By Patrick Z. McGavin
BURLINGTON – Randy Culton was always looking forward to having a complete team photo.
Sycamore’s semifinal run in the Class 5A state football playoffs proved an exhilarating moment for the school.
The only negative was the slow start to the wrestling team.
“We finished 16-12 in duals this year, but we started off so slowly,” Spartans coach Culton said.
“For the first half, we had third-stringers wrestling for us. We went to the Russ Erb Tournament at Glenbrook South with eight wrestlers and finished ninth.”
Those football players, now fully assimilated into the lineup, proved the difference Saturday in the Class 2A Burlington Central Regional.
Zack Crawford’s second-period pin to capture the championship at 160 pounds fueled the Spartans’ run.
Sycamore scored 176 points to glide past runner-up Kaneland (154) and third-place Aurora Christian (139) while Crystal Lake South (124.50) finished fourth.
The Spartans produced a tournament-best eight finalists and qualified nine wrestlers for this weekend’s Rochelle Sectional.
Sycamore’s high-quality individuals and power at the middle and upper weights sealed its second-consecutive regional championship.
The Spartans host the Dual Team sectionals on Tuesday, February 21.
Sycamore advances to face Geneseo, which edged Rock Island at Sterling.
“Our group guys really came through for us today,” Culton said.
“Zack Crawford is the leader of the team. He is a solid kid, a leader who really pushes himself hard and the rest of the team. Everybody contributed points.”
Burlington Central proved a well-rounded and highly-representative regional.
Six of the seven teams Saturday yielded at least one regional champion.
Crystal Lake South was the only program not to have an individual champion.
Led by star heavyweight Andy Burburijia, one of six third-place finishers, the Gators compensated with a second-best eight sectional qualifiers.
Not even Sycamore could match the elite top-heavy power of Aurora Christian, who had five individual champions.
Injuries and depth reduced their lineup to just 10 wrestlers, likely costing the Eagles the championship. Aurora Christian qualified seven for the sectional.
Kaneland had six finalists, two winners and four second-place finishers. The Knights also qualified seven.
Cary-Grove qualified four wrestlers, including 182-pound regional champion Gabe Simpson.
Morris had two winners, Owen Sater at 106 and Tyler Semlar at 145. The team had three qualifiers.
Doug Phillips provided the highlight for the host school with his win by technical fall over Kaneland’s Alex Gochis at 126 pounds. Burlington Central had three qualifiers.
Champions and their weight classes at the Class 2A Burlington Central Regional
106 – Owen Sater, Morris
Morris freshman Owen Sater dominated the four-man field with two pins.
He captured the regional championship at 106 with a second period fall over Sycamore freshman Michael Olson. Sater (15-5) secured the early takedown and completed the action by registering a fall at 1:39.
He pinned Cary-Grove’s Peter Hayden at 2:50 in the semifinal. Olson (16-13) defeated Burlington Central’s David Wyruchowski 10-6 on a tiebreaker in the lower bracket semifinal.
“When I am out there, I mostly focus on just locking in for the matches,” Sater said.
“My style is not super aggressive. I like to slow the match down, and kind of just keep it at my own pace so that I can control the match.”
Wyruchowski (22-17) earned a 4-2 decision over Hayden in the third-place match.
113 – Deven Casey, Aurora Christian
Deven Casey took care of business with ruthless efficiency, power and technique.
The Aurora Christian sophomore, who is ranked No. 2 at 113, posted two falls in the second period to win his second-consecutive regional championship when he overpowered Sycamore’s Tyler Lockhart with a fall in 2:56.
Casey (33-7), who was third in the state at 106 pounds last year, has suffered just one in-state loss, to defending Class 3A champion Seth Mendoza of Mount Carmel.
In the championship match, Casey registered two takedowns in each of the first two periods, which he quickly worked into back points with the cradle. He was up 11-2 when he secured the fall at 2:55.
“I knew the regionals were not going to be too crazy,” Casey said. “My whole goal is just getting ready for state.
“I am just thinking about everything one match at a time, with my main goal of being a state champion.”
Casey also posted a second-period fall of Cary-Grove’s Hunter Lenz in the semifinals.
In the upper bracket semifinal, Lockhart (33-8) edged Morris’ Brandon Anderson 4-2.
In the third-place bracket, Lenz (16-11) earned a 7-1 win over Anderson. He defeated Crystal Lake South’s Yone Geinopolos in the wrestlebacks.
Anderson (14-9), an honorable mention performer, defeated Burlington Central’s Aiden Roll 14-3 to qualify for the third-place match.
120 – Josh Vazquez, Aurora Christian
In a high-profile championship at 120, Aurora Christian sophomore Josh Vazquez prevailed against Kaneland junior Kamron Scholl 16-8.
Vazquez (20-6) dominated on his feet, using three takedowns in each of the first two periods to secure a 12-5 lead through four minutes of action.
