Oak Forest takes Sally Berman crown

By Mike Garofola for the IWCOA

The story of the third annual Sally Berman Holiday Classic was pure domination by eventual champion Oak Forest which won here for the first time, and in doing so collected its fourth tournament title of the 2023/24 campaign.

“It’s a great group of girls we have – senior dominated – so it’s important we enjoy the run while we have this terrific bunch of young women in our room,” said Oak Forest head coach John Sebek.

“I am really proud of this entire team,” began sophomore Alex Sebek, who is now a two-time Berman champion following her title run at 105 pounds.

“We have a great room – everyone comes in each day and works hard, supports each other, and enjoys each other, which makes for us having a lot of fun in a sport we all enjoy.”

Oak Forest would lead nearly wire-to-wire on this day, thanks in part to the six wrestlers it advanced into the finals, ten overall medals, and three champions to help the Bengals collect 211.0 overall points, 35 points clear of runner-up Andrew. Andrew out-distanced third-place Dundee-Crown 176.0-102.0

Zion-Benton was fourth with 99.0, with Homewood-Flossmoor squeezing in over Lakes (94.0) and Conant with 91.0 points.

Oak Forest previously lifted championship trophies at Hampshire, in Wisconsin at the Stateline Scuffle in Westosha Central, and the Royal Rumble at Larkin.

Runner-up Andrew would equal the 10 medals secured by the tournament champions. But Andrew garnered just one champion when Alyssa Keane won the 140-pound crown.

The Sally Berman Holiday Classic came one day after the 68th Berman Holiday Boys Classic in Palatine.

Al Berman started the wrestling program in Elk Grove Village at Grove Junior High in 1967, and later moved to Palatine where he served as an assistant coach at the high school from 1977 to 1994, while coaching football and baseball as well.

Berman served as tournament manager 25 years for the then-named Palatine Holiday Tournament until 1993 when the name was changed to the Berman Holiday Classic in honor of he and his wife Sally for their long time commitment to Palatine wrestling.

This tournament is the second oldest running tournament in the state of Illinois outside of the IHSA state tournament.

Mr. Berman would also serve in several different capacities at the IHSA State Tournament as an assistant bench official and timer, always with beloved wife Sally at his side.

Al Berman was inducted into the IWCOA Hall of Fame in the spring of 2001, and later, both he and Sally were inducted into the Palatine High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.

Let’s now take a closer look at the 14 weight classes, and its individual champions:

Berman Holiday Classic championship results:

100 – Mia Vazquez, Rickover Naval Academy

Rickover Naval Academy junior Mia Vazquez (19-3) wasted little time in her final with Diamond Rodriguez (20-2) when she built a 4-0 first period advantage against the Dundee-Crown junior, en route to a 10-1 major decision to claim her first Palatine title

It was Vazquez’s second tournament title on the season. She also won an individual crown at this year’s Beat the Streets tournament.

“Diamond is a real tough opponent, we wrestled twice before, so I knew had to be smart, strong on top, and just keep attacking and going for points when I could,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez, a state qualifier at year ago, and No. 6 in the state polls, defeated Round Lake’s No. 4 Riley Kongkaeow (20-2) in a hard fought semifinal. Vazquez used a reversal with 4.6 seconds from time to win 8-6 over Kongkaeow, who was looking to claim a second-straight Sally Berman crown.

Kongkaeow would pin Bartlett’s Kahlynn Spurgeon (13-3) for third place, while Homewood-Flossmoor’s Faythe Robinson recorded a 8-7 decision over Andrew’s Layan Saleh in the fifth-place contest.

105 – Alexandra Sebek, Oak Forest

There was an impressive list of candidates to select from for the Outstanding Wrestler Award, but of them all Alexandra Sebek would be rightly chosen for the award by the 25 coaches who were present.

The Oak Forest sophomore needed just 2:46 minutes on the day to squash the competition at 105 to win here for the second time, and further validate her spot as the No. 3 person in the most recent state polls.

“I’ve been really pleased with how my season has gone thus far, except for my two losses,” said Sebek (24-2) with a smile.

The Bengals star, who was a state runner-up a year ago with a 41-7 overall record, went ahead of Lakes’ Zaryia Mouzon (19-4) early on before recording her pin at just 40 seconds.

“Both of her losses came with our boys varsity,” Oak Forest coach John Sebek said. “Alex has been a leader in the room and on match day, despite being just a sophomore. She was truly honored to be named (outstanding wrestler) today because this tournament is just loaded with-top tier talent.

