Six repeat as champions in second IHSA Girls Finals

By Curt Herron

BLOOMINGTON – Last year’s initial IHSA Girls Individual State Finals set an extremely high bar that any longtime competition would be ecstatic to see after 11 of its first 14 champions were nationally-ranked and two second-place finishers also were ranked among the nation’s best.

While the second IHSA Individual Finals didn’t quite achieve those lofty standards, it wasn’t very far off and it definitely still featured a much larger gathering of some of the nation’s best in their sport as compared to almost any other IHSA championship competition.

Nine individuals who were ranked in the top 30 at their weights in the most recent National Wrestling Hall of Fame, USA Wrestling and FloWrestling National Girls High School Rankings captured state championships at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington while three others took second place, with one of those being top-ranked, while one took third, one was fourth and another took sixth.

The top-10 nationally-ranked champions were Freeport”s Cadence Diduch at 125 (No. 1 at 127), Belleville East’s Kiara Ganey at 235 (No. 1 at 225), Batavia’s Sydney Perry at 145 (No. 2 at 144), Glenbard North’s Gabriella Gomez at 115 (No. 4 at 112) and Boylan Catholic’s Netavia Wickson at 135 (No. 8 at 138).

Others who were ranked among the nation’s best who won state titles were Hononegah’s Angelina Cassioppi at 120 (No. 13 at 117), Edwardsville’s Mackenzie Pratt at 140 (No. 19 at 138), Loyola Academy’s Harlee Hiller at 105 (No. 25 at 106) and Homewood-Flossmoor’s Attalia Watson-Castro at 130 (No. 27 at 132).

The other five state champions were Bartlett’s Emma Engels at 100, Grant’s Ayane Jasinski at 110, Plainfield Central’s Alicia Tucker at 155, Highland’s August Rottmann at 170 and Homewood-Flossmoor’s Ini Odumosu at 190.

Individuals who repeated as IHSA champions were Cassioppi, Diduch, Ganey, Gomez, Perry and Watson-Castro. Three of the champions also took first place in the IWCOA Girls State Finals in 2021, Diduch, Ganey and Perry.

Records of the state champions were Perry (34-0, 1.000), Gomez (33-0, 1.000), Diduch (11-0, 1.000), Watson-Castro (38-1, .974), Pratt (30-1, .968), Rottmann (21-1, .955), Ganey (18-1, .947), Tucker (34-2, .944), Odumosu (36-4, .900), Jasinski (21-3, .875), Hiller (32-5, .865), Cassioppi (27-6, .818), Wickson (19-5, .792) and Engels (37-12, .755).

Champions who were second a year ago were Wickson and Pratt. 

Biggest improvements in placements for champions were Tucker from not qualifying, Engels from one win shy of a medal, Odumosu from fifth, Jasinski from fourth, Hiller from third and Rottmann from third.

Homewood-Flossmoor was the only team to have two champions. Schools that captured their first state championships were Bartlett, Boylan Catholic, Edwardsville, Grant, Highland, Loyola Academy and Plainfield Central.

Individuals who were ranked in the top-20 nationally who took second place were El Paso-Gridley’s Valerie Hamilton at 145 (No. 1 at 138), Lockport’s Claudia Heeney at 125 (No. 14 at 127) and West Chicago’s Jayden Huesca-Rodriguez at 190 (No. 20 at 200).

Others who took second place were Oak Forest’s Alexandra Sebek at 100, Anna-Jonesboro’s Zoee Sadler at 105, Lincoln-Way Central’s 

Gracie Guarino at 110, Joliet Township’s Eliana Paramo at 115, Yorkville’s Yamilet Aguirre at 120, El Paso-Gridley’s Savannah Hamilton at 130, Canton’s Kinnley Smith at 135, Goreville’s Alivia Ming at 140, Moline’s Maryam Ndiaye at 155, Joliet Township’s Nydia Martinez at 170 and Curie’s Aaliyah Grandberry at 235.

The marquee championship match between individuals ranked first and second in the country at 145 nearly didn’t happen. At first the IHSA didn’t allow Valerie Hamilton or Perry into the tournament because of other competitions that they participated in. But the Board of Directors allowed both to enter and Perry got a late takedown and nearfall to rally for a 7-4 victory to capture her second state title.

The title matches were very competitive with a win by sudden victory, six other decisions, three major decisions and four falls.

Some of the closest tiles matches were Jasinski 2-0 in sudden victory over Guarino at 110, Tucker 3-1 over Ndiaye at 155, Perry 7-4 over Valerie Hamilton at 145, Engels 4-0 over Sebek at 100 and Ganey 6-1 over Grandberry at 235 in a rematch of last year’s finals at 235.

Champions of the first IHSA finals who weren’t able to repeat were Alton’s Antonia Phillps, who took third at 145, Unity’s Lexi Ritchie, who was fourth at 155 and Huesca-Rodriguez, who was second at 190. Ritchie was ranked 22nd nationally at 152. Second-place finishers from the initial finals who won titles were Pratt and Wickson.