“I just want to push the pace, and work on the stuff that I am already really good at,” Vazquez said.
Scholl (39-7) showed excellent toughness and resilience of his own.
Like Casey, Vazquez has elite state level participation to draw on. He finished fourth at 132 pounds last year. Ranked No. 2, Vazquez reached the final with a fall in the second period over Morris’ Carter Skoff.
In the lower bracket semifinal, Scholl edged Burlington Central’s Austin Lee 3-2 on a tiebreaker.
Lee (28-11) fought back with a fall in the second period in the wrestlebacks over Cary-Grove’s Alex Demas.
He used a takedown in the second period to seize control in a 4-0 decision over Skoff in the third-place match.
126 – Doug Phillips, Burlington Central
Doug Phillips proved the local conquering hero and jolted the home audience with his standout performance.
He dominated Kaneland’s Alex Gochis with a win by technical fall in 3:37 in the 126 title match.
“I wrestled him earlier in the year, and I knew it was going to be a hard fight, especially with us tying up and everything,” Phillips said.
“I wasn’t sure if he would try to tie up, but it led to those roll-through tilts, which were very effective. That definitely worked on him.”
Showing explosiveness and power, Phillips earned an early takedown and converted that into a quick cradle action for two separate three-point nearfalls for an 8-1 lead after the first period.
The second period was more of the same, with his power and strength able to expose Gochis on his back, ending the match.
“This means a lot to the school,” Phillips said. “I also came in second last year, and it feels nice to take it this year, and get that first-round bye in the sectional.
Phillips (30-11) earned the finals with a first-period fall over Sycamore’s Jonathan Buckheister in the semifinals. Gochis (34-13) won the lower bracket with his own dominant win by technical fall over Cary-Grove’s Trenton Klapperich.
Morris freshman Kazden Klinker lost his opener but bounced back to post a fall in 1:42 over Crystal Lake South’s Devyn Carrillo for third place. Carrillo edged Klapperich 8-7 and Klinker got past Buckheister 6-4 to reach the third-place mat.
132 – Caden Grabowski, Kaneland
For sheer entertainment value, dramatic reversals and wild outcomes, Kaneland senior Caden Grabowski was in a class by himself.
In a topsy turvy final, Grabowski went from appearing to secure a fast pin to having to fight for his life.
Grabowski (42-4) pulled out the high-wire 13-12 victory over Crystal Lake South’s Zyon Schlee (8-9) in the 132 finals by the skin of his teeth.
“I came out firing like that because I came in with a lot of confidence,” Grabowski said. “I beat him in the second period three weeks ago.”
The amazing first period featured a 13-point swing as Grabowski went from a quick 5-0 lead to suddenly fighting for his life and nearly getting pinned as Schlee earned the reversal and back points for an 8-5 lead.
The second period was equally frenetic with Grabowski recovering for two takedowns to secure an 11-10 lead in the final second.
The closing moments were the most heart-rending of all as Grabowski again flirted with disaster. Up 13-10, he suffered a late reversal and Schlee nearly got him on his back when time ran out.
“I just had to keep doing what I was doing to beat this guy,” Grabowski said. “I have been dealing with some sickness, so fatigue and other stuff started to overwhelm me.”
An honorable mention performer, Grabowski had an easier time in the semifinals with a fall in 1:31 over Burlington Central’s Cole McGuire.
Schlee also made quick work of Sycamore’s Logan Sandfox in the lower bracket semifinal with a fall in 1:26.
McGuire captured a 15-5 major decision over Sandfox in the third-place match.
138 – Patrick Mullen, Aurora Christian
Aurora Christian junior Patrick Mullen maintained his composure.
After falling behind early against Crystal Lake South’s Austin Laurie in the 138 title match, Mullen responded with an escape and takedown that he parlayed into a 6-2 victory.
Up 3-2 at the start of the second period, Mullen secured an escape and takedown for some necessary breathing room.
An honorable mention wrestler, Mullen (20-9) reached the finals with a 14-3 major decision over Cary-Grove’s Noah Pechotta.
Laurie (18-11) defeated Morris’ Andrew Peterson by fall in the first round and then secured a win by technical fall over Kaneland’s Kyle Rogers.
In the third-place match, Pechotta (20-14) got a fall in 2;29 over Rogers.
145 – Tyler Semlar, Morris
In a day of standout performances, Morris junior Tyler Semlar was second to none.
He pulverized the opposition with explosive athleticism, strength and power to decimate the field. Sycamore senior Jaden Cochran was no match in the 145 title match.
Semlar (31-8) secured the title with a fall in 0:19. In the blink of an eye, he converted a takedown into a cradle that Cochran could not overcome.
Semlar also defeated Kaneland’s Jack Gruber in a virtual flash, needing just 1:09 in the semifinal round.
The unseeded Cochran was the ultimate darkhorse who reached the final with his pin of Cary-Grove’s Adrian Magana and a 9-5 decision over Crystal Lake South’s Anthony Bradburn.
