Schaumburg girls sectional loaded with talent

By Bobby Narang for the IWCOA

SCHAUMBURG – A year after hosting the first IHSA girls sectional, the 2024 version of the Schaumburg Sectional had a different look.

The sectional was power-packed with talented wrestlers – just like last year – but the tournament wasn’t as hectic or cramped. That’s due to the change in the format this year by the IHSA to include regionals, which led to less congestion, a smoother run sectional and more space for fans, coaches and wrestlers.

The Schaumburg Sectional was the place to be for top-notch wrestling. Schaumburg had the largest turnout of any of the four sectionals: 582 girls compared to 366 for the Evanston Sectional, 335 for the Geneseo Sectional and 235 for the Rich East Sectional.

Just like on the boys’ side, the top four wrestlers from each of the 14 weight classes advanced to the state tournament. But unlike the boys, the girls will not have dual team state tournament.

But they were still wrestling for team pride.

Schaumburg and Lockport tied for first place with 92 points, while Hoffman Estates (91) and Andrew (85) took third and fourth, respectively.

Schaumburg coach Matt Gruszka, hosting the sectionals for the second year in a row, talked about the growth of the sport.

In 2023, Andrew won the Schaumburg Sectional, with the host Saxons taking second and Hoffman Estates earning third place.

“First of all, the level of wrestling has increased so much in the state,” Gruszka said. “This sectional was a grind. We will have state champs and placers all over the place at state from this sectional. It’s just the growth of it. This thing is going to grow, in terms of quality in the next couple of years. 

“This year’s sectional was easier to host because there was only a 12-girl bracket. Last year, we had all these teams in, like 45 teams. This year that was at the regionals. In our sectional, we had a massive amount of talent, and some didn’t make it out of sectionals. Another big thing I see is the level of coaching is raising in girls wrestling. A lot of older coaches are coming down. It’s nice. They have the knowledge. You could see it (today) and how it looked.”

Schaumburg advanced three girls to the state tournament, including two champions in Madeline Zerafa-Lazarevic (140) and Valeria Rodriguez (155), and fourth-placer Madyson Meyer (125),

“Val and Madeline had really good matches, but there’s still a lot of things to work on for the next two weeks,” Gruszka said. “That’s the one thing I wish they would change. The boys have rhythm with regionals, sectionals and state. We go regionals, then wait two weeks, then sectionals, then wait two weeks for state. It’s a mental grind. Everyone, though, wrestled well.”

Lockport coach Nathaniel Roth echoed Gruszka’s opinion on the sectional, noting he was happy to see his team step up in such a talented sectional.

“As far as sharing the tournament title championship with Schaumburg, we are ecstatic,” Roth said. “They are a phenomenal team and to be right up there with them is an absolute honor. We saw them earlier in the season and they are solid throughout their entire lineup and very well- coached, so us showing up as well as we did on Friday and Saturday and getting as many points as they did was just beyond fantastic for us.”

Roth said girls wrestling is growing at a fast rate. Several coaches at the sectional discussed the big difference in talent and coaching from last season.

“I have seen some major progress in girls wrestling over the last three years,” Roth said. “The first year we had an IHSA state series, to be moderately successful you just had to be athletic, or aggressive, or extra points if you were both. But now it’s very obvious that there is more talent out there which makes it tougher to be successful, but also pushes girls to keep getting better as well. 

“Girls are starting wrestling earlier and earlier and I do not think it will be long until most teams in the state have not only a full lineup, but a JV lineup as well. It’s still kind of tough for those girls that cannot quite break the varsity lineup to get matches just because so few teams have full lineups, much less extras. 

“Luckily, most of the tournaments that run allow extras to enter them, so those JV girls can still get some experience on the mat and get better prepared for seasons to come. It’s really great to see it growing and improving so much though. It is especially fun to see the big-name girls competing so close to home too. I mean Illinois has some of the biggest names in the country competing for us. You have Sydney Perry, Cadence Diduch, Gabby Gomez and Morgan Turner. These are big names that are known at the national and international level, wrestling right here in front of you and that is a really cool experience and very humbling.”

Regarding his team, Roth praised his two sectional champions for stepping up. Morgan Turner captured a title at 110 and Claudia Heeney won her weight class at 130.

“Morgan is a very talented wrestler, as is Claudia,” Roth said. “Claudia has been with us since her freshman year last year and is an amazing asset to the team. She is looked up to by all the other girls and is a great role model. She is an exceptional leader in the practice room and always works hard. She also has knocked it out of the park with her grades. She currently has a 4.0 GPA in school. Having Claudia on the team is great not only because she is obviously a good wrestler, but she makes everyone around her better as well.