“She has been wrestling at both 105 and 110 this year to allow other girls on our team to get mat time, which shows her true leadership as a teammate.”

Dundee-Crown’s Iris Torres (15-9) finished third after her pin over West Chicago’s Brissia Bucio, and Andrew’s Tatum De la Vega earned fifth place following her pin of Waukegan’s Reyna Garcia.

110 – Emma Engels, Bartlett

Both Emma Engels (23-1) and Victoria Macias (22-2) would sail into the 110-pound final, and when the two state-ranked stars met on the center stage, it would be the reigning state champion Engels who delivered the first of two individual titles for the Bartlett.

The Hawks’ junior would use an early third-period takedown to go ahead 8-2 before a reversal increased her lead to a near insurmountable 10-4. The match ended in an 11-4 decision in favor of top-seeded Engels, who is currently No. 5 at 115 pounds.

“Since the Rex Lewis (Buffalo Grove) where I competed with the boys, I’ve been working on improving my set-ups and on my footwork, and just being more physical, which is something that I’ve learned from wrestling against the boys,” Engels said. 

Engels won 23 matches when she qualified for state two years ago, then 37 last winter on her way to capturing the 100-pound state crown.

Engels’ teammate, Angie Carpentiro (19-2) went on to earn third place with her pin over Homewood-Flossmoor’s London Gandy. Carpentiro lost to Macias in the semifinals.

Macias was fifth last season at state at 125.

St. Viator senior Natalie Gubernat (13-8) earned fifth place after she pinned Conant’s Sam Macek.

115 – Ayane Jasinski, Grant

The Berman was filled with several stars who are high profile state-ranked wrestlers, including Grant’s Ayane Jasinski. Jasinski won a state title last February, is ranked No. 3 at 115 behind Glenbard North’s Gabby Gomez and Loyola’s Harlee Hiller.

Less than 24 hours prior to the girls’ tournament at Palatine, Jasinski finished fifth at the boys’ Berman Classic.

“Ayane is truly an amazing athlete,” Grant coach Mark Jolcover said. “She’s , humble, a terrific young woman, great teammate, and the ultimate student-athlete. To see her come out here today after four matches yesterday and just dominate says a lot about her.”

Jasinski welcomed the challenge of wrestling in tournaments on back-to-back days.

“All you can do is to just put the extra work in every day in the room,” she said. “And for me, being able to wrestle against the boys has really helped me become much stronger, both physically, and mentally.”

Jasinski pinned Round Lake’s Ireland McCain (20-5) on the title mat, and McCain is herself a two-time state qualifier, and ranked No. 6 just behind Bartlett’s Emma Engels at No. 5.

Homewood-Flossmoor’s Nina Hamm (11-3) who advanced to state last season as a sophomore, was third overall after her pin of New Trier’s Zoe Lee (10-6). Oak Forest junior Marjorie Rodriguez (15-4) earned fifth place with a pin of Lakes’ Osmairi Medina Alvarado.

120 – Olivia Heft – Lakes

The story of Olivia Heft even brings a smile to the face of the Lakes senior herself, who cruised easily to her first Berman title and perhaps took another big step forward to getting back to where she was two years ago during a sensational sophomore campaign.

Not one of those who met Heft (17-1) in Palatine were able to solve the Eagles’ senior who sent all three of her rivals off via pins, including her opponent in the final, Oak Forest’s Charlotte Pedroza (13-8).

“I’ve been slowly working my way back to being close to a hundred percent after missing all of last season to labrum surgery,” began Heft.

“Nine months of being off and away from the sport, it’s been tough at times but I feel better with each day, knowing the hard work will pay off as I look to get back to state.”

Heft was the state runner-up at 115 pounds during a glorious postseason run two years ago as a sophomore. Heft won an Evanston sectional title before a stunning 4-1 victory downstate over Yorkville’s top-seeded Yami Aguirre in the semifinals sent her into a state final against undefeated Maya Davis from Glenwood.

“It was a great experience two years ago at state, so my goal is to get back there and make another run onto the podium,” said Heft, who plans on a career as a physical therapist.

Conant’s Beth Ciavarella (12-9) finished third after her 9-7 decision over Homewood-Flossmoor’s Amirat Lawal, and West Chicago’s Susana Correa was fifth overall after her 7-5 sudden victory triumph against Andrew’s Saja Bader.

125 – Lilly White, Bartlett

What a terrific first year it has been for Lilly White.

