changes you as a person, and that’s another big thing that I like.”

Charlebois’ father is Jeff, who coached along with Bernie Ruettiger and Paige Schoolman on several Minoooka state teams, highlighted by a state title in 2010 and a second-place finish in 2009, led the Indians to state in 2013, a year after Schoolman led the program to the dual team finals. Charlebois and Schoolman are coaching together again this season.

Maine East’s Guadalupe Montesinos took third place with a forfeit win over District 230’s Katherine Cygan, who was a state qualifier a year ago. And in the fifth-place match, Huntley’s Addison Drews won by fall in 1:41 over Larkin’s Melanie Granda.

115-122 – Margaret Gillmore, Westosha Central, WI

Margaret Gillmore, who qualified for the inaugural WIAA girls tournament last season, was the lone champion from the only non-Illinois team in the field, Westosha Central. The junior took top honors at 115-122 after recording a fall in 3:14 over Glenbard West’s Sydney Nimsakont. She had two falls and a win by technical fall during the competition.

Morton’s Nayeli Rodriguez captured third place with a fall in 1:34 over District 230’s Emily Nieto. And in the fifth-place match, Evanston’s Elizabeth Parcedes-Torres recorded a pin in 2:49 over Oak Park and River Forest’s Mayan Alwaeli.

118-126 – Joanna Szelag, Grant

Joanna Szelag became one of her school’s three champions, joining Snow Khi and Ayane Jasinski, to tie Homewood-Flossmoor for the most first-place finishers. The senior took first place at 118-126 with a 12-4 major decision over Minooka’s Kira Cailteux. Szelag, who also won a title at Waukegan, opened the competition with two falls.

“It was pretty good,” Szelag said. “We’re not really used to an environment like this since I think we’ve only been to three tournaments. So this was very exciting. This is my second year in wrestling. All of my teammates and all of my coaches, they push me to work harder so hopefully I can get to state this year. I like our support. We have support from my coaches and support from my teammates. Last year, I didn’t qualify for state, but they still pushed me to work my hardest to get to state this year, hopefully.” 

Morton’s Monica Garcia captured third place after recording a fall in 2:13 over District 230’s Hala Salem. And Naperville Central’s Bianca Arredondo claimed fifth place in dramatic fashion after winning a 6-5 decision on a tiebreaker over Larkin’s Tina Ebrahimi.

122-128 – Khatija Ahmed, Glenbard West

Khatjia Ahmed hopes to cap an exciting two-year span with a second state trip and a first medal after falling one win shy a year ago. The Glenbard West senior, who’s ranked fifth at 125, added to her recent championship at the West Suburban Conference meet with a fall in 0:53 over Maine East’s Deepjwal Rai to claim top honors at 122-128. Ahmed, who previously competed in both soccer and golf as a Hilltopper, won all three of her matches with first-minute wins.

“We have a lot of newer people and a lot of them are freshmen and sophomores,” Ahmed said. “So it’s great to see that they’re going to be there in the next two years and bring in more people and work on the skills so that they can dominate in the coming years. This is insane. Last year was my first year and I have to admit that I got through the year head-locking, but I’m not a head-locker any more, I have more refined technique and I’m proud of myself for the progress. And I’m really proud of the whole team and their progress this year., especially considering that half of our team is brand new.”

In the third-place match, District 230’s Sophia Fontana won by fall in 1:46 over Maine West’s Ashley Mansell. And Morton’s Sofia Petronijevic claimed fifth place with a pin in 3:46 over Montini Catholic’s Sophia Flores.

124-134 – Justyce Sieber, Warren Township

Justyce Sieber was one of the few champions at OPRF who weren’t ranked or an honorable mention selection, but Warren Township’s top performer at the invite may finally get some recognition after taking first at 124-134  with a 4-2 win by sudden victory over Morton senior Leilany De Leon, who took sixth at 120 at state and was ranked eighth at 120. Sieber, who has competed in cross country and track and field, also won a two-point decision in the semifinals.