Individuals who claimed second-place finishes for the second year in a row were Guarino (13-1) at 110 and Grandberry (24-1) at 235. Both suffered their first losses of the season in the finals, as did Lockport’s Heeney (42-1), El Paso-Gridley’s Valerie Hamilton (6-1) and West Chicago’s Huesca-Rodriguez (18-1).

Third-place finishers were Huntley’s Janiah Slaughter at 100, Lake Forest’s Annika Cottam at 105, Mt. Zion’s Sydney Cannon at 110, Red Bud’s Avery Smith at 115, Bowen’s Monica Griffin at 120, Lakes’ Ava Babbs at 125 and Colinsville’s Taylor Dawson at 130.

Also taking third place were District 230’s Alyssa Keane at 135, Schaumburg’s Valeria Rodriguez at 140, Alton’s Phillips at 145, Palatine’s Jasmine Hernandez at 155, Zion-Benton’s ILeen Castrejon at 170, Minooka’s Jaiden Moody at 190 and Urbana’s Jurdan Tyler at 235.

Here’s a look at this year’s IHSA champions and the other medalists at their weight classes: 

130 – Attalia Watson-Castro, Homewood-Flossmoor

With the IHSA Individual Finals beginning its championship matches at 130, Attalia Watson-Castro realized that she had the opportunity to accomplish something that was special by becoming the first two-time IHSA champion, and although a bit apprehensive, she was still determined to cap her career in  style, and she did just that.

The Homewood-Flossmoor senior, who was ranked 27th nationally at 132, became the first two-time IHSA champion when she won the 130 title match with a 9-3 victory over El Paso-Gridley’s Savannah Hamilton, who was also someone that was on a mission since she didn’t want to be first individual in state history to finish second twice.

Watson-Castro (38-1) capped a two-year run where she went 55-2 and added to a 4-0 title win at 135 a year ago over Boylan Catholic’s Netavia Wickson. Her run to become the first of the Vikings’ two champions began with a 5-2 decision over Hoffman Estates’ Abigail Ji, was followed by a 6-0 quarterfinals win over Cumberland’s Natalie Beaumont and her second-straight trip to the title mat was set up by a fall in 2:54 over Kankakee’s Alejandra Cornejo.

“It means a lot,” Watson-Castro said of being the first two-time IHSA champion. “It was actually a lot of time and effort that I didn’t think that I was going to put into it, especially after wanting to quit the sport. I’m kind of happy that I stuck through it and was able to be the first two-time champ. I’m happy that they started off at 130. I was very nervous, because I was like, ‘why 130?’, last year we started at 45 and we could have gone somewhere around there. 

“I’m not really a fan of the high school season because it’s Folkstyle and I really love Freestyle. So I was debating quitting Folkstyle season and just focusing strictly on Freestyle to get ready for after high school. But after coming in and helping out the new girls that wanted to try the sport, it was like, I couldn’t let it go because it was something that I started, especially with being our first state champ last year. I was like, I just have to keep going.”

Hamilton (21-11), along with her sister Valerie, became the second sisters to compete in title matches at the same finals. She hoped to improve on last year’s 6-2 loss to Alton’s Antonia Phillips in the 140 title match. The Titans sophomore got a pin in 1:25 over Bolingbrook’s Katie Ramirez-Quintero in the quarterfinals and won a 10-2 major decision in the semifinals over Collinsville’s Taylor Dawson

Dawson (34-5), a sophomore who was second to Yorkville’s Natasha Markoutsis a year ago at 125, took third place with a fall in 3:03 over Cornejo (18-15), a senior who fell one win shy of a medal last year. One week later, Dawson had another third-place finish, this time at 132 in 16U in the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska. In the fifth-place match, Morton sophomore Karen Canchola (26-7) won 2-0 over Glenbard West senior Khatija Ahmed (25-11), who also fell one victory short of a medal a year ago.

135 – Netavia Wickson, Boylan Catholic

Though it might sound like a broken record, as the old sayings go, persistence pays off and also the third time’s the charm and that certainly proved to be the case this season for Netavia Wickson.

The Boylan Catholic junior, who was ranked eighth nationally at 138, finally saw her quest for a state championship come about after turning in an impressive performance by capturing a 9-1 major decision over Canton’s Kinnley Smith to win the championship at 135. Last year in the initial IHSA Finals, she placed second to Homewood-Flossmoor’s Attalia Watson=Castro at 135 and in 2021 in the IWCOA Girls Finals, she finished second to Glenwood’s Maya Davis.

Wickson (19-5) was dominant throughout the two-day event, earning her spot on the title mat with a win by technical fall in 4:33 in the semifinals over District 230’s Alyssa Keane. She only needed 0:40 to record a fall in the quarterfinals over Riverside-Brookfield’s Danely Villagomez and just a bit more than that, 0:43, to get a pin over Auburn’s Jadyn Perry in her opening match.

“It feels great because I worked really hard and I train and train and I’m almost pushing myself to my best,” Wickson said. “I knew that I had to avenge something here today. This season I wrestled all boys, except for sectionals and state. I feel good wrestling the boys this year because it really helps me to motivate myself and it gets me to be prepared for right now. I was just thinking that I had to push myself to always wrestle my best and get as much points as I can on the board. Just push through and fight to the end.

