St. Charles East has record setting performance at Illini Classic

By Patrick Z. McGavin

NEW LENOX— AJ Marino was a wrestler caught in time.

The stage was his, and he was not going to squander his moment. He had worked too hard.

St. Charles East senior Marino utilized two takedowns for a 7-2 victory over Hersey’s Esteban Delgado in the 120 championship of the Illini Classic Saturday at Lincoln-Way Central.

“I worked really hard on pushing the pace,” Marino said. “I got my single in, and then I worked really hard on getting all of my attacks in.”

Marino earned the Most Outstanding Wrestling award in leading Class 3A No. 2 St. Charles East to a historic performance in the annual matchup of University of Illinois alumni which has been hosted recently by Lincoln-Way Central coach Tyrone Byrd in New Lenox.

“It feels great, and I am very honored,” Marino said of his individual award. 

“It just shows that all of my hard work is paying off, and I just have to keep going and keep grinding and pushing, and keeping my composure and doing everything I can.”

The Saints had six first-place finishers in posting a tournament-record 318.5 points for the team championship. Winning titles for coach Jason Potter’s championship squad were Dom Munaretto (106), AJ Marino (120), Ben Davino (126), Tyler Guerra (138), Jayden Colon (145) and Brody Murray (182) while Anthony Gutierrez (160) and Lane Robinson (170) took second. Davino and Guerra were the only individuals to repeat as champions in the Illini Classic.

Yorkville had four individual champions in finishing second with 243.5 points. Capturing titles for coach Jake Oster’s runner-up Foxes were Jack Ferguson (132), Luke Zook (170), Hunter Janeczko (195) and Ben Alvarez (220) while Ryder Janeczko (145) took second.

Coach Brian Glynn’s Lincoln-Way West Warriors claimed third place with 196 points. Hersey (182), Lincoln-Way East (175.5), Marist (167.5), Carl Sandburg (147.5), Schaumburg (142), Lincoln-Way Central (128), Oswego (126), Stevenson (112.5) and Plainfield North (103.5) filled out the top-12 in the 24-team competition.

Schaumburg was the only other team with multiple champions with two. Winning titles for coach Mike LeVanti’s Saxons were Brady Phelps (113) and Caden Kirchner (152). Stevenson’s champion was Thomas Schoolman (160) while Notre Dame got a title from Karl Schmalz (285).

Marist had three second-place finishers, Will Denny (138), Conor Phelan (182) and Luke Liberatore (220). Others who took second place were Carl Sandburg’s Rocco Hayes (106)  and Madden Parker (113), Lincoln-West’s Karter Guzman (132) and Anthony Sherman (195),

Hersey’s Esteban Delgado (120), Lincoln-Way Central’s Nathan Knowlton (126), Bishop McNamara’s Luke Christie (152) and Crystal Lake South’s  Andy Burburijia (285).

The title match at 285 featured two unbeaten competitors with Schmalz claiming a 2-1 decision over Burburijia. In other tight finals, Ferguson prevailed 5-4 over Guzman at 132, Schoolman won a 5-3 decision over Gutierrez at 160 and Alvarez was a 7-4 victor over Liberatore at 220.

Winning championships by fall were Munaretto (106) and Murray (182) while Davino (126) and Colon (145) won titles by technical fall and Zook (170) won with a major decision. Also capturing titles with decisions were  Phelps over Parker at 113, Marino beating Delgado at 120, Guerra over Denny at 138, Kirchner beating Christie at 152 and Hunter Janeczko over Sherman at 195.

Munaretto had the most team points of all competitors with 34 while Colon and Davino had 33.5 points apiece. Guerra, Murray and Zook all had 32 team points while Hunter Janeczko, Alvarez, Ferguson, Kirchner, Marino and Schmalz all had 30 team points. Phelps had 29 points while Hayes, Liberatore, Parker and Schoolman had 28 team points apiece.

Some top records of individuals who competed in the tournament were Davino (36-0, 1.000), Munaretto (36-0, 1.000), Phelps (29-0, 1.000), Schmalz (22-0, 1.000), Burburijia (22-1, .957), Kirchner (28-2, .933), Lincoln-Way East’s Ari Zaeske (27-2, .931), Christie (22-2, .917), Lincoln-Way East’s Zach LaMonto (26-3, .897), Schoolman (25-3, .893), Guerra (33-5, .868), Oswego’s Cruz Ibarra (26-4, .867), Colon (29-5, .853), Murray (23-4, .852) and Knowlton (28-5, .848).