“I’ve met so many new people and everyone is so amazing and so supportive,” Sieber said. “I definitely couldn’t have done it without my coaches and my parents. We have a lot of new girls this year. It was just me and one other girl last year and now we have around 15 girls. I love that everyone can be friends and then go out on the mat and kick some butt and come back and be friends again. This is so much fun.”

Loyola Academy’s Alexia Vasilopoulos won by fall in 1:57 over Minooka’s Eva Beck to capture third place. And in the fifth-place match, Huntley’s Aubrie Rohrbacher, a freshman who’s ranked eighth at 125, recorded a fall in 1:37 over Larkin’s Mia Reyes.

126-130 – Sophia Rausa, Minooka

Sophia Rausa and her team are getting hot at the right time as both she and her Minooka teammates have now won titles over the past two weekends.  The sophomore won the Southwest Prairie Conference title along with her team and now has a second title at Oak Park and River Forest and was one of two Indians to take first as Minooka won its second-straight team title. Rausa won a 1-0 decision in the 126-130 finals over District 230 junior Lana Shuaibi,  who was hoping to add to a recent first at Batavia. That win followed a pair of pins by Rausa.

“Our team has grown a lot since last season and you could see the improvement coming,” Rausa said. “We’re making a name for ourselves right now. All of the girls are always at each others’ matches and are always cheering and supporting each other and motivating and pushing each other. And it’s good to have a good team bond like that.”

Naperville Central’s Ellen Purl took third place with a fall in 1:30 over Lyons Township’s Sofia Turek. And in the fifth-place match, Maine West’s Ava Reyes recorded a fall in 2:17 over Morton’s Briana Carbajal.

126-136 – Allison Garcia, Downers Grove South

Allison Garcia provided the highlight of the day for Downers Grove South as she recorded a fall in 0:48 over Grant’s Annabelle Melton in the 126-136 title match to become her team’s lone champion and one of its two finalists. Garcia, a freshman who also intends to play tennis at her school, won all three of her matches by fall.

“My older brother wrestled and I wanted to be like him,” Garcia said. “I like this, it’s fun. Our boys are good, but there’s only around six girls, and it’s a new program for the girls this year. So as a freshman, I got lucky. I like winning, but everybody does. But I like winning because it makes my mom proud.” 

District 230’s Saja Badar recorded a fall in 5:21 over Maine East’s Soobin Chung to capture third place while Minooka’s Lexi Lakota won with a pin in 0:51 over Huntley’s Hanah Shaw to finish in fifth place.

134-139 – Ava Vasey, Unity

 After qualifying for the first IHSA finals a year ago, Ava Vasey is looking forward to capping her senior season with a medal in this year’s state finals. The Unity athlete just missed being ranked in the top-eight at 130 a week ago but may get more attention after adding to a title at Princeton after winning by fall in 2:36 over Downers Grove South’s Camila Quiroz in the 134-139 finals. It was the third pin of the day for Vasey.

“When I first started, I would have maybe two or three girls in a bracket,” Vasey said. “And being more down south in Illinois, we have a lot less girls wrestling. Wrestling with boys is much different than wrestling with girls. The girls get much more excited for you and other teammates, there’s a lot more support.”

In the third-place match, Minooka’s Delaini Majetic got a fall in 1:37 over Niles West’s Aaizah Khan. For fifth place, District 230 sophomore Alyssa Keane, a state qualifier last who’s ranked eighth at 130, needed just 0:47 to record a pin over Warren Township’s Paige Forbes.

135-141 – Al Ghala Mariam Al Radi, Niles West

After falling for the first time in the finals this season at Batavia, Al Ghala Mariam Al Radi was back to her winning ways at OPRF. The Niles West senior, who’s ranked second at 135 and took third at 135 a year ago, added to title wins at Niles West, Larkin and Maine East when she recorded a fall in 2:36 over Minooka’s Hayla Hammer in the 135-141 finals. Al Radi recorded three falls during the competition.

In the third-place match, Grayslake North’s Quinna Sheets won by fall in 2:46 over Glenbard West’s Nydia Jotzat. And for fifth place, District 230’s Elysa Corcoran recorded a pin in 0:17 over Morton’s Natalia Perez.