“It feels great to know that they’re finally appreciating and putting us out there and giving us something for our own, instead of having something that’s kind of lower. It feels good to have a name out there for us and that we can work to have a name for ourselves.”

Smith (24-5), a sophomore who was making her initial trip to state, pinned her way to the title mat. She got a fall in 5:49 in the semifinals over Conant’s Mannie Anderson and that followed another pin in 3:31 over Thornton’s Jalah Wilson in the quarterfinals.

Keane (32-5), a sophomore who qualified for state a year ago for the District 230 team that features athletes from Andrew, Carl Sandburg and Stagg, claimed third place with a fall in 2:44 over Vandalia’s  Lauren Dothager (15-8), a junior who was fourth at 125 a year ago and second at 126 to Downers Grove South’s Sharon Leon in the 2021 IWCOA Finals. In the fifth-place match, Anderson (35-6), a senior who placed sixth in both 2022 and 2021, won an 8-6 decision over Macomb sophomore Kelly Ladd (32-8), who also lost to Anderson in her final match last year in her state debut.

140 – Mackenzie Pratt, Edwardsville

After falling to Cadence Diduch in the 120 title match at the first IHSA Finals in 2022, Mackenzie Pratt was determined to not have a similar outcome happen when she met  up with Alivia Ming in the 140 finals.

Edwardsville’s Pratt (30-1), a sophomore who was ranked 19th nationally at 138, recorded a fall in 1:07 over Goreville’s Ming in the 140 title match. A year ago, Pratt pinned her way to the championship match at 120 but dropped an 11-0 major decision to Freeport’s Diduch for her only defeat in 13 matches.

The Tigers’ standout actually had a little drama on her hands in her second run to the title mat, claiming a 5-3 win over Schaumburg’s Valeria Rodriguez in the semifinals after winning by fall in 1:10 over Galesburg’s Annalisa Gibbons in the quarterfinals and opening the competition with a pin in 1:16 over Dundee-Crown’s Perla Lomeli.

“It feels amazing and exciting,” Pratt said. “And it’s like my dream came true because I never would have imagined me being a state champ. I’ve always joked about it, like ‘oh, I’m going to be a state champ one day,’ but I never actually thought that it would happen. There was a lot of good competition this season, especially on the Missouri side. It’s very exciting because when I first started, there weren’t as many girls as there are now.”

Ming (36-13), a junior who took fourth at 135 in the first IHSA Finals, earned her spot on the title mat with a fall in 0:47 over Richmond-Burton’s Jasmine McCaskel in the semifinals. She also had pins in her other two matches, winning with a fall in 5:15 in the quarterfinals over Niles West’s Al Ghala Mariam Al Radi, who she lost to in last year’s third-place match.

Rodriguez (37-2), a junior who took third place at 155 a year ago and was sixth at 160 at the IWCOA in 2021, captured third place with a 2-1 decision over junior McCaskel (16-3). And in the fifth-place match, senior Al Radi (31-3), who placed third at 135 a year ago and fourth at 138 in the IWCOA, won by fall in 2:57 over Oak Forest senior Sabrina Sifuentez (30-10), who also qualified for the first IHSA Finals.

145 – Sydney Perry, Batavia

In an instant classic that will certainly go down as one of the most impressive matchups in the history of the IHSA finals, the clash between two of the nation’s best, juniors, Sydney Perry and Valerie Hamilton, looked like it might not even take place at all.

After El Paso-Gridley’s Hamilton (6-1), top-ranked nationally at 138, and Batavia’s Perry (34-0), ranked second in the nation at 144, were both originally ruled to be out of the tournament by the IHSA, the organization reconsidered and allowed for the two to be back in the competition and the crowd at Grossinger Motors Arena got to see a real thriller in the 145 title match, with Hamilton taking a 4-2 lead into the last minute of the third period before Perry, who was trailing for the first time all season, was able to get a takedown to tie it at 4-4 and then came up with a late nearfall to capture a 7-4 victory.

It was the third state championship for Perry, who captured last year’s first IHSA title at 145 with a fall over West Aurora’s Dyani Rivera to cap a 21-0 season. As a freshman, the Bulldogs standout recorded a pin over Yorkville’s Natasha Markoutsis to claim the IWCOA’s 132 title. Perry reached the title mat with three wins by technical fall, beating Stevenson’s Sajra Sulejmani in 2:10 in the semifinals, winning in 3:37 over Olympia’s Jordan Bicknell in the quarterfinals and in 3:05 in her opener with Oak Forest’s Maya Corea-Funes.

“It’s great,” Perry said. “Illinois has great girls wrestling programs all over, so it’s kind of nice to have girls like Gabby Gomez here, and having all of the top girls here and having some great finals matches. It was definitely tough because I had just come from Sweden. And then I got disqualified and yada yada yada. I just thought out the plan for me and if I’m not supposed to wrestle at state, then I’m not supposed to wrestle at state, but I got in and we wrestled. 

“I was keeping my eye on the prize. I train so much for this stuff, so it just kind of feels great to just go out and wrestle. You have six minutes and it’s like nothing else matters in the world. It’s just a match with you and your opponent. I actually feel pretty comfortable in that position andI kind of just trust myself. So I’m kind of used to it.”

