Oak Forest leads with three champs at Conant Girls Tournament

By Mike Garofola for the IWCOA

In its third year, the Conant Girls Wrestling Tournament proved to be a marvelous success.

Tournament officials celebrated a 20 percent increase in wrestlers as they welcomed just under 270 competitors and 37 teams, with several on the phone just hours before the official start looking to join this popular event.

“We were excited to see the overwhelming support for our tournament,” Conant athletic director Erik Hauser said. “It caused a little extra work to sort out the weight classes, but in the end the decision to have two to three tiers per weight class made for a tournament that offered those with less experience the opportunity to be in a more competitive eight-person bracket.” 

Hauser, his staff, and volunteers ran a neat, tight, and terrific one-day event inside William Perry Gymnasium in Hoffman Estates.

With multiple weight class divisions, team scores were not kept on this day, much to the dismay of Oak Forest head coach John Sebek, whose club has been on an exciting run.

“It would have been nice to see if we had won another tournament championship, but as I’ve said before, this is a great group of young women that we have, so we’re going to just enjoy the ride we’re on right now,” Sebek said.

After lifting the championship trophy recently at Palatine’s Sally Berman Holiday Classic, the Bengals are in possession of four tournament team titles as we move into the second half of the campaign.

The Bengals grabbed a tournament-high three individual titles, followed closely by Lockport Township and Ottawa Township, each with two.

Oak Forest had A Bracket individual champions in Alex Sebek (110), Maya Coreas-Funes (145) and Isabel Peralta (190); Lockport Township got titles from Averi Colella (105) and Liz Ramirez (115); and Ottawa Township got titles from Ava Weatherford (130) and Juliana Thrush (235).

Other individual champions in the A Bracket included Round Lake’s Riley Kongkaeow (100), Joliet Catholic Academy’s Grace Laird (120), Kaneland’s Dyani Torres (125), Yorkville’s Brooke Coy (135), New Trier’s Jillian Giller (140), Schaumburg’s Valeria Rodriguez (155) and Plainfield Central’s Alicia Tucker (170).

Top individual statistics at Conant:

Most pins, least time – 3 in 2:14 by Riverside-Brookfield’s Estefany Bejarano

Most tech falls, least time – 2 in 5:24 by Riverside-Brookfield’s Eleanor Aphay

Fastest fall (tie) – 0:11 by Schaumburg’s Keara Micek, Kelly’s Liana Andrade, and Oak Park and River Forest’s Jaliyan Knighten.

Most single-match points – 23 by Metea Valley’s Uliana Shevtsova

Most total match points – 42 by Riverside-Brookfield’s Eleanor Aphay

Side note: William Perry Gymnasium also provided a homecoming of sorts for former Conant star and current Ottawa Township head coach Pete Marx, who was a three-time state medal winner and two-time state champion.

Marx compiled a dazzling 145-25 career record for the Cougars, with a remarkable 85 consecutive victories during his junior and senior years. Now in his 18th year in charge of the Ottawa program, Marx was inducted into the IWCOA Hall of Fame in 2022.

Here is a look at this year’s individual champions at Conant:

100 – Riley Kongkaeow, Round Lake

One week after an early exit from the front draw at the Sally Berman Holiday Classic, Round Lake sophomore Riley Kongkaeow (12-1) came back in style to capture the 100-pound crown at Conant.

“It was a little disappointing to lose in the semifinals last week, but I feel like I put that loss behind me really well to come out strong right from the start of this tournament,” said Kongkaeow, No. 4 in the state polls.

The 2023 state qualifier pinned her way into her final against Schaumburg’s Makenzi Aguilar (17-6) where she recorded another pin at 1:17 to earn her second major trophy of the season.

Romeoville’s Daniela Santander (15-4) pinned Yorkville’s Danielle Turner (18-5) in the third place match, while Turner’s teammate Kayleigh Shannon (12-5) recorded a fall in the fifth place bout against Warren’s Jaylyn Trevino.

105- Averi Colella, Lockport Township

There was little those who took on Averi Colella could do as the Lockport Township junior rolled over her rivals at 105.

Colella, now 26-8, pinned her way to the title at 105, needing just under 4:30 in her three matches to ensure victory. Colella won by fall at 2:23 over Lake Park’s Ashley Hammond (17-8) for the title.