140-150 – Alimatu Toheeb-Lawal, Homewood-Flossmoor

Three proved to be a special number for Alimatu Toheeb-Lawal and her Homewood-Flossmoor teammates at the OPRF Invitational when the senior added to title wins at Palatine and Hoffman Estates with a first-place finish at 140-150 with a fall in 1:57 over Unity freshman Anna Vasey to be one of H-F’s three champions, joining Grant as the only two teams to pull off that feat. Toheeb-Lawal, who’s a senior, recorded three falls. Vasey, ranked fifth at 140, looked to join her sister Ava as a champion and add to titles that she had won at Princeton and Pontiac.

“We’ve been having a really good season,” Toheeb-Lawal said. “Last year was a great season and this year is even better. We had a lot of girls come out this year and we’ve been dominating and it’s been a good season for all of us. Everyone has been placing first and this is the third time placing first this season. All of us have just been putting in the work in practice, and it’s been paying off. And I’ve seen the numbers growing at other schools and in all of the states, so that’s really exciting.”

Minooka’s Bella Cyrkiel, who won a Southwest Prairie Conference title last week, settled for third after prevailing for a 10-9 decision over Glenbard West’s Ani Navarro, who was a state qualifier last year and ranked seventh at 145. And for fifth place, District 230’s Emily Alvarez also won a tight match, edging West Aurora’s Izzee Nelson-Carillo 3-2 by sudden victory.

143-145 – Nola Oben, District 230

Nola Oben became the first of two District 230 champions when she recorded a fall over Minooka’s Kourtni Rogers in 0:45 in the 143-145 title match, the third pin of the day for the sophomore at Carl Sandburg who is competing in her first season in the sport and will once again participate in track and field. With Emma Akpan also taking first place, the co-op of athletes from Andrew, Carl Sandburg and Stagg took second place to Minooka, the team’s fourth top-two showing following first-place finishes at Schaumburg, Pontiac and Palatine.

“Our coach helps us a lot,” Oben said of coach Demeri Pajic. “She’s really motivational and helps to keep us up. I like how big the team is. And I have a lot of friends on the team and they’re all really supportive and I’ve met a lot of people from the different schools.”

Evanston’s Natalie Graettinger took third place with a forfeit win over Grayslake North’s Bekah Moncivaiz. And in the fifth-place match, West Aurora’s Kymber Hall won by fall in 1:21 over Morton’s Alyssa Torres.

144-153 – Lanie Cecala, Minooka

Lanie Cecala followed in her brother Joey’s footsteps to compete for Minooka and now her brother is coaching her and she captured the title at 144-153 following a 3-2 win on an ultimate tiebreaker over Oak Park and River Forest’s Megan Barajas. Cecala was one of two champions for the Indians, who won their second tournament in two weeks, claiming top honors at the Southwest Prairie Conference meet one week earlier. Cecala opened with a pair of falls.

“We’ve been working very hard the whole season but after we got first at conference, I think it boosted all of us,” Cecala said. “Since this is like our first full year as a girls team, And all of our coaches have really helped us to get to where we are right now. With the tradition we have, there’s also our community, which supports us a lot. They see how much we’re succeeding and they’re really proud of us. I like our workmanship and how we all support and cheer for each other. The base of a team is that you need to bond and work well together to succeed.”

Maine East’s Alena Oshana captured third place after winning by fall in 1:08 over Lake Park’s Nermina Rustemi. And in the fifth-place match, District 230’s Addy Gath recorded a fall in 3:18 over Crystal Lake Central’s Makayla Miranda.

151-158 – Lexi Ritchie, Unity

In a clash of returning state placewinners, Lexi Ritchie won by fall in 3:07 over Maria Ferrer in the 151-158 title match. Ritchie, a junior at Unity who took first at 155 a year ago and is top-ranked at 155, added to a title at Princeton. Ferrer, a senior at Larkin who took fourth at 170 last year, is ranked fourth at 170 and won a title at Maine East. All three of Ritchie’s wins were falls.