Hamilton earned her spot in the title match after capturing a 4-0 decision in the semifinals over Alton’s Antonia Phillips, who was last year’s first IHSA champion at 140 after she defeated Valerie’s sister Savannah 6-2 in the finals. In the quarterfinals, Hamilton won by technical fall in 3:12 over Barrington’s Kaia Fernandez and she opened with a fall in 2:13 over Charleston’s Mackensie Williams.

“My friend got a video of me coaching her in the semifinals match,” Valerie Hamilton said of her and her sister Savannah in the finals. “It’s pretty cool that me and her made it to the state finals together, so I’m pretty happy about that. For big things like this, I like to take it as a normal tournament, like a little kids club. Even at Worlds, I still put it as a little tournament. It was definitely difficult getting in here and as we were allowed to wrestle, it was like a little breather for us.”

Phillips (34-7), a senior, bounced back from her loss to Hamilton to claim third place with a fall in 1:26 over Sulejmani (23-4), a junior who took fifth at 145 at last year’s first IHSA finals and also placed fifth at 145 in 2021 at the IWCOA. In the fifth-place match, Fernandez (18-5), a senior who competed in last year’s finals, won by fall in 1:33 over Goreville sophomore Mikah Merrill (33-18) who also got to compete in the initial IHSA Finals one year ago.

155 – Alicia Tucker, Plainfield Central

With several veterans of state tournaments in the bracket at 155, it’s unlikely that too many considered that first-time state qualifier Alicia Tucker was a candidate to capture a state championship.

But that was alright with the Plainfield Central sophomore, who was making her initial state tournament after failing to qualify from the Naperville Central Sectional a year ago. While champions at the IHSA and IWCOA finals such as Jasmine Hernandez, Lexi Ritchie and Maria Ferrer were taking their places on the steps of the awards stand, Tucker stood at the top after winning a dramatic 3-1 decision over Moline’s Maryam Ndiaye in the 155 title match. Tucker got a reversal in the final seconds to wrap up her championship.

Tucker (34-2) advanced to the championship mat with a fall in 5:42 in the semifinals over Peotone’s Kiernan Farmer. In the quarterfinals she recorded a fall in 1:15 over Larkin’s Ferrer and in her opening match she won with a pin in 4:22 over Paris’ Gabbie Collins. One week later, she added to her already impressive resume by claiming a fourth-place finish at 164 in 16U at the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle Nationals that took place in Omaha, Nebraska.

“As I was getting those points, I looked up at the clock, it went one and then zero,” Tucker said. “It was the most exciting moment of my life. There’s been lots of practices and staying after school and just those long hours. I also have to say that my coaches, Terry Kubski and Kyle Hildebrand, are a really big help. 

“Winning conference was definitely a turning point for me. Going out before the match, I was a little nervous, because I had never wrestled this girl before. But after it ended, I was just really excited. It was such a surreal experience and I almost didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Ndiaye (19-5), a junior who also was a first-time state qualifier, recorded a fall in 1:46 to defeat Palatine’s Hernandez in the semifinals. She opened with a 7-0 decision over Marion’s Haylie Nappier-Feth and then won a 9-1 major decision over Phoenix Military Academy’s AJ Grant in the quarterfinals.

Hernandez (36-2), a senior who won an IWCOA title over J. Sterling Morton’s Hilda Gonzalez at 145 in 2021 and then went 29-1 and lost for the only time ar state last year, took third place after winning a 20-9 major decision over Unity junior Richie (22-3), who won the first IHSA title at 155 over Richwoods’ Jaida Johnson and also placed second at 152 in the IWCOA to Richwoods’ Arei Johnson. Ritchie, who was ranked 22nd nationally at 152, lost a 3-2 decision to Farmer in her opener and then won four matches in the consolation bracket. 

Ferrer (31-7), a senior who won the IWCOA title at 170 in 2021 over Oak Park and River Forest’s Tiffany White and took fourth at 170 a year ago, took fifth place with a fall in 1:38 over junior Farmer (16-12), who dropped a 13-3 major decision to Ritchie when the two met up again in the consolation semifinals.

170 – August Rottmann, Highland

After taking third place at 170 at last year’s inaugural IHSA Finals as a freshman, August Rottmann set her sights on finishing higher up on the awards stand at that weight, and that’s just what she did by winning a state championship at 170. And just one week after that special accomplishment, she continues to make a name for herself.

Rottmann, a sophomore from Highland, capped a 21-1 season by recording a fall in 5:10 over Joliet Township’s Nydia Martinez in the 170 title match. She was one of the seven sophomores who won titles. She followed up on her IHSA championship by taking second place at 164 in 16U at the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska. She lost by fall in 2:00 to her Team Illinois teammate Autumne Williams in the championship match.

After opening with a fall in 0:36 over Crystal Lake Central’s Mailei Hudec, Rottmann captured decisions in her next two matches, winning 7-0 over West Aurora’s Ionicca Rivera in the quarterfinals and 6-1 over Oak Park and River Forest’s Trinity White, a two-time medalist who took second in 2021, to advance to the title match.