Even the absence of top wrestlers such as Marist’s No. 1 Peter Marinopoulos at 195 pounds or Stevenson’s No. 2 Lorenzo Freeza at 138 pounds could not dull the luster of the event.

One of the driving forces behind the tournament at its inception was bringing togethers coaches who had competed for the University of Illinois primarily under longtime coaches and IWCOA Hall of Famers, Mark Johnson and Jim Heffernan. While many teams that have taken part had U of I graduates as head coaches, plenty of squads had assistants who were former Illini.

Some of the head coaches who were Illini lettermen whose teams competed included Tyrone Byrd (Lincoln-Way Central), Shane Cook (Stevenson), Nicholas Curby (Riverside-Brookfield), Brian Glynn (Lincoln-Way West), Brendan Heffernan (Marist), Patrick Heffernan (DePaul College Prep), Jake Kimberlin (Bishop McNamara), Mike LeVanti (Schaumburg), Clinton Polz (Carl Sandburg), Jason Potter (St. Charles East) and Donald Reynolds (Providence Catholic).

The Illini Classic featured one of its top fields, having 10 teams that were ranked in Class 3A, led by the No. 2 Saints, No. 3 Marist, No. 7 Hersey, No. 9 Yorkville, No. 10 Lincoln-Way East, No. 11 Lincoln-Way West, No. 15 Schaumburg, No. 17 Plainfield North, No. 19 Lincoln-Way Central and No. 20 Stevenson, and one ranked team in Class 2A, No. 22 Bloomington.

(All team and individual rankings are courtesy of Rob Sherrill’s rankings at Illinois Matmen.)

Championship Matches for the Illini Classic at Lincoln-Way Central

106 – Dom Munaretto (St. Charles East) F 5:38 Rocco Hayes (Carl Sandburg)

113 – Brady Phelps (Schaumburg) D 9-5 Madden Parker (Carl Sandburg)

120 – AJ Marino (St. Charles East) D 7-2 Esteban Delgado (Hersey)

126 – Ben Davino (St. Charles East) TF 5:23 Nathan Knowlton (Lincoln-Way Central)

132 – Jack Ferguson (Yorkville) D 5-4 Karter Guzman (Lincoln-Way West)

138 – Tyler Guerra (St. Charles East) D 10-4 Will Denny (Marist)

145 – Jayden Colon (St. Charles East) TF 3:46 Ryder Janeczko (Yorkville)

152 – Caden Kirchner (Schaumburg) D 7-3 Luke Christie (Bishop McNamara)

160 – Thomas Schoolman (Stevenson) D 5-3 Anthony Gutierrez (St. Charles East)

170 – Luke Zook (Yorkville) MD 8-0 Lane Robinson (St. Charles East)

182 – Brody Murray (St. Charles East) F 3:26 Conor Phelan (Marist)

195 – Hunter Janeczko (Yorkville) D 9-3 Anthony Sherman (Lincoln-Way West)

220 – Ben Alvarez (Yorkville) D 7-4 Luke Liberatore (Marist)

285 – Karl Schmalz (Notre Dame) D 2-1 Andy Burburijia (Crystal Lake South)

Here’s a breakdown of the champions of the Illini Classic and their weight classes:

106 – Dom Munaretto, St. Charles East

Dom Munaretto continues to astonish.

The precocious freshman from St. Charles East flashed the remarkable blend of quickness, power, speed and technique that has made him one of the best in the country.

The top-ranked wrestler continued his torrid run with a pin of Carl Sandburg’s No. 4 Rocco Hayes at 5:38 for the championship.

He had three first-period takedowns for the early advantage and led 21-9 at the time of the fall.

“In my mind, I am always thinking about what I have to do to score the next point, just keep it going and stay on my opponent and give them no breathing room,” Munaretto said.

“I want to dominate them, and the more I am able to really push the pace and get into their head. That makes scoring easier and easier.”

Munaretto (36-0) registered three falls in the preliminary rounds, including a second- period pin of Yorkville’s Liam Fenoglio in the semifinals.

Hersey’s Daniel Lehman won 16-2 over Lincoln-Way Central’s Carter Dibenedetto in the third-place match. Marist’s George Marinopoulos won by fall in 2:37 over Fenoglio to capture fifth place. Notre Dame’s Johnny Sheehy won by fall in 3:54 over Oswego’s Jonathan Theodor for seventh place.

113 – Brady Phelps, Schaumburg

Schaumburg’s Brady Phelps has a flair for the dramatic.

He is a live wire with a fast-twitch style and nervous intensity.

His 9-5 victory over Carl Sandburg’s Madden Parker at 113 was one of the best championship matches.