“This is super exciting,” Ritchie said. “One thing I noticed from last year is that I don’t remember seeing Minooka anywhere and now they have an entire lineup and they’re almost as big as a boys team. This season, I haven’t wrestled any boys yet, even though I still practice with the boys every day. I have a great group of guys to practice with and I’m lucky that we have some kids come back and get their coaching card, so they really know my style and they help me out a lot. The sport is growing and we’re helping boys wrestling by coming out and doing all of this.”

Minooka’s Abbey Boersma claimed third place with a fall in 1:02 over District 230’s McKenna Patton. And in the fifth-place match, Huntley’s Hannah Price recorded a pin in 2:36 over Lake Park’s Ava Burns.

156-170 – Mailei Hudec, Crystal Lake Central

Mailei Hudec feels fortunate that she has had the opportunity to compete with one of the state’s top Class 2A boys programs at Crystal Lake Central and the senior acknowledges that coach Justen Lehr and her Tigers teammates have helped to prepare her for big things this season. Hudec won an exciting title match at 156-170 when she edged Minooka’s Sidney Ray by a 2-0 score. Hudec opened the tournament with two falls.

“Coach Lehr has taught me a lot throughout the years,” Hudec said. “I’ve been one of the only females that was on the team for awhile. All of the boys at my school are very supportive and I practice with them and they treat me pretty much like I’m their sister. So just being a part of a program and a team like that is amazing in my eyes. Just seeing it grow from my freshman year to my senior year, it’s incredible how the numbers have changed and shifted. And just seeing all the girls who were wrestling today, with the grit and determination they’ve learned throughout the year is amazing.” 

District 230’s Janae Vargas captured third place with a fall in 3:18 over Lake Park’s Joscelin Ritthamel. In the fifth-place match, Grayslake North’s Julia Landmesser recorded a fall in 1:47 over Morton’s Isabella Sanchez.

162-171 – Ionicca Rivera, West Aurora

Ionicca Rivera is definitely enjoying a special season. The West Aurora junior, who fell one win shy of a medal at 170 last season and is ranked fifth at 170, won her fifth tournament of the season, adding to firsts at Niles West, Larkin, Batavia and the Southwest Prairie Conference after capturing a 3-2 decision over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Basirat Sodiq in the 162-171 finals. Rivera, who’s a junior, won her first two matches of the tournament by fall. Her teammate and training partner, Brittney Moran, also won a title in the competition.

“Brittney is mainly my wrestling partner for practice so we’re each pushing each other to get better and better,” Rivera said. “It’s nice seeing a lot more girls wanting to join wrestling. I really like how it’s becoming a girls sport, too, because typically it was always a boys sport. In the past few years it’s becoming a girls sport, so that’s just really nice.” 

Minooka’s Jaiden Moody claimed third place with a 6-0 decision over Lake Park’s Gianna Ortiz. And in the fifth-place match, District 230 senior Mickaela Keane, who was a state qualifier last year and is ranked sixth at 170, recorded a fall in 0:38 over Lyons Township’s  Maddy Pieroni.

165-177 – Emma Akpan, District 230 

After winning a second title this season, Emma Akpan is hoping that she will not only once again qualify for state but get on the awards stand at the IHSA finals in Bloomington. The District 230 sophomore was one of two champions for her team, with Nola Oben the other, to help them claim second place. In the 165-177 finals, Akpan won by fall in 4:10 over Grant’s Yaxaira Russildi to add to a title win at Pontiac, getting falls in all three of her matches.

“Last year we were the biggest team and now there’s teams that are comparable to ours,” Akpan said. “My team has been having a great year. A bunch of new girls joined and we are getting real good at things. Today was actually the first one where it was like, I’m going to do the things that I’ve learned at practice, instead of the stuff that I find easy. And doing the things that you find hard, just makes you better. With all of these girls, I was nervous, because I’ve never wrestled them before and I don’t know how good they are. But it felt really great.”