“I worked a lot during the offseason and into this season in taking more shots, and just going for those shots more aggressively,” Colella said, “and that double chicken wing in the second period proved to be the difference that led to my pin.

“It’s a great room we have at Lockport. There’s a lot of tradition in the sport and for me, I am lucky to have Liz (Ramirez) as my partner in the room,” Colella said of her teammate, who two matches later would give their club a second title on the day.

Elgin’s Mali Patino won by fall against Glenbrook North’s Zoe Handler (6-6) for third place, and Schaumburg’s Justice Girod (16-8) finished fifth after her pin over Elk Grove’s Linna Vo.

110- Alex Sebek, Oak Forest

There’s just no stopping Alex Sebek, who rolled to yet another tournament title and second in as many weeks.

“I take a lot of pride in how I prepare for each match, and I really never stop putting the extra work into every part of my game,” said Sebek, No. 3 in the state at 105 pounds, and nationally-ranked as well.

“Being ranked nationally is cool, but I am a very competitive person, so I always feel like I should be a little higher in those national polls,” Sebek said. “But there is so much more to concentrate on besides where I’m at in the polls.”

Sebek registered her 20th pin on the season in her final with Metea Valley’s Ashley Basmajian (17-4) to stay at a perfect 22-0 when competing against girls, and 27-2 overall.

“Alex is undoubtedly a leader on the team as a sophomore, and demonstrates that both on and off the mats,” Oak Forest coach John Sebek said. “She’s always cheering for her teammates, and offering advice to her teammates after a win or a loss.

“She has been working really hard this season, and has been switching back and forth between 105 and 110, with the goal of a state title.”

Niles West’s Zoe Pomerantes (16-3) pinned Harvest Christian’s Samantha Hacek (12-10) in the third place bout, and Warren’s Alyssa Bentley (17-6) did the same against Saint Viator senior Natalie Gubernat (11-11) for fifth place. Schaumburg’s Diya Patel (18-10) recorded a pin against Lake Park’s Laurie Cando in the seventh place match.

115- Liz Ramirez, Lockport Township

After her wonderful three-match effort on Saturday at 115 pounds, it might be time for Lockport Township senior Liz Ramirez (31-5) to move into the top 10 in the state polls from her spot just outside of that group.

“I spent more time than ever training during the offseason. I joined a club and just made the commitment to being the best that I could be,” said Ramirez, who won a hard-fought 10-6 decision in the finals against Round Lake’s two-time state qualifier Ireland McCain (12-3).

Ramirez led 7-4 after two periods, only to see McCain circle out of trouble near the edge to record a take-down to make it 7-6 with 90 seconds remaining.

Ramirez would earn a one-point escape, then put things out of reach with a big throw with seconds remaining on her way to a 10-6 decision.

“When it got a little tense in the last minute, it was important for me to remain cool and calm, and wait for the right time to score,” Ramirez said.

Third place honors went to Schaumburg sophomore Anna Villareal (24-5) after her pin of Metea Valley’s Uliana Shevtsova (22-11). Plainfield Central’s Courtni Chuway (21-5) earned a fifth- place medal after her pin over Elgin’s Maya Rangel (3-5). Larkin’s Tina Ebrahimi (10-9) finished seventh following her pin of Yorkville’s Angelica Hernandez (5-6).

120- Grace Laird, Joliet Catholic Academy

With her second tournament title of the season, Joliet Catholic Academy junior Grace Laird (14-5) hopes to continue her ride up the ladder at 120 pounds, in the same fashion that Ryan Cumbee’s men have done thus far.

“There’s a lot of tradition in the sport of wrestling at JCA,” Laird said. “With our girls team, our goal is to build something great like the boys program. Any time we spend with the boys in the room makes us all a lot better and together, we’ve become a family.”

Laird, who also won an individual title at Morris this year, needed just under seven minutes to dispatch three of her rivals. She won by fall in her final with Grayslake Central’s Gianna Arzer (23-4) at the 1:27 mark of their title match.

Schaumburg’s Madyson Meyer (23-3) lost to Laird in the semifinals but came back to take home third place by fall against Elgin’s Salome Patino. Glenbrook North freshman Ariella Dobin (17-2) finished fifth by injury default against Lockport Township’s Lucy Madrigal (9-9).