“Our other two qualifiers, Rebekah Ramirez and Averi Colella, have similar stories as well. They both work hard and are great students. Having kids that you do not have to worry about any of the other stuff like grades, and behavior is a great feeling because you just know that the other stuff is taken care of already. So as a coach, you do not have to worry about it and can focus on the wrestling. All of our qualifiers are coming back next year as well so that is a great feeling too. I have even more time to keep developing the team and getting even better. Maybe next year we can win the sectional tournament outright.”

Hoffman Estates coach Leo Clark was all smiles following the last match of the day. At 120 pounds, Hoffman Estates’ Sophia Ball capped a dominating weekend by cruising to a sectional championship. At the next weight, teammate Abi Ji finished second at 125 to advance to state. In addition, Emmylina O’Brien took third at 135 and Anjali Gonzalez earned fourth at 235 to round out the Hawks’ state qualifiers.

“Sophia Ball came out and wrestled well in the finals and handled business,” Clark said. “Abi Ji got second and made a couple of mistakes but we will make some adjustments and be ready for state to get her on the podium. Emmylina is another tough wrestler. We’re looking for her to do some damage and have some success. Anjali is dangerous. You don’t want to wrestle her.”

Clark said the Schaumburg Sectional is a good testing ground for his wrestlers.

“We’re going to have a lot of state champions coming out of this sectional,” Clark said. “There was so much talent up and down the board. It was a loaded sectional, which was exciting to see. I expect a lot of placers coming out of state.”

100—Alycia Perry, Glenbard West

Glenbard West senior Alycia Perry did everything right on the mat on Saturday.

She just made one mistake after her 4-2 win over Batavia’s Lily Enos in the 100-pound finals. Perry (31-0) made the mistake of walking over to the wrong coaches following the completion of her stellar championship match win.

“I actually wear glasses, so I’m kind of blind without them,” Perry said, smiling. “Usually, the coaches are on the (other) side, so that’s the side I usually go to. I didn’t realize they were on the other side. This feels really, really good. I worked really, really hard for this.”

A tough-as-nail competitor, Perry (31-0) credited her belief that early in the season that she could win a sectional title.

“I was just focused on my offense, tried to take my shots because that’s how you win,” Perry said. “Last year I didn’t make state, so this is a really big moment for me. I had some really good competition today, so I’m surprised I made it through. I definitely could’ve taken more shots today, and been more offensive.”

Batavia’s Enos (38-10) heads to state, while West Aurora’s Kameyah Young defeated Montini’s Kat Bell in the third-place match with a 12-4 major decision.

105 – Nadia Shymkiv, Glenbard East

Glenbard East sophomore Nadia Shymkiv (18-0) was locked into a tough match in the finals, but she managed to make an incredible turnaround that shocked the crowd. She pinned Huntley’s Janiah Slaughter in the second period to win at 105.

“I was scared when I got put on my back, but I fought hard to get off,” Shymkiv said. “My coaches inspired me because they believed in me. I knew I needed to be aggressive and try to pin her. I was relieved when I heard the referee call the pin.”

Shymkiv said she was happy to repeat as a sectional champion. She captured an 18-4 major decision win over Addison Trail’s Veronica Cosio in the sectional semifinals.

“I was a little nervous, but still confident that I would do well,” Shymkiv said. “I thought I wrestled well, but I think I could do better. I want to work on taking better shots. I won sectionals last year and expected to win it again. I want to win state. I have worked really hard and trained a lot. I’m in great shape and I want it very much.”

Late in the second period, Glenbard East coach Matt Nelson provided Shymkiv a source of motivation by telling him Slaughter was tired.

“She wrestled great and showed it,” Nelson said.

Lockport’s Averi Colella (39-11) won the third-place match, pinning Cosio in the third period.

110 – Morgan Turner, Lockport

As one of the celebrated stars of the sport, Lockport sophomore Morgan Turner handled her business on Saturday afternoon with an efficient yet powerful performance.

Turner (7-0) defeated Bartlett’s Emma Engels (30-13) with a 16-3 major decision in the 110-pound finals.

“I was trying to be slick because (wrestlers) were a lot bigger and I trusted my training,” Turner said. “I worked on everything my coaches taught me.”

Morgan said wrestling is in her blood.

“My brother did it, my mom did it and my uncle did it, so I just started it,” Turner said.