In the third-place match, Evanston’s Nadia Himrod won by fall in 0:24 over Morton’s Violet Mayo. And for fifth place, Crystal Lake Central’s Kayla Hadfield captured a 7-2 decision over Maine East’s Alexa Garcia.

179-187 – Ini Odumosu, Homewood-Flossmoor

Ini Odumosu won her first two tournaments of the season at Normal Community and Pontiac but has been waiting a while to get back on top of the awards stand. The Homewood-Flossmoor junior, who’s ranked fifth at 190 and placed fifth at 190 in last year’s IHSA finals, captured her third title when she won by fall in 3:51 over Crystal Lake Central’s Denver Gier in the 179-187 finals. Odumosu followed a major decision with a 3-1 decision in the semifinals over Oak Park and River Forest junior Trinity White, who’s ranked third at 190 and took fifth at 170 last year.

White bounced back from her tough semifinals loss to claim third place with a pin in 1:22 over West Aurora’s Aberdeen Rios. In the fifth-place match, Evanston’s Ashland Henson recorded a fall in 1:03 over District 230’s Maggie Bobak. 

189-204 – Brittney Moran, West Aurora

After placing second in her first tournament of the season, Brittney Moran has won her next three invites, claiming firsts at Niles West, Maine East and now at OPRF when she won by fall in 0:45 over Morton’s Vivian Varela in the 189-204 finals. Moran, a sophomore who’s ranked second at 190 and placed sixth at that weight at the first IHSA finals, won her final two matches by fall to join teammate Ionicca Rivera as champions in the event.

“I remember when I was in middle school and I was the only girl there and I would try to encourage other girls to do it as well,” Moran said. “I wanted not just me to feel like a strong, feminine person but I wanted  other girls to feel that as well. When you have a whole girls team behind and supporting you through everything, it’s actually a little bit different than having the guys.support you. I’m really proud that our school is supporting the girls wrestling team. It’s super exciting seeing more girls who play soccer or tennis actually compete in a more aggressive sport since they feel really proud of themselves after they win.”

Minooka’s Peyton Kueltzo, who’s ranked sixth at 235 and won a Southwest Prairie Conference title for her team that also won the league championship, took third place after winning by medical forfeit over Huntley’s Payton Turczyniak. And Evanston’s Jereni Marshall finished fifth after pulling out a 6-5 decision over Westosha Central’s McKenna Broadway.

207-225 – Sarah Epshtein, Oak Park and River Forest

With title wins in each of the last two weeks, Sarah Epshtein seems poised to make another run at an IHSA medal this season after taking fifth at 235 a year ago. The Oak Park and River Forest  junior recorded a fall in 4:43 over Unity’s Phoenix Molina, who’s ranked fifth at 235, to go 3-0 in the round-robin competition at 207-225 in which she had three pins. Epshtein, who’s ranked third at 235, also has title wins in the West Suburban Conference and at The Clash.

In the third-place match, Morton’s Michelle Navarrette won by fall in 2:49 over Lyons Township’s Siena Garcia-Rizzo. There were only four competitors in the weight class so they met each other in three rounds.

219-292 – Eliana Garrett, Maine West

Eliana Garrett is just happy that she’s in a position to win an invitational like the one at Oak Park and River Forest after missing much of the season due to an injury. The top performer for Maine West, who got points from all five of its competitors, Garrett, a junior who’s in her first year in the sport, defeated Larkin’s A’Ja Young by fall in 1:39 in the final round-robin round of competition.

“This is my first year, so I’ve honestly only been in wrestling for about a month,” Garrett said. “I had a concussion at the beginning of the season so I missed about a month of wrestling. This is the first athletics that I’ve ever done. It’s such a nice community to have with all of the girls, and girls are always so supportive. I feel like girls wrestling is up and coming. I’m excited to be on the team and to do offseason stuff with everybody.” 

Taking third place was Glenbard West’s Thanh Dinh, who pinned Minooka’s Alyson Nguyen in 4:54. Dinh actually pinned Garrett in 4:38 but she also went 2-1 after getting pinned by Young in 5:57. There were only four competitors at the weight so they met each other in three matches.

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