The Bartlett sophomore claimed her second major trophy of the season following a marvelous four-match effort that saw each contest end by a fall, including her pin at 3:00 over Waukegan senior Noelani Rodriguez (17-3), who won a title at Niles West earlier in the year.

“I really feel like my background in ju-jitsu has helped me transition more easily into this sport,” White said. “Because in that sport it’s all about being physically, and mentally strong in order to succeed.” 

White (18-1) won her first title of the season at Glenbard South.

“It’s great being in the room with someone like Emma (Engels) who is a state champion, and has a lot of experience in the sport. And to have such a great coaching staff help me so much in my first year in the sport,” White said.

Oak Forest’s Camila O’Leary Salas (15-3) placed third after her pin of Andrew’s Hala Salem, and Conant’s Brooklyn Jones (14-6) was fifth overall after she pinned Homewood-Flossmoor’s Amara Nwyoe.

130 – Briana Anselmo, Elgin

The Elgin Royals’ faithful were all smiles after watching Briana Anselmo (9-5) convert the perfect escape with 11 seconds remaining in the first overtime of her title match to defeat Dundee-Crown’s Ruby Gavina.

The 3-2 sudden victory ended a wonderful day on the mats for the Royals sophomore. Anselmo advanced into the final after back-to-back pins helped send her through against Gavina (22-5), who withstood a fierce challenge in her semifinal bout with Jenny Espinal (12-5) from West Chicago.

“This feels great to win at a big tournament like this, which is my first one ever,” said Anselmo, who showed terrific composure, positioning, and fortitude during a second period when she rode Gavina hard for nearly two minutes to send this final into the third period level at 2-2.

Dundee-Crown coach Cynthia Sanchez, a D-C grad and now a special education teacher at the school, sees Anselmo’s commitment to the sport.

“Briana is just in her second year, with no previous experience in the sport, but in the room she is a hard worker,” Sanchez said. “And it’s all business with her. She always wants to be better, and grow as a wrestler.

“(Anselmo) implements what we are teaching in the room into her matches, and she is a hundred percent all-in when training and competing.”

Andrew senior Lana Shuaibi would later pin Espinal in the third place match, while Zion-Benton’s Emily Ortiz (19-3) used a pin at 2:37 to defeat Oak Forest’s Jordan Clyne for fifth place.

135 – Madelyn Sears, Oak Forest

Madelyn Sears would survive a nervy third period in her final against Soraya Walikonis to earn a spot atop the podium at 135 pounds.

The second-seeded Oak Forest senior used a one-point penalty point for stalling, and then an escape to go ahead of Walikonis (6-4) with 30 seconds before time. Sears then conceded a pair of penalty points for stalling but still hung on long enough to secure a hard fought 6-5 decision.

“It was kind of a crazy ending, but I felt really good about this win,” said Sears, who improved to 17-3 with the win. “The goal, of course, is to get downstate in my senior year and come home with a medal, after missing out last year.”

“Maddy turned in a very gritty performance today,” Oak Forest coach John Sebek said. “She finally reached the top spot on the podium after reaching the podium at every (tournament) we’ve participated in.

“This is the start of (Sears’) third year and it has been remarkable to see how much she has progressed during that time.”

Walikonis, now 18-6 on the year, defeated Zion-Benton’s top-seed Jay Thompson (20-4) in the semifinals.

Thompson went on to finish third after she pinned Lakes’ Christina Hasner (15-9) while Conant’s Jasmine Zavaleta (14-7) earned fifth place over Round Lake’s Brianna Perez.

140 – Alyssa Keane, Andrew

Despite finishing third last season at the state tournament with a dazzling 32-5 overall record, Andrew junior Alyssa Keane found herself outside of the top four seeds when the brackets were posted early Friday morning.

The two-time state qualifier, and current No. 7-ranked 145-pounder quickly tossed aside the error in the system by pinning her way into the final against New Trier junior Jillian Giller.

Keane outlasted Giller 9-8 to claim her third major trophy of the first half of the season. She also won individual tournament titles at Minooka and Larkin, and was a Berman champion last year at 135.

“(Giller) is a tough opponent, someone I’ve beaten before, so it was important to wrestle hard and smart for six minutes,” Keane said. Especially in that third period, when I thought I earned two points but they went the other way.

“The biggest thing for me this year is I’m more confident and composed compared to last season, which I know will help me as we go further into this season.”