Turner’s late season success is not surprising due to her worldly talents, but she dealt with an assortment of injuries all season that limited her time on the mat.

“I’m just grateful that I was able to come back, and at least finish out on the girls season because they wouldn’t let me finish out on the boys,” Turner said. “I was out six to seven weeks. I got cleared a day before regionals. I feel good now. I stayed solid in my position, kept my head up and listened to my coaches.”

On the other side of the gym, Crystal Lake South Annalee Aarseth notched a 3-1 decision against Grant’s Ayane Jasinski in the third-place match.

115 – Gabby Gomez, Glenbard North

Glenbard North junior Gabby Gomez spent the majority of her finals match showing her dominance. The title match was a good opportunity for Gomez to work on her conditioning, technique and get some additional mat-time against a quality opponent.

Gomez, one of Illinois’ marquee girls’ wrestlers, is among the best in the Midwest. She showed that again in the 115-pound finals, pinning Andrew’s Sophia Figueroa in a powerful showing of her talents to improve to 34-0.

“I knew she was going to be a tough competitor, so I was focused on keeping my composure and trying new things,” Gomez said of her finals match. “Right now, I really want to practice my top (position). My top is getting a lot better. I kept my composure.”

Besides her first-place medal, Gomez walked away from the sectionals with a lasting memory.

“I bit my lip pretty hard today,” Gomez said.

Gomez, a two-time state champion, also commented on the toughness of the sectional.

“It’s a lot more different because there’s a lot more girls in our sectionals,” Gomez said. “I think our sectional is probably one of the toughest ones. The bracket is not easy. So seeing the girls you will see at state is even better. You’d rather have the tough ones now because it really only matters at state. All you have to do is qualify here.”

Glenbard North coach Chris Edwards said Gomez is focused on a three-peat.

“She’s always focused and set goals early in the season and getting the takedown record. She already broke her own record from last year,” Edwards said. “She’s really focused and an energetic wrestler. She’s in better shape than anyone. She’s good at breaking her opponent.”

Wheaton Warrenville South senior Star Duncan pinned Bartlett’s Angie Carpintero in the first period to notch the third-place medal.

120 – Sophia Ball, Hoffman Estates

Sophia Ball had a big group of fans cheering her on in the title match at 120, but one spectator definitely caught her eye in the middle of her match.

After winning the 115-pound title, Glenbard North star Gabby Gomez, a two-time state champion, sat down and watched her friend and summer training partner from just a few feet outside the circle.

Ball did not disappoint her friend.

The junior remained undefeated, just like Gomez, with a first period pin over West Aurora’s Aiyanah Sylvester. Ball (24-0) won all three matches in her bracket via a pin. She placed fifth at state last year at 120. Ball said Gomez helped her up her game this season.

“I feel way better this year,” Ball said. “I was training all summer with Gabby and her dad. I think it helped me a lot on the offensive side. I think it did a lot. Gabby really helped me and showed me technique when I didn’t get it. Warming up with her today was really nice.”

Ball said her main focus in sectionals was setting herself up for a run at the state title.

“I just really wanted to win because I wanted better seeding at state,” Ball said. “I had a good warmup and having good partners and training helped me.”

Ball said she’s excited to be healthy and primed for a state title run after being out with a concussion.

“I had a concussion at the beginning, so I missed half the tournaments and meets we went to,” Ball said. “It was literally on the first day of practice, so it’s been pretty weird. I was really mad and also sad. I just wanted to wrestle. I was out for a month and a half. I just rested and worked out in the gym and started to slowly get back to the mat. I think about five or six matches, I saw my conditioning start going back up and the matches started being the same again.”

Addison Trail’s Nina Matthews pinned Naperville Central’s Ellen Purl in the second period for the third-place medal.

125 – Lilly White, Bartlett

Bartlett coach Matt Pancamo couldn’t stop smiling following White’s title victory, mainly because he has two more full years working with her. Before this season, White had never wrestled but decided to take a stab at the growing sport.

“This is her first year wrestling with us,” Pancamo said. “She was doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She’s been fantastic and puts in extra overtime and helps coach little kids on the weekend or during the week. She’s a great student of the sport. She’s been wanting to learn. I watched her first match at the start of the season beating the boys.”

White (28-3) capped off her stunning run to state by notching a 9-1 major decision over Hoffman Estates’ Abi Ji in the finals at 125 pounds.

“I never thought I could do it, but all my coaches and teammates have been very supportive,” White said. “My coaches have been watching the matches and tried to drill in what I had to work on. I just had to tell myself not to let the past affect me.”