“It was a big difference,” Rottman said compared to 2022. “And it really gave me an extra push to get it done. I wish I could have said that I was a champion in the first year, but the second year is good. It feels really good right now but it probably hasn’t kicked in fully yet. And it’s nice to say that I’m the first girl from Highland to win a title. I was the only girl last year and I’m bringing more girls in every year. 

Martinez (31-5) joined teammate Eliana Paramo (115) as a finalist and was one of three medalists for a program featuring athletes from Joliet Central and Joliet West. The senior advanced to the 170 title match with a 13-9 decision in the semifinals over Zion-Benton’s ILeen Castrejon, who took second at 170 a year ago, and winning in the quarterfinals by fall in 1:13 over Richwoods’ Jaida Johnson, a state runner-up last year at 155 who finished third at 170 in 2021, who was unable to medal this season.

Castrejon (17-8), a junior who lost to Hononegah’s Rose Cassioppi in last year’s initial IHSA title match at 170, claimed third place with a fall in 1:46 over White, a junior who took fifth last year at 170 in the IHSA Finals and was a runner-up to Alton’s Khaila Hughes at 160 in the IWCOA finals in 2021. In the fifth-place match, District 230 senior Mickaela Keane (33-7), who fell one shy of a medal a year ago, won 6-4 in sudden victory over Rivera (27-7), a junior who also was one victory away from earning a medal at the first IHSA Finals.

190 – Ini Odumosu, Homewood-Flossmoor

With two nationally-ranked competitors at 190, the prognosis for Ini Odumosu advancing to the title mat or winning a championship seemed to be a bit of a longshot, but when you have a teammate like Attalia Watson-Castro pushing you, it makes everyone much better.

Odumosu closed out a 36-4 campaign by handing West Chicago’s Jayden Huesca-Rodriguez, the first-ever IHSA champion at 190 who was ranked 20th nationally at 200, her first defeat in 19 matches when the Homewood-Flossmoor junior recorded a fall in 2:14 to join two-time champ Watson-Castro as title winners, making the Vikings the lone team in the competition with multiple champions.

Odumosu, who lost to Huesca-Rodriguez in the semifinals and then placed fifth at 190 a year ago, earned her spot on the title mat with a fall in 3:54 in the semifinals over West Aurora’s Brittney Moran, who was ranked 28th nationally at 200. After opening with a fall in 1:34 over Joliet Township’s Alexa Latham, Odumosu recorded a pin in 5:10 over Wheeling’s Jasmine Rene in the quarterfinals.

“I’m very excited,” Odumosu said. “After our boys wrestled (at state), I was like, ‘the girls have to bring it home.’ And then Attalia won, it was like. ‘oh, my gosh, it’s up to me, I’m going up there, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and I went up there and it felt so surreal. After I heard 

the ref hit the floor, I looked at my coach and I’m like, ‘did that just happen?’ And I was screaming my lungs out and I was like, this is so exciting. It did feel real for a few seconds. 

“I want to say that Attalia is my inspiration in this sport. She actually kind of took over our practices and she had us conditioned, and I can last six minutes, and last year I could not do that. I really thank her for the things she’s done, and not only for me, but for all of the other girls on my team. She’s like the strongest driving force that our team has. She told us that we are here to win, we’re not just going to go on the mat and win once in a while. We call her coach T.”

Huesca-Rodriguez, a junior who won the IHSA title at 190 a year ago by technical fall over J. Sterling Morton’s Diana Rodriguez, advanced to this year’s title mat following a fall in 2:52 over Lakes’ Josie Larson in the semifinals. After opening with a pin in 3:33 in her first match, Huesca-Rodriguez collected another fall, this one in 1:33 in the quarterfinals, over Minooka’s Jaiden Moody.

Moody (24-13), a senior who qualified for state last year at 140, took third place with a 5-4 win on a tiebreaker over Rene (18-10), who’s a freshman. And in the fifth-place match, Larson (15-4), a sophomore who also qualified for state but didn’t place last year, won with a fall in 3:31 over Moran (28-5), a sophomore who also took sixth last year.

235 – Kiara Ganey, Belleville East

As a three-time state champion who won the first two IHSA titles at 235, Kiara Ganey has established a legacy for competitors at the highest weight class that will undoubtedly last for a long time.

The Belleville East senior, who’s also the nation’s top-ranked individual at 225, capped off her career in historic fashion, becoming one of six who’ve captured titles at the first IHSA tournaments. For the second year in a row she faced Curie’s Aaliyah Grandberry on the 235 title mat and the Curie junior was able to keep the final outcome to a decision, which Ganey won by a 6-1 score. Her IWCOA title in 2021 was at 195 and was determined in a round-robin fashion.

Ganey who finished 18-1 this season after going 15-0 a year ago, opened the tournament with a fall in 0:19 over ROWVA’s Patience Riggs and then won another decision, this time 11-5 over Oak Park and River Forest’s Sarah Epshtein in the quarterfinals before advancing to the finals for one last time with a fall in 1:42 over Urbana’s Jurdan Tyler.