125- Dyani Torres, Kaneland

Dyani Torres (22-6) was never in trouble Saturday as the Kaneland junior captured her second tournament crown of the season with her title-mat pin at 2:54 over Lake Park’s Valeria Malinowski (10-3).

“We have a good room that we share with our boys’ team, which makes for a fun but hard-working room that’s good for all of us,” said Torres, now in her seventh year in the sport.

“I gained a lot of experience in my first two years of high school wrestling, but the most important thing I learned is how important my fitness and cardio should be,” she said. “So I’ve spent a lot of time in both of those areas during the offseason.” Torres also credits teammate Chloe Cervantes (140) for being the ideal practice partner.

Oak Forest sophomore Camila O’Leary Salas (17-4) pinned Warren’s Jane Kelly in the third place match, and Elk Grove’s Juana Pulido (9-1) was fifth after her 11-7 decision over Elgin’s Emily Pizano. Conant’s Brooklyn Jones (15-8) pinned Lockport Township’s Kyleigh Green to earn a seventh place medal.

130- Ava Weatherford, Ottawa Township

Ava Weatherford claimed the first of two individual titles for Ottawa Township head coach Pete Marx when the sophomore swept away the competition to win the 130-pound crown.

Weatherford (21-9), ranked No. 8 in the state at 135 pounds, added to her title win at Normal Community in the opening week of the season after putting together a superb six-minute effort to record an 8-0 victory over Oak Park and River Forest’s Pearl Lacey (15-9).

“My plan in the final was to control top, and bottom, especially in the second period, and I feel like that’s what I did really well,” said Weatherford.

“Ava was having a great first year last season until she broke her arm during practice in January,” began Marx. “We were concerned that an injury such as that might see her say goodbye to wrestling, but she continued to come to meets, and practice, support her teammates, and when she was medically cleared in the spring (she) began to train for the Virginia Beach national duals.

“She was a little nervous and rusty, but Ava never faltered, and has bounced back to have an outstanding season thus far, and winning this tournament is perfect as she begins to peak at the right time.”

Schaumburg’s Sharon Olorunfemi (13-10) won 5-4 in an overtime tiebreaker over Metea Valley’s Janiya Moore (14-10) for third place. And Warren’s Ashley Bridges pinned Oak Forest’s Jordan Clyne to earn fifth place honors.

135- Brooke Coy, Yorkville

It was too much Brooke Coy for the rest of her rivals at 135 pounds.

The Yorkville junior cruised to victory using a pair of pins to advance into her final against Palatine’s Amaya Jackson (12-0), where she registered an impressive 13-0 major decision.

“It’s been a pretty good year for me, I feel like I’ve come a long way from being on the JV last 

during my first year in the sport,” said Coy (13-3), who was encouraged by her father to give wrestling a try.

“We’ve got a great room, it’s a real positive atmosphere to be in, so hopefully if I continue to work hard and improve, I’ll have a chance to qualify for state.”

Oak Forest’s Madelyn Sears (22-4) bounced back from her loss to Coy in the semifinals to earn third place with a 7-4 decision over Rolling Meadows’ Muneeba Butt (14-7). Schaumburg’s Olivia Furlan got a pin over Evanston’s Priscilla Hartwell to finish in fifth place.

140- Jillian Giller, New Trier

Jillian Giller suffered a heart-breaking loss in the final of the Sally Berman Holiday Classic to District 230’s Alyssa Keane, who took third at 135 at last year’s IHSA Finals, but the New Trier junior came back with a vengeance to capture her first tournament title of the season.

Giller (17-4) pinned her way to the crown, sending off Downers Grove South’s Alison Garcia (16-8), who was ranked fourth, at 3:54.

“I thought I wrestled well enough to win at the Berman, but we went back and made a few adjustments to get myself ready for this tournament, and it showed in how I wrestled in all three of my matches today,” said Giller, who used a little bit of everything from her arsenal to eventually finish off Garcia, whom Giller admitted was tough to turn.

Giller was a state qualifier a year ago with a 25-9 record, losing in the wrestleback quarterfinals to a conference rival Niles West’s Al Ghala Al Radi, 14-12.

“That was a tough way to go out last year at state, but that loss made me work that much harder during the offseason,” admits Giller, now in her fifth year in the sport.