Down 5-4 with just over 30 seconds remaining, No. 4 Phelps looked over at the clock to prepare his action.

His explosive four-point move on the takedown and back points swung the tide against Parker, an honorable mention selection.

“I realized if I keep getting my attacks, he was just going to try and lock me out,” Phelps said.

“I knew I had to go big in that situation. He has a funky style, but I knew I was just as good on top as him. I kept the overbook tight, went for it, and it paid off.”

After opening the tournament with a technical fall and a fall, Phelps (29-0) secured a 10-4 decision over Hersey’s Abdullokh Khakimov in the semifinal.

In the third-place match, Khakimov defeated Marist’s Tommy Fidler by fall in 1:41. Plainfield North’s Lou DelPage won 5-3 over Lincoln-Way West’s Haden Anderson for fifth place. And Stevenson’s Yash Jagtap pinned Lincoln-Way East’s Noah Ciolkosz in 4:47 in the seventh-place match.

120 – AJ Marino, St. Charles East

In the rest of the bracket dominated by Marino (25-7), Schaumburg’s Callen Kirchner won by injury default Marist’s No. 4 Michael Esteban in the third-place match. 

Lincoln-Way East’s Kaidge Richardson won a 5-0 decision over Minooka’s Damien Flores for fifth place. And Lincoln-Way West’s Jakob Siwinski pinned Morris’ Carter Skoff in 4:36 in the seventh-place match.

126 – Ben Davino, St. Charles East

Ben Davino has no peers, at pretty much any level, local, state or national.

A showdown with Marmion Academy’s two-time state champion Jameson Garcia looms in the future.

The top-ranked Davino (36-0) is now an astonishing 73-1 over the last two seasons.

Even a deeply-skilled opponent like Lincoln-Way Central’s No. 9 Nathan Knowlton had little chance.

Davino captured the tournament championship with a win by technical fall at 5:23.

Despite his astonishing level of achievement, Davino never takes an opponent or situation for granted.

“Business is business, so I just come here to do the same that I do at the national level, and I just wrestle,” Davino said.

“I stay focused.”

He uses every tournament as a private platform to show off his extraordinary gifts.

“It’s always nice to show what I can do, and keep pushing myself,” he said.

Davino won each of his three preliminary matches by fall, requiring just 0:46 of time in his dominant semifinal victory over Lincoln-Way West’s Jase Salin.

In the third-place match, Salin won by fall in 3:12 over DePaul College Prep’s Max Rosen. Yorkville’s Dominic Recchia defeated Oswego’s Brayden Swanson 15-8 in the fifth-place match. Stevenson’s Andrew Chamkin won by injury default over Hersey’s Maksim Mukhamedaliyev for seventh-place.

132 – Jack Ferguson, Yorkville

Yorkville’s Jack Ferguson proved the ultimate escape artist.

Up 4-2 in the 132 championship match against Lincoln-Way West’s Karter Guzman, he was caught on a reversal that Guzman quickly turned into a seemingly dangerous half-Nelson.

No 9 Ferguson avoided the back points and secured the escape for the 5-4 victory.

“Obviously that was not the position I wanted to be in there, but I am good enough to wrestle out of that,” Ferguson said.

During the preliminary action, Ferguson (29-8) posted a fall and won twice by major decision to capture his bracket.

“I felt like I was a lot more physical this tournament, and I got into my offense,” Ferguson said. 

“I almost got put on my back, so I know what I have to work on out of the bottom, especially with the state series coming up.”

Minooka’s Cale Stonisch won an 11-3 major decision over Lincoln-Way Central’s Jalen Byrd to capture third place. At fifth place, St. Charles East’s Ethan Penzato won by technical fall over Providence Catholic’s Justus Snapp.And Hersey’s Rodrigo Arceo won a 9-3 decision over Schaumburg’s AJ Quevedo for seventh place.

138 – Tyler Guerra, St. Charles East

Tyler Guerra saved the best for the closing touch.

In the final championship bout of the tournament, the St. Charles East junior worked out of an early deficit with two crucial second-period takedowns to claim a 10-4 victory over Marist’s No. 5 Will Denny.

No. 3 Guerra (33-5) was one of the tournament’s most dominant wrestlers, posting three first-period falls en route to the championship bracket.

Bloomington’s Dylan Watts won by fall in 1:43 over Yorkville’s Dom Coronado for third place. For fifth place, Hersey’s James Shaffer won 8-5 over Lincoln-Way West’s Luke Siwinski. Minooka’s Dominic Schiavonne defeated Willowbrook’s Elijah Smith 5-2 for seventh.