“It’s amazing,” Ganey said. “I’ve been wrestling since seventh grade, and you know, it was just me and the boys. So to see what it is now and to be a part of that, it’s awesome to know that me and all of these other girls have helped this new generation of girls wrestling in the the state of Illinois. And to get it approved, is just amazing and hopefully next year there’s regionals and when we get bigger, the classes. 

“It just feels amazing to know that I helped these future little girls’ dreams come true in the future. Especially last year and this year, we have some great leaders. Half of the national dual team is here, and that shows girls that you can take it to the next level, you just need to work hard. We have great leadership here and coaches, too. It’s an amazing environment and an amazing state. “

Grandberry (24-1), a junior who suffered her lone defeat in the finals match, also suffered her only loss in 12 matches a year ago to Ganey in the 235 finals. The highest place winner among athletes from the Chicago Public Schools, Grandberry recorded a fall in 2:15 in the semifinals over Rickover Naval Academy’s Jasmine Mejia, won a 6-1 decision in the quarterfinals over Unity’s Phoenix Molina and opened with a pin in 27 seconds over Conant’s Rye Reyes.

Tyler (14-8), a junior who was making her first state appearance, won by fall in 3:48 in the third-place match over Epshtein (34-6), a junior who placed fifth at 235 a year ago. And Mejia (14-5), a sophomore who made her first trip to state, finished in fifth place after recording a fall in 3:07 over District 230 sophomore Emma Akpan (21-8), who qualified for the second time.

100 – Emma Engels, Bartlett

When someone accomplishes something special for the first time in the largest district in the state outside of Chicago, it’s a big deal. And that’s what Emma Engels did by becoming the first girl to win an IHSA wrestling title from a School District U-46 school when she took top honors at 100 at the IHSA Finals.

The Bartlett sophomore, who finished with a 37-12 record, captured a 4-0 decision over Oak Forest’s Alexandra Sebek in the 100 title match. While the average number of losses by IHSA champs in two years is under three, Engels showed once again that it doesn’t matter how many defeats you have during a season, how well you perform on the final weekend is all that really matters.

Engels performed well throughout the two days at Grossinger Motors Arena, opening with a fall in 3:08 in her opener against LaSalle-Peru’s Kiely Domyanich and then capturing an 8-0 major decision over Rickover Naval Academy’s Mia Vazquez in the quarterfinals. She won another major decision in the semifinals, beating East Aurora’s Kameyah Young 16-5 to earn her spot on the title mat. It was a great finish for an athlete that fell one win shy of a medal a year ago.

“It feels really great,” Engels said. “It’s really cool how much it’s grown over the past two years and also from this year to last year. I wrestled her before so I knew that I had to  watch the arm bar so I knew on the bottom I needed to keep my arms in and just keep moving”

Sebek (41-7) had an impressive debut season and was one of only two freshmen who reached the title mat. She opened with a fall in 2:00 over Mt. Vernon’s Hannah Younger and then won a 9-6 decision over Batavia’s Lily Enos in the quarterfinals. The Bengals freshman earned her spot in the 100 title match by winning a 10-2 major decision over Huntley’s Janiah Slaughter.

Slaughter (27-5), one of three freshmen place winners at the weight class, took third place with a fall in 0:57 over sophomore Young (32-4), who qualified for state last year. And in the fifth-place match, Enos (44-13), another freshman, won by fall in 4:33 over Joliet Township sophomore Chloe Wong (32-8), who also advanced to last year’s first-ever IHSA tournament.

105 – Harlee Hiller, Loyola Academy

Harlee Hiller entered the IHSA Finals with impressive credentials and definitely lived up to those by taking top honors at 105 over Zoee Sadler in an excellent example of athletes who had to compete against boys for most of the season.

The Loyola Academy sophomore, who was ranked 25th nationally at 106, capped off a 32-5 season by capturing an 8-1 decision over Anna-Jonesboro sophomore Sadler. It was Hiller’s second appearance at state and she took third place at the same weight a year ago after losing by sudden victory in the semifinals to the eventual champion, Glenbard North’s Gabriella Gomez.

Hiller, who gets to practice against the Ramblers’ Class 3A state champion at 120, Massey Odiotti, collected falls in her first three matches, winning in 2:33 over East Aurora’s Ixzayana Cruz in her opener, getting a pin in 0:56 in the quarterfinals over Belleville East’s Alexcia Hardin and then earning her spot on the title mat with a fall in 5:38 in the semifinals over East Peoria’s Bailey Lusch.

“I think it was great preparing for the boys, because no one was stronger than them, so I was just completely ready” Hiller said. “I just felt like I wanted to go as hard as I could. I think it’s so fun since every year there’s more girls and you can see how fast the sport is growing, it’s pretty crazy. I really want to have a good girls team and I feel like that’s my goal. 

“This was just so much more exciting and the Grand March was so cool since I’ve never really done anything like that before. I started my freshman year and now I’m a sophomore. But I did judo for 10 years. Judo is not a sport in high school, so it was cool to be part of a team.”