Conant’s Ewa Krupa (16-5) stepped over a conference rival, Schaumburg’s Madeline Zerafa-Lazarevic (21-2), who was injured earlier, to finish third. Kaneland’s Chloe Cervantes (11-6) won by fall over Oak Forest’s Iyobosa Odiase (29-8) to earn fifth place. And Elk Grove’s Stephanie Valdez Castaneda beat Palatine’s Karimot Lawal 6-4 to finish seventh.

145- Maya Coreas-Funes, Oak Forest

Maya Coreas-Funes gave the Oak Forest faithful plenty to cheer about when, with 15 seconds before time, she recorded the match-winning escape to defeat Evanston’s Kennedy Murray (14-5) in a 3-2 thriller.

“It was a real defensive battle, but I was able to stay strong right up until the very end which I felt was the difference in the match,” said Coreas-Funes, now 16-4 overall.

“Maya, hands down, is the hardest worker in our room, and has a motor that never stops, and her cardio endurance is second to none, and her results this season proves that out,” said Oak Forest coach John Sebek.

“She is only a couple of months into her second year as a wrestler and is still fine-tuning her technique, but I do not recall an opponent that has been able to outlast her for a full six-minute match.”

“I work as hard as I can in the room and I just love when I am able to hit a move that I’ve been practicing,” added Coreas-Funes, who has 10 pins and six majors this season.

Schaumburg’s Keara Micek (22-8) finished third after she pinned Lake Park’s Joscelin Ritthamel (18-5) and Larkin’s Mia Reyes (16-6) was fifth following her pin over Elk Grove’s Emely Herrera. Saint Viator’s Avery Brooks got an 11-3 major decision victory to claim seventh place over Yorkville’s Joanna Okunnu.

155- Valeria Rodriguez, Schaumburg

Valeria Rodriguez’ impressive take down of the 155-pound field allowed the Schaumburg senior to lift the championship trophy and to make a further statement of her intent on her final year under head coach Matt Gruszka.

“The wrestling IQ of Valeria is way up there, as is her technique, conditioning, mental toughness (all) part of the equation, but her ability to know the flow of the match, how to end each period, and the understanding of what is needed to win a match is what sets her apart,” said Gruszka of the No.-3 rated Rodriguez, who is 25-1 and also a two-time third place state medal recipient.

“I feel very fortunate to have a coach like Matt Gruszka, who I have all the confidence and trust in and is someone who I feel like is a second father to me,” said Rodriguez, moments after her pin of Oak Forest’s Ryann Reeves (19-2) in just 44 seconds to give her 18 on the season.

Oak Park and Rivers Forest’s Megan Barajas (16-8) took third with a 7-6 decision over New Trier’s Nina Aceves (18-6). Downers Grove South’s Jea Jones (9-9) took fifth following her pin of Evanston’s Natalie Graettinger (9-8).

170- Alicia Tucker, Plainfield Central

Nationally-ranked and No. 1 at 170 in Illinois this season, Alicia Tucker (22-0) stayed perfect at 22-0 on the year after she had another fabulous three-match performance to capture her third major title of the campaign, adding to first at Minooka and Waukegan.

The reigning state champion flashed her incredible speed, quickness, technique and strength as she easily went past her opponents, including her last of the day, Downers Grove South’s Gracie Swierczynski, who would concede a pin in the final at 4:57.

“I had wanted to play football, but my father didn’t want me to get hurt, and since he and my brother wrestled, it seemed only natural that I follow in their footsteps,” said the affable Plainfield Central junior, who began to wrestle in sixth grade and was the IWCOA Frosh-Soph 2022 state champion.

Kelly’s Sara Martinez Lopera (14-2) took third place when Rolling Meadows’ Aishah Sanchez (11-7) was forced out of action due to an injury. Joliet Catholic Academy’s Cheya Bishop (16-7) finished fifth after her pin over Conant’s Lana Ton and Yorkville’s Janiah Murray took seventh after an injury forfeit from Palatine junior Sabrina Cargill (17-4).

190- Isabel Peralta, Oak Forest

Isabel Peralta has made her mark in her weight division all throughout her junior season and her impressive run to the 190-pound crown continues to impress Oak Forest coach John Sebek. 