Giller (14-4) No. 7 at 140 pounds, pinned Palatine’s Karimot Lawal (15-7) in her semifinal match after Lawal topped Downers Grove South’s fourth-seeded Alison Garcia (8-3) in the quarterfinals.

Conant’s Ewa Krupa (14-4) beat Lawal in the third place bout, while Dundee-Crown’s Perla Lomeli (13-4) decisioned Garcia for fifth place.

145 – Naomi Foote, Zion-Benton

Two-sport star Naomi Foote (18-5) gave Zion-Benton the first of its two championship crowns when the Zee Bees junior pinned Oak Forest’s Iyobosa Odiase (19-6) at 1:33 of the first period.

Foote – also a defender on Zion-Benton’s soccer team – had little trouble on her day as she advanced into each new round by virtue of a fall. She spent a grand total of just under seven minutes on the mats to gather a well-deserved first-place bracket.

“I finished second at Niles West, then the next weekend I didn’t wrestle my best at Waukegan, and was fifth last week at Hampshire,” Foote said. “So to come out here today and win the tournament feels really good right now.”

St. Viator junior Avery Brooks (12-11) was third after she pinned Evanston’s Kennedy Murray (10-5) while Grayslake North freshman Victoria Marquez pinned Andrew’s Ahlam Mehyar in the fifth place match.

155 – Callie Carr, Hinsdale South

Hinsdale South’s Callie Carr has plenty of support from her teammates, coaching staff, and especially her family – specifically her older brother Griffin Carr, who starred at Hinsdale South and is now playing collegiate football at UW-Whitewater.

Callie Carr left all four of her opponents in her wake en route to the 155-pound title, her second major of the season.

“I’m feeling so much better this season – stronger, quicker, and just feeling really good about my wrestling,” Carr said. “But I know I have to continue to work hard if I want to get on the podium this year.

Carr (14-2) pinned New Trier’s Nina Aceves (17-4) in Palatine.

“My two losses are to Sydney Perry (Batavia) who just beats everyone to show why she’s nationally-ranked,” Carr said. “But despite those losses, I still feel real confident about things. And it’s great to have Griffin come down from college to watch me as often as he can.”

Carr went 14-3 as a state qualifier last season as a freshmen at 155, and entered the Berman as the No. 6-rated1 55-pounder in the state.

Dundee-Crown’s Mackenzie Lessner pinned teammate Helen Ruelas for third place, and Zion-Benton’s Grace Johnson was fifth after her 6-4 decision of Central senior Jada Hall.

170 – Ryann Miller, Burlington Central

Ryann Miller is yet another newcomer on the high school scene who has made her mark from almost the instant the Central freshman stepped onto the mats.

Miller (27-1) would complete a marvelous day of wrestling when she pinned her fourth opponent on the day to win the 170-pound title, and her fourth of the season.

“I’ve been in the sport since fifth grade, so I feel really confident out there even though I am just a freshman in high school,” Miller said after title-match pin against Oak Forest’s Ryann Reeves (17-1).

While Miller was claiming the top prize recently at the Hampshire Invite, so was Reeves – but at 155 pounds, where the returning state qualifier is likely to compete during the postseason.

“Coming in at 170 is a tough weight for a freshman, but I’ve worked hard and feel like I’ve held my own really well,” Miller said. “But I’m also lucky to have a teammate like Jada Hall in the room because she’s at 155 and really quick and strong.” 

Miller needed just 59 seconds to advance into the semifinals where she posted her third pin of the day over Palatine’s Sabrina Cargill (18-2) a state qualifier who went on to finish third overall.

Cargill beat Grant’s Riley O’Grady (14-6) for third, and Andrew’s Janae Vargas earned fifth place with her pin of Oswego East’s Jessica Stover (12-4).

190 – Ileen Castrejon, Zion-Benton

Zion-Benton senior ILeen Castrejon would come back strong from a hard-fought championship match defeat at Hampshire to dominate the bracket en route to win this weight class going away.

Illinois’ No. 4-ranked 170-pounder bumped up to take on a strong field, which included three state-ranked rivals, all of whom Castrejon shoved aside en route to taking home the big trophy.

“I’ve worked very hard at improving my fitness,” Castrejon (7-1) said. “It’s so important when the really important matches go six minutes or more.

“In the past, there’s always been a little self-doubt but I feel this year my confidence is so much better than ever before, and I know that will be a big help later on in the season.”