Sadler (41-6), whose brother Drew (51-3) also placed high at state, finishing third in Class 1A at 106, was making her state debut. The pair helped the Wildcats to win a regional title and took part in the dual team sectional.  After winning by fall over Elgin’s Mali Patino in 1:13 in her opening match, Sadler won by technical fall in 5:48 in the quarterfinals over Grant’s Snow Khi and then claimed an 8-5 decision in the semifinals over Lake Forest’s Annika Cottam.

Cottam (20-6), a senior who took second place to Lane Tech’s Natalie Cortes in the IWCOA in 2021, claimed third place with a 7-2 decision over Glenbard North freshman Nadiia Shymkiv (30-3), who had a great debut season after emigrating from Ukraine. In the fifth-place match, Reed-Custer junior Judith Gamboa (27-17), a state qualifier last season, won by fall in 4:29 over junior Lusch (15-7), who finished fifth at 105 a year ago after losing to Hiller in the quarterfinals.

110 – Ayane Jasinski, Grant

After placing fourth a year ago at 100, Ayane Jasinski looked for bigger things this season in the state finals. And the same could be said for Gracie Guarino, who took third at 106 in 2021 at the IWCOA and finished second a year ago at 105. But that said, there were plenty of other competitors at 110 that also had similar motivation.

When the semifinals were concluded, the competitive weight class came down to a matchup of juniors between Grant’s Jasinski and Lincoln-Way Central’s Guarino. Through six minutes that featured no scoring, the outcome went to overtime. In the sudden victory, Jasinski was awarded a takedown, to the delight of the Bulldogs and to the dismay of the Knights, and thus wound up as a 2-0 victor in what is the only championship match that has exceeded regulation time.

Jasinski (21-3) earned her spot in the title match after capturing a 3-2 decision over Morris’ Ella McDonnell. She also had a tight match in  the quarterfinals, winning a 3-1 decision over Richwoods’ Kyley Bair. She got a fall in 3:37 over Bartlett’s Angela Carpintero in her opener.

“This was actually my comeback since last year I took fourth and I really wanted to get higher on the podium,” Jasinski said. “(The Grand March) That was like one of the most amazing feelings ever and it was like all of that work finally showed. She has a really good shot, so I had to look out for that. I may not be the best on my feet but I really hammer on top. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a state champion, and I’m the first-ever girls state champ, so I’m making history at my school. It’s really important since the sport is growing and growing and everyone is getting better.”

Guarino (13-1), who suffered her first loss of the season, was hoping for a different outcome in the finals than she had a year ago, when she fell 5-3 to Glenbard North’s Gabriella Gomez at 105. Guarino advanced to the title match with a fall in 3:30 over Mt. Zion’s Sydney Cannon. She also recorded a pin in the quarterfinals in 3:13 over Evanston Township’s Ariana Flores and she opened the competition with a win by technical fall in 3:26 over Lanphier’s Ella Miloncus.

Cannon (45-3) completed a great debut for a freshman by claiming third place with a 10-0 major decision over junior McDonnell (33-13), who also took fourth place a year ago. For fifth place, Burlington Central sophomore Victoria Macias (31-9), who took fourth a year ago, won with a fall in 0:42 over Homewood-Flossmoor sophomore Nina Hamm (31-14), who also qualified for state last season.

115 – Gabriella Gomez, Glenbard North

Two IHSA Finals in the books and two titles won thus far. Being a four-time state champion is one of the many goals for Gabriella Gomez and she capped a perfect 33-0 season with a title at 115.

The Glenbard North sophomore, who is ranked fourth nationally at 112, captured a 12-3 major decision in the 115 finals over Joliet Townhip’s Eliana Paramo. It was a much-less dramatic title match than she had last year when she beat Lincoln-Way Central’s Gracie Guarino 5-3 for the championship at 105. She joined Cadence Diduch (125) and Sydney Perry (145) as one of three unbeaten champions.

Gomez advanced to the title match following an 11-3 major decision in the semifinals over Sandwich’s Ashlyn Strenz. After opening the competition with a victory by technical fall in 3:55 over Evergreen Park’s Carmela Woods, Gomez got another win by technical fall in the quarterfinals in 4:30 over Beardstown’s Daisy Gil.

“I think that this sport can only get bigger,” Gomez said. “A ton of new girls are going to try it and we have a good class coming in with these freshmen and a lot of freshmen won so I feel that women’s wrestling is going to keep growing and growing so I’m happy to be  part of it and I feel that we can go a long ways with this. I think the tournament definitely should be Freestyle, because I know that a lot of girls want to go on to college and succeed there, and they’re only wrestling Freestyle. So if we stick to Freestyle for this state tournament then women’s wrestling is only going to grow bigger and bigger. 

“You don’t want to make excuses. I can train anywhere, I’ve trained in my basement, I’ve trained in my garage, I’ve trained outside in a parking lot. Having that mindset of being able to do what you want to do and you have to succeed with it. So I feel that if we have coaches that really want to help grow the sport, they should go look at Freestyle tournaments, since there’s nothing much different. I’m happy to be a part of the sport and that I started when I was eight. Now my next goal is to be a four-timer or a three-timer.”