145 – Jayden Colon, St. Charles East

Jayden Colon went to work quickly and efficiently.

Ranked No. 3, a Class 2A state champion at Montini Catholic last year, Colon (29-5) beat Yorkville’s Ryder Janeczko by technical fall at 3:46, in the 145 championship match.

His early five-point action with a takedown and nearfall gave him a 9-3 advantage by the end of the first period.

“I have always been taught that you just go right out there, and you score right away,” Colon said.

“You rack up a big lead, and you don’t have to worry about anything. Today I worked really well at getting into my attacks, and not hesitating. I feel healthy, and I have been training really well. I am starting to really give myself time.”

Lincoln-Way East’s Connor Koehler won by fall in 1:45 over Hersey’s Jake Hanson for third place. Morris’ Tyler Semlar won 8-5 over Schaumburg’s Gavin Hinkle at fifth place. And in the seventh-place match, Lincoln-Way Central’s Kristian Meloy won a 10-2 major decision over Plainfield North’s Jack Tota.

152 – Caden Kirchner, Schaumburg

Schaumburg’s Caden Kirchner is a nightmare matchup for his opponents.

Wiry and long, his length is like a permanent obstacle. Even when his opponents seemingly get the advantage, he has the perfect escape route.

He used his length, size and defensive maneuvers for a 7-3 decision over Bishop McNamara’s Luke Christie, ranked No. 4 in 1A, in the 152 championship match.

“I have a lot going on with my size and reach, and I have learned to really use that,” Kirchner said.

“I think one thing that has changed in my style is thinking about continuing to score rather than just winning the match. You just think about score, score, score.”

No. 7 Kirchner (28-2) put in the work to reach the championship match. After winning by fall and injury default, he edged Minooka’s Elijah Munoz 5-4 in the semifinal round.

Munoz defeated Marist’s Andrew Dado 6-4 in the third-place match. Oswego’s Colin O’Grady won 4-2 over Lincoln-Way Central’s Caden Harvey for fifth place. Lincoln-Way East’s Domanic Abeja won 5-3 in sudden victory over Providence Catholic’s Geno Papes for seventh place.

160 – Thomas Schoolman, Stevenson

Stevenson’s Thomas Schoolman never lost his concentration – or his verve.

His apparent path to victory suddenly clouded by a stall call and escape, he delivered the knockout action with a takedown in the final 10 seconds for a riveting 5-3 victory over St. Charles East’s Anthony Gutierrez.

No. 8 Schoolman went up 3-1 early in the third period with his first takedown. No. 4 Guitterez was awarded the stalling point and secured his escape at the 5:29 mark.

“I had gotten an earlier warning, and I was riding on top, and they said I wasn’t doing enough,” Schoolman said.

“I felt I was better on my feet anyway. I got that earlier takedown, so I knew even with the stall call, I had to stay calm and composed. I knew I was going to take him down again, I was just waiting for the moment.”

Schoolman (25-3) had one of the toughest routes to the championship bracket. He posted a fall and decision in the preliminary rounds. He edged Lincoln-Way East’s No. 9 Zach LaMonto 3-2 in the semifinals.

“I feel like I have grown this year,” Schoolman said. “I have become a lot more patient. In years past, I was just constant offense, shoot, shoot, shoot. Working with my coaches, and my father, I have learned to let the takedowns come.”

For third place, LaMonto won 14-4 over Bloomington’s Maddox Kirts. In the fifth-place match, Oswego’s Joey Griffin defeated Plainfield North’s Anthony Gulino by injury default. Notre Dame’s Quinn Mahoney defeated Lincoln-Way West’s Jimmy Talley 7-2 for seventh place.

170 – Luke Zook, Yorkville

Luke Zook was patient and active, using time and momentum on his side.

His takedown near the end of the first period provided the momentum that the Yorkville sophomore parlayed to an 8-0 major decision over St. Charles East’s Lane Robinson in the 170 championship match.

Ranked No. 6, Zook added a reversal at the end of the second period, expanding his lead and providing some cushion.

“Recently my conditioning has not been great, and I have been spending a lot of time in the practice room working really hard on that,” Zook said.

“I always try to attack before they do, and get the first points on the board, because I feel that sets the tone for the rest of the match.”

Zook (29-7) posted two falls and a major decision in the semifinals to reach the championship match.