Castrejon is a two-time state medalist, her first coming in 2022 when she was runner-up to Hononegah star Rose Cassioppi, who followed her All-American older brother Anthony to the University of Iowa to continue to wrestle.

Castrejon won by fall in the Berman quarterfinals against Lakes’ Josie Larson (20-3), who is currently ranked No. 2 at 190 in Illinois. She then pinned Oak Forest’s fifth-ranked Isabel Peralta (24-2) in the semifinals before needing 51 seconds to earn her first-place medal with a pin over Andrews’ Emma Akpan who is currently ranked eighth in Illinois at 235.

Peralta defeated Jefferson’s Kylie Eilken for third, and Larson would come back to defeat Elgin’s Nina Mullins in the fifth-place match.

235 – Jessica Komolafe, Oak Forest

Oak Forest had long-secured its first Sally Berman Holiday Classic title before Jessica Komolafe gave her club its third title of the day. But the Bengals’ star supplied the cherry atop the championship trophy with a superb effort, albeit a super quick one, during her 41 seconds on the mat against Evanston’s Jereni Marshall.

Marshall (14-3) who pinned her way into the finals but couldn’t solve Komolafe (20-3), who earned her third tournament title of the season. Komolafe used up a all but 2:30 minutes of the clock on the day to validate her place as the No. 7-ranked 235-pounder in the state.

“I am having so much fun in this sport,” Komolafe said. “My level of confidence is really high, I trust my coaches, and I really enjoy being around all of my teammates so much.

“I’ve worked hard on a lot of things to improve, especially my set-ups, but I also try to keep things simple, stay with the basics, and just go out and be the best that I can, even against big, strong opponents like (Marshall).”

Komolafe’s coach is happy to have Komolafe as a team leader.

“Jessica showed her dominance today by not allowing a point to be scored on her,” Sebek said, “and as the lightest 235-pounder in her bracket at 194 pounds, that shows just how good she was.

“She proved that hard work, and determination will pay off. I think all of her teammates would agree she is the heart and soul of this team.”

Downers Grove South sophomore Zuzia Cebulski (10-4) was third after a fall over Bartlett’s Kim Olwoch while Andrew’s Samaher Eljubeh used a pin at 5:17 over Round Lake’s Yareli Macias to earn fifth-place honors.

Sally Berman Championship Match Results:

100 – Mia Vazquez (Rickover Academy) major d. Diamond Rodriguez (Dundee-Crown) 10-1

105 – Alexandra Sebek (Oak Forest) p. Zaryia Mouzon (Lakes) 0:40

110 – Emma Engels (Bartlett) d. Victoria Macias (Central) 11-4

115 – Ayane Jasinski (Grant) p. Ireland McCain (Round Lake) 5:12

120 – Olivia Heft (Lakes) p. Charlotte Pedroza (Oak Forest) 3:41

125 – Lilly White (Bartlett) p. Noelani Rodriguez (Waukegan) 3:00.

130 – Briana Anselmo (Elgin) d. Ruby Gavina (Dundee-Crown) SV-1, 3-2.

135 – Madelyn Sears (Oak Forest) d. Soraya Walikonis (Central) 6-5

140 – Alyssa Keane (Andrews) d. Jillian Giller (New Trier) 9-8

145 – Naomi Foote (Zion-Benton) p. Iyobosa Odiase (Oak Forest) 1:33

155 – Callie Carr (Hinsdale South) p. Nina Aceves (New Trier) 0:00

170 – Ryann Miller Miller (Burlington Central) p. Ryann Reeves (Oak Forest) 1:50

190 – Ileen Castrejon (Zion-Benton) p. Emma Akpan (Andrew) 0:51

235 – Jessica Komolafe (Oak Forest) p. Jereni Marshall (Evanston) 0:41

Final team scores: 1. Oak Forest (211) 2. Andrew (176) 3. Dundee-Crown (102) 4. Zion-Benton (99) 5. Homewood-Flossmoor (95) 6. Lakes (94) 7. Conant (91) 8. Burlington Central (88) 9. Bartlett (78) 10. New Trier (70) 11. Round Lake (64) 12. Evanston (54) 13. West Chicago (51.5) 14. Downers Grove South (51) 15. Palatine (50) 16. Grant (49) 17. Grayslake North (46) 18. Elgin (44) 19. St. Viator (34) 16. Waukegan (32.5) 17. Hinsdale South (30) 17. Oswego East (30) 19. Rickover Naval Academy (25) 20. Jefferson (15) 21. Fremd (1).

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