Paramo (37-5), a junior who is one of two Joliet Township athletes to reach the title mat, placed fifth a year ago at the same weight class and was making her third state appearance. After opening with a fall in 3:25 over University High’s Allison Kroesch, Paramo claimed a 5-3 decision over Lockport Township’s Liz Ramirez in the quarterfinals and won by fall in 5:37 in the semifinals over Red Bud’s Avery Smith.

Smith (21-8), a junior who placed fourth at 120 a year ago, took third place this year after claiming a 6-2 decision over junior Strenz (25-16). Maine South senior Angela Lee (28-4), who qualified for state for the first time, claimed fifth place with a fall in 3:33 to over Round Lake sophomore Ireland McCain (23-10), who took fifth at 120 last year.

120 – Angelina Cassioppi, Hononegah

Angelina Cassioppi moved up a few weights from 100, where she won a state title as a freshman. But the new setting was no problem for her as she used two falls, a win by technical fall and a decision to capture her second IHSA championship in two attempts,

The Hononegah sophomore, who finished with a 27-6 record, is ranked 13th nationally at 117. She only needed 1:32 in the 120 championship match to record a fall over Yorkville’s Yamilet Aguirre to cap her successful two-day showing at Grossinger Motors Arena.

After opening the competition with a win by technical fall in 2:10 over Lake Park’s Valeria Malinowski, Cassioppi followed with another victory by technical fall, this time in 3:38 over Thornton Fractional South’s Quincy Onyiaorah in the quarterfinals. She secured another trip to the title mat with a 6-1 win over Hoffman Estates’ Sophia Ball.

“It was great,” Cassioppi said. “I went in fairly confident and I knew that if I just went and worked my offense that I would do pretty good. It is really fun. Last year was great since me and my sister (Rose) both won it, so it was good that I could carry it on. It’s great that each year there’s going to be more and more competition, so that’s really 

exciting. It’s nice to be a part of the start since you get to watch it all develop and really take off.”

Aguirre (37-4), a junior who placed fourth at 115 a year ago, earned her spot in the 120 finals with a fall in 4:33 over Bowen’s Monica Griffin. After winning an 8-0 major decision over Fremd’s Zuri Sarmiento in her opener, Aguirre captured a 3-1 win by sudden victory over Richwoods’ Isabella Motteler in the quarterfinals.

Griffin (26-4), a senior who placed third at 115 a year ago, took third place again, this time recording a fall in 1:51 over Jacksonville sophomore Alexis Seymour (32-18), who fell one win shy of a medal last year. In the fifth-place match, sophomore Ball (42-6), who missed a medal  by one win last year, won with a fall in 5:49 over Kaneland sophomore Brooklyn Sheaffer (35-12), who made her state debut.

125 – Cadence Diduch – Freeport

The second of two clashes of individuals who were both ranked in the country for state championships capped a successful second edition of the IHSA Finals with Cadence Diduch facing Claudia Heeney in a matchup at 125 that like the first one between Sydney Perry and Valerie Hamilton at 145 was between unbeaten competitors.

But unlike the drama of the earlier clash that went down to the wire, this one was more methodical as Freeport junior Diduch, who’s top-ranked nationally at 127, improved to 11-0 after winning her third title and repeating as an IHSA champion following a 12-2 major decision over Lockport Township freshman Heeney, who was ranked 14th in the nation at 127 and suffered her first defeat in 43 matches.

Diduch, who beat Edwardsville’s Mackenzie Pratt 11-0 to win the first IHSA title at 120 a year ago, also took first place in 2021 at the IWCOA when she won 5-2 over Batavia’s Taylin Long at 113. The Pretzels standout advanced to her third state finals with a fall in 3:54 over Charleston’s Alaynia Bryant. After opening with a win by technical fall in 3:12 over Fenton’s Roxanna Patino, Diduch won a 17-3 major decision over Schaumburg’s Madeline Zerafa-Lazarevic.

“It shows how dominant girls wrestling is in our area and I’m glad that my area can be known for having strong girls wrestlers,” Diduch said of the Rockford area having three state champions. “We have a lot of good women’s wrestlers and it’s always nice to have a partner that you know is good and will push you to be a better wrestler. 

“I’m really excited because this year our sectional was way more packed than last year. To me, I’m really excited because that shows that a sport that I put a lot of time and effort is also going to grow and will help me to become a better wrestler because I’ll have more opponents in the area than I can wrestle with. I’m really excited to see where this sport can go from here.”

Heeney won her 42nd-straight match with a fall in 5:07 over Lakes’ Ava Babbs in the semifinals. The Porters standout kicked off her first state visit with a fall in 3:40 over Warren Township’s Justyce Sieber and then won a 14-2 major decision over Sherrard’s Bri Bynum.

“I put in a lot of hard work and have high expectations,” Heeney said. “I was ready to go. We had drilled together with each other at Gomez Wrestling. I felt I was mirroring myself out there and it was a lot of fun. I’m proud of the year I’ve had but not satisfied.”

Babbs (22-5), a junior who fell one win shy of a medal a year ago, recorded a fall in 4:49 over Camp Point Central freshman Amber Louderback (30-26) to finish in third place. Sophomore Zerafa-Lazarevic (32-7), who also came up one win short of a medal last season, claimed fifth place due to a disqualification. 

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