Lincoln-Way East’s Ari Zarate won by fall in 1:31 over Lincoln-Way Central’s Tim Key for third place. At fifth place, Minooka’s Cody Pelton defeated Stevenson’s Richie Gueorguiev 8-3. And Providence Catholic’s Mike O’Connor won by fall in 1:29 over Lincoln-Way West’s Devin Swidergal in the seventh-place match.

182 – Brody Murray, St. Charles East

Brody Murray ousted Marist’s Conor Phelan with a fall in 3:26 to capture the title at 182.

Ranked No. 3 at 170, the St. Charles East junior never lost a step in moving up a weight division. No. 10 Phelan had the early takedown but Murray quickly secured the reversal and seized control.

Murray (23-4) registered consecutive falls in his preliminary matches. He defeated Schaumburg’s Jacob Acevedo 5-0 in the semifinals.

Yorkville’s Colten Stevens won by injury default over Hersey’s Anthony Cambria in the third-place match. For fifth, Acevedo edged Lincoln-Way Central’s Evan Welsh 9-7. And in the seventh-place match, Lincoln-Way West’s Nate Elster won by fall in 1:15 over Plainfield North’s Jack Wegner.

195 – Hunter Janeczko, Yorkville

Yorkville’s Hunter Janeczko was back in ideal form – athletic, explosive and very physical.

After missing two weeks from complications of a knee injury, he flashed his trademark mix of speed and power in a 9-3 victory over Lincoln-Way West’s Anthony Sherman in the 195 finals.

Ranked No. 4, Hunter Janeczko (13-3) posted two pins and a 9-2 decision over Lincoln-Way East’s Caden O’Rourke in the semifinals.

O’Rouke came back to edge Oswego’s No. 9 Cruz Ibarra 2-0 in the third-place match. St. Charles East’s Brandon Swartz beat Carl Sandburg’s Ahmad Jaffal 3-1 for fifth place. And Notre Dame’s Aiden Rice got past Plainfield North’s Michael Zamora 6-4 by sudden victory to finish seventh.

220 – Ben Alvarez, Yorkville

Yorkville’s Ben Alvarez made his move.

In a tactical showdown with Marist’s No. 7 Luke Liberatore, Alvarez made his move early in the second period and went on to claim a 7-4 victory.

“I also had the takedown in the last 10 seconds or so of the first period, and I thought that was an early momentum swing,” Alvarez said.

“Throughout the tournament, I felt like I was kind of overpowering the other kids, and I could control the match.”

Ranked No. 3, Alvarez is rounding elite form after the Foxes’ late-state football playoff run meant a delayed start to his season.

“I also had a minor injury, and then with football, I missed a week or two of practice, so my conditioning was kind of down, but I still had the technique, so I felt pretty good.”

Alvarez (22-7) posted consecutive falls before edging a conference rival, Plainfield North’s No. 6 Leonardo Tovar, 3-2 in a riveting semifinal. 

Carl Sandburg’s Mike Rydell won by injury default over Tovar for third place. At fifth place, Lincoln-Way East’s David Wuske won a 7-3 decision over Lincoln-Way West’s Nick Kavooras. Riverside-Brookfield’s Joe Midona won by fall in 2:31 over Hersey’s Ben Erhabor to finish in seventh place.

285 – Karl Schmalz, Notre Dame

In the showdown of unbeaten powers, Notre Dame’s Karl Schmalz worked his riding skills with authority and purpose.

After riding out Crystal Lake South’s Andy Burburijia during the second period, Schmalz secured the 2-1 victory with his reversal at the start of the third.

Ranked No. 2 in Class 2A, Schmalz (22-0) maintained his perfect run. He finished third in the Class 2A state tournament last year.

“I have wrestled him before, and he is very crafty and unorthodox, also much more athletic than he appears,” Schmalz said.

The largest weight class marked the tournament’s deepest and top-heavy field. 

“My style really depends on the game plans I develop based on what I have seen from an opponent before,” Schmalz said.

“I am generally pretty defensive and I am naturally pretty long, with long legs and arms, but I’m only about 245 pounds, so I like to post on people’s shoulders.”

Schmalz began with consecutive falls. He outdueled Hersey’s Oleg Simakov 2-1 in the semifinal. No. 6 Burburijia (22-1) posted two falls and secured the 3-1 decision over St. Charles East’s No. 4 Austin Barrett in the semifinals. 

In the third-place match, Barrett overcame an early deficit against Simakov for a pin in 5:13. In the fifth-place match, Plainfield North’s Ethan Sam won by fall in 3:01 over Oswego’s Matthew Schofield. Yorkville’s Logan Fenoglio won a 10-3 decision over Lincoln-Way East Gage LaDere to take seventh.

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