White said her martial arts background helps her on the mat.

“That helps me with takedowns and helped me get a head start,” White said. “The Palatine tournament in late December was my turning point for me to realize I could do it. I love that girls wrestling is becoming so popular. I loved being here and doing it.”

Schaumburg junior Madyson Meyer is headed to state following a first-period pin over Riverside-Brookfield’s Eleanor Aphay in the third-place match.

130 – Claudia Heeney, Lockport

After earning a second-place medal at state at 125 pounds last season, Lockport sophomore Claudia Heeney has her sights focused on the top prize in two weeks.

Heeney broke her thumb during freestyle state, which has affected her development since the summer.

“I think I have a lot less confidence, but I’m getting it back slowly,” Heeney said. “Since my injury, I haven’t been able to gain it all this season. Today was a confidence booster, to come back and win sectionals was a big deal for me. It wasn’t until about mid-November that I realized my thumb wasn’t okay, so I had to take five weeks off. I had a lot less confidence coming back because of that. I’m going into state with a clear mind and going out there and wrestling my match every single time.”

Heeney (17-1) defeated Huntley sophomore Aubrie Rohrbacher (40-4) in a hard-fought 4-0 grind in the 130-pound final.

“I’ve been working on bottom a lot recently and my coach has been getting on me to get out,” Heeney said. “Since I’ve been working on it, it’s been going really well. (Rohrbacher) is a very talented wrestler. I tried to wrestle my match to the best I could, so she wrestled her match. It was definitely a grind.”

Prospect junior Viola Pianetto (22-4) recorded a first-period pin win over Wheeling’s Elise Burkut (29-9) for third place.

135 – Katie Ramirez-Quintero, Bolingbrook

Kate Ramirez-Quintero notched Bolingbrook’s lone sectional title win by fall over Elmwood Park’s Rose Craig in the 135-pound title match.

Ramirez-Quintero (30-3) is headed back to state armed with more experience.

“It’s all about not being afraid of anyone because anyone is beatable,” she said. “Records and rankings don’t matter. I think I got into my head last year, looking at the rankings. I had to get that out of my head. I’m just trying to have fun with wrestling this year. It’s my last year, not to put too much pressure on it.”

Now healthy, Ramirez-Quintero is primed for a big showing at state.

“I feel good,” she said. “I’ve been wrestling since freshman year. It’s always been my best sport. I used to play soccer and flag football. I have to sharpen up what I already know and be good at my staples. Last year was pretty bad with injuries. Thankfully, I haven’t had any injuries this year. I feel like a different person.”

Bolingbrook coach Jordan Hovel said Ramirez-Quintero is wrestling at a very high level.

“She stayed on her attack and we’ve been working a lot on her getting after it and not playing around too much, and that’s what she did today,” Hovel said. “She wrestled (Craig) two weeks ago at regionals, so we knew her well. We just had to play our game. I think we can get to the finals at state.”

Hoffman Estates senior Emmylina O’Brien (21-17) pinned Conant sophomore Jasmine Zavaleta in the third-place bout.

140 – Madeline Zerafa-Lazarevic, Schaumburg

Seconds after pinning Andrew’s Alyssa Keane in the second period to win the 140-pound sectional championship, Schaumburg junior Madeline Zerafa-Lazarevic (34-2) was mobbed by several teammates and fans.

That’s the positive side of wrestling on your home mat, as she wrestled one of the most-watched finals matches.

“The key was I kind of viewed all of the girls in my bracket and knew they were all really good, but  my coach told me to prepare for six minutes,” Zerafa-Lazarevic said. “He got me mentally and physically ready, but also having this home field advantage and seeing all my girls was so helpful. It was super awesome. I was in a pin position and she was tight and her coaches were in my ear. I was getting in my own head and then I hear my best friend scream and that helped me. I fought through it and had my teammates and coaches and the energy in the room that helped me.”

Zerafa-Lazarevic said she was motivated to break new ground after placing second in the past two seasons in her weight class.

“Everyone was saying there was no pressure for me because I was going to state anyways,” she said. “For me, I felt the pressure. The pressure was on because I had to break the curse, especially in the home gym. We love hosting. It was really awesome. Last year I was cutting too much. Being able to not worry about weight and cutting has completely changed the experience for me this year. When I’m not worried about making weight, it makes everything so much easier.”

Richmond-Burton senior Jasmine McCaskel (19-3) earned a first-period pin over McHenry’s Natalie Corona.