And whenever you beat a two-time state medalist, there’s good reason to be impressed. That’s what Peralta did in the 190 title match when she won by fall in 2:41 over Oak Park and River Forest’s Trinity White (13-2), who took fourth at 170 in last year’s IHSA Finals and was fifth at that weight in the inaugural state finals.

“(Izzy) has been a dominant force all season, she put in a lot of work in the offseason, and it has shown,” said Sebek of Peralta who is now 27-3, with 24 falls, 17 of which have come in the first period.

“I watched a lot of video from the Berman where I finished fifth, so we went back and worked on cleaning some things up from that tournament, and I really felt like that was the difference today,” said Peralta, who’s ranked fifth and also won the top prize at the Lakes Community Tournament earlier in the season.

“Of her three losses this season, they’ve come to a 2023 third place state medal winner (twice) and the 2023 state champ, so as a very light 90-pounder, she can shoot and move faster than most girls that I’ve seen,” adds Sebek.

Schaumburg sophomore Nadia Razzak (22-4) pinned Larkin’s Kimberly Reyes (14-10) to earn third place honors while Downers Grove South’s Violet Cherup (6-3) finished fifth after her pin over Rolling Meadows’ Leilani Brindis (11-7). Lockport Township’s Sophie Kelner (20-13) won by fall over Saint Viator’s Jillian Bollard in the seventh place contest.

235- Juliana Thrush, Ottawa Township

Pete Marx was an upperweight star while at Conant under IWCOA Hall of Fame head coach

Jim Cartwright, so it’s only natural to believe his 235-pounder Juliana Thrush has a chance to taste some of the success Marx enjoyed if she continues on her current flight path.

Thrush (19-3) roared past the field to claim her first major of the season and further validate her place as the No. 4-rated 235-pounder in the state. The Ottawa Township sophomore recorded a pin in 3:19 over Oak Forest’s Jessica Komolafe (21-4) in the 235 finals.

“I’ve got a great coach, in a great room, so if I keep up the hard work, and effort, there’s no reason why I cannot medal at state this year,” said Thrush, after earning her second tournament title of the season.

“Both (Ava) Weatherford and Thrush were first-year wrestlers last year, and both took to the sport very quickly,” said Marx. “Juliana got a taste of the apple after going 2-2 at state, and now she wants the whole thing.

“She has already beaten state qualifiers and placers because she is a fighter, and strong, and I believe she has a real chance to be high a top the podium in Bloomington in late February.”

Oak Park and River Forest’s Sarah Epshtein (16-3), who took fifth at state at 235 last year and fourth at 235 in 2022, pinned Lockport Township’s Rebekah Ramirez (25-10) in the third-place match and Downers Grove South’s Zuzia Cebulski (14-7) won a 6-5 decision over Schaumburg’s Ella Jackson to finish fifth.

Championship matches results of the 2024 Conant Girls Tournament

100- Riley Kongkaeow (Round Lake) F 1:18 Makenzi Aguilar (Schaumburg)

105- Averi Colella (Lockport Township) F 2:23 Ashley Hammond (Larkin)

110- Alex Sebek (Oak Forest) TF 5:22 (18-2) Ashley Basmajian (Metea Valley)

115- Liz Ramirez (Lockport Township) D 10-6 Ireland McCain (Round Lake).

120- Grace Laird (Joliet Catholic Academy) F 1:27 Gianna Arzer (Grayslake Central)

125- Dyani Torres (Kaneland) F 2:54 Valeria Malinowski (Lake Park)

130- Ava Weatherford (Ottawa Township) MD 8-0 Pearl Lacey (Oak Park and River Forest)

135 – Brooke Coy (Yorkville) MD 13-0 Amaya Jackson (Palatine)

140- Jillian Giller (New Trier) F 3:54 Alison Garcia (Downers Grove South)

145- Maya Coreas-Funes (Oak Forest) D 3-2 Kennedy Murray (Evanston)

155- Valeria Rodriguez (Schaumburg) F 0:44 Ryann Reeves (Oak Forest) 

170- Alicia Tucker (Plainfield Central) F 4:57 Gracie Sweircznski (Downers Grove South)

190- Isabel Peralta (Oak Forest) F 2:41 Trinity White (Oak Park and River Forest)

235- Juliana Thrush (Ottawa Township) F 3:19 Jessica Komolafe (Oak Forest)

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