 145 – Sydney Perry, Batavia

Coming into the sectional, Batavia senior Sydney Perry (37-0) didn’t lack for name recognition as one of the elite wrestlers in the country.

She added to her growing fame by handing Fenton’s Yamile Penaloza (34-1) her first defeat of the season via first-period pin at 145 pounds.

“I just practiced my shots and learning positions and tried to stay into it,” Perry said. “I have the same mindset as last year, excited to be done with the high school season and get ready for world team trials and all the great national tournaments that are coming up.”

Batavia coach Scott Bayer said Perry is a unique athlete who doesn’t require much of a push by the coaching staff to train.

“She’s been flawless,” Bayer said.  “She’s a once-in-a-career kid to have in your room. The great thing is she grew up in our Batavia wrestling club, a home-grown talent and trained Izzy style and dedicated to her own training all year round but also dedicated to our program, too. She’s basically one of my assistant coaches and a team leader and an absolute gift.”

In the third-place match, Harvard sophomore Ithandehui Rosas (33-9) is headed to the state tournament with momentum after earning a 6-3 win over Downers Grove North’s Natalia Cruz.

155 – Valeria Rodriguez, Schaumburg

Last season, Valeria Rodriguez was a ball of energy and smiles after her showing at sectionals. This season, at regionals and sectionals, Rodriguez remained focused and driven even well-after her victories.

Rodriguez (37-1) remained on track toward a big finish at state by notching a 5-1 decision over Hinsdale South’s Callie Carr in the 155-pound finale. A three-time state qualifier, Rodriguez placed third at state at 140 pounds.

“Balance and movement and patience were key for me today,” Rodriguez said. “This year, as I’ve gotten closer to state, I’ve been more zoned in and more focused on my goal and what I want to do. Last year I moved a lot less, but this year at my bracket, I’m like more of the smaller girls in my bracket. I weighed in at 153 today. If I’m not wrestling or maintaining my weight, I’m naturally at 145.”

Rodriguez, in her fourth year wrestling, said she’s glanced at her possible state opponents, noting she’s aiming for a top-of-the-podium ending to her storied prep career.

“It’s my senior year and I’m giving it everything I have,” she said. “I don’t want to leave Schaumburg High School without winning state. That’s my ultimate goal. I want to leave something behind for my teammates and coaches.”

Fenton’s Sophia Sosa notched a tough 2-1 win over West Aurora’s Ionicca Rivera in the third-place match.

170 – Kayleigh Loo, Downers Grove North

Downers Grove North wrestler Kayleigh Loo was just happy to be on the mat at the Schaumburg Sectional.

Maybe that’s why she couldn’t stop smiling following her amazing performance, which ended with a second-period pin over Maine West’s Lillian Garrett in the 170 final.

Loo said she was happy because she had a different feeling last season at sectionals.

“I tore my ACL, so I wasn’t able to wrestle last year about halfway into the season,” Loo said. “I was here last year. I sat at the top because there’s always a great view. I felt I could’ve taken half of these girls (last year). I was watching what they were doing, and how I could do it better. It was hard watching. I wanted to be out there.”

Loo (21-0) is headed to the state tournament after notching her 20th pin of the season.

“I tried not to go on bottom, and let (Garrett) get on top of me,” Loo said of her strategy in the finals. “I kept my head up and took my shots with my arms in. This feels fantastic, all the hours of physical therapy I put in. I put in hundreds of hours. It was physically hard. It feels great to be back.”

Downers Grove North coach Marcos Rico said Loo is special wrestler and teammate.

“Kayleigh started off the season wrestling varsity boys, so she’s really been putting it together,” Rico said. “This year she’s been healthy. She’s a workaholic and does everything right on the mat and in the classroom. I think she’s only had three matches go outside the first period. She’s been wrestling with confidence and having fun.”

Proviso East’s Haley Arechiga sealed her third-place medal with a third-period pin over Andrew’s Janae Vargas.

190 – Jasmine Rene, Wheeling

Wheeling sophomore Jasmine Rene had plenty of fans at Saturday’s Sectional. Rene, who pinned Oak Park-River Forest’s Trinity White in the third period of a long match in the 190 finals, spent most of the her time before the medals were handed out in the stands talking to congratulators on both sides of the gym.

She earned that respect by improving to 33-1 on the season.

“Today, I just came out and wrestled my bracket. I knew I had a lot of tough girls in my bracket, with three state placers and other state qualifiers, but I had to wrestle like it was just another match for me,” she said.

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