For third place, Bradburn posted a fall in 2:56 over Gruber to advance to the sectional.
152 – Tay Silva, Aurora Christian
With the exception of the loaded heavyweight class, the showdown at 152 was likely the highlight of the regional.
In a riveting confrontation of two highly-ranked opponents, Aurora Christian’s second-ranked Tay Silva secured an impressive 7-1 victory over Sycamore’s fifth-ranked Gus Cambier.
The dynamic conjured the remarkable clash of Aurora Christian’s Braden Stauffenberg and Sycamore’s Brayden Peet a year ago, where the two met in the final of the regional, sectional and state championship at 152.
After losing to Peet in the regional championship, Stauffenberg secured tight decisions over Peet in the sectional and state championship match.
Silva (32-7) secured control of the match with two takedowns in the first period, with the second pushing his lead to 4-1 in the closing seconds.
Seeded second, Silva dispatched of Kaneland’s Christian Duffing with a fall in the first period. Cambier (38-5) won by fall in the first period over Morris’ Ian Wills.
In the third-place match, Duffing (30-15) dominated with two falls to earn a berth in the sectional. He followed a fall over Cary-Groce’s Andres Rivera with one in 2:57 over Wills.
160 – Zack Crawford, Sycamore
Zack Crawford waited for his moment.
Using his power and strength to melt the resistance of Aurora Christian’s Adan Rocha, Sycamore senior Crawford secured a victory in the 160 title match with a fall at 3:29.
Ranked No. 2, Crawford (35-1) has been virtually untouchable this year.
“Things are a little different now because I know how good I am, and I am a senior,” Crawford said.
“I know the kids I am wrestling against, and I scout every single one of them. I know what they can do coming into a match.”
He also defeated Kaneland’s Apollo Gochis with a fall in 1:03 in the semifinal round.
Out for much of the season recovering from an injury, Rocha (5-2) proved a quality opponent.
He reached the final with a fall over Burlington Central’s Jonah Chavez and a 9-2 decision over Crystal Lake South’s Matt Gimenez.
Rocha stymied Crawford for much of the first period until the Sycamore star earned the first takedown at 1:50. Following up with a quick escape and takedown at the start of the second period, Crawford exerted his will.
“I knew he was going to just gas out,” Crawford said. “When we got into the second period, I felt him break, and I was able to get his head underneath his body.”
In the third-place match, Gimenez (18-10) stormed back from an 8-3 deficit to pull out a riveting 9-8 victory over Chavez. He also defeated Morris’ Andrew Paull 9-2 to reach the third-place match.
170 – Cooper Bode, Sycamore
If Zack Crawford marks the savvy veteran, Cooper Bode is the new wave insurgent for the Spartans.
The Sycamore freshman continued to impress with his fall in 2:57 over Kaneland’s Cole Olsen in the 170 title match.
An honorable mention wrestler, Cooper Bode (30-10) showed exceptional balance, speed and power at the point of attack. He earned a quick takedown and was also awarded two penalty points. His reversal in the second period set up the fall.
“I just worked my moves, and just came into the match ready to do my stuff,” Bode said. “My style is just to go all out, and leave everything out on the mat.”
He also overpowered Crystal Lake South’s KC Brichta Bachar with a fall in the first minute during the semifinal round.
Olsen won the upper bracket with his 7-4 decision over Burlington Central’s Christian Walikonis.
In the third-place match, Brichta Bachar defeated Walikonis 7-2. He defeated Cary-Grove’s Anthony Betancourt in the wrestleback while Walikonis defeated Morris’ Michael Cisneros in the same round.
182 – Gabe Simpson, Cary-Grove
Cary-Grove senior Gabe Simpson used a patented go-to move for his 9-4 victory over Aurora Christian’s Dominic Savini for the 182 regional championship.
Up 2-0 early in the second period, Simpson (21-7) utilized a cradle action brilliantly for three back points. He never looked back from there.
Simpson also had a fall in the second period over Kaneland’s Nolan Hosking in the semifinals.
In the lower bracket, Savini earned a major decision over Burlington Central’s Brandon Mancera and a 6-3 semifinals decision over Morris’ AJ Franzetti.
In the third-place bracket, Crystal Lake South’s Dominic Ariola (16-13) breezed to the sectional with two falls. After defeating Franzetti, he ousted Hoskin with a fall in 0:36.
195 – Gable Carrick, Sycamore
Showmanship and flair have their place.
Sometimes control, perseverance and toughness get the job done.
Sycamore junior Gable Carrick relied on his fundamentals, power and force in meting out a tough and hard-fought 4-0 victory over Kaneland’s Max Pietak in the 195 finals.
“I just wanted to stay in my style, and take good, clean, almost money shots,” Carrick said.
“If it’s not there, I didn’t want to force a bad shot.”
The football run gave a great sense of empowerment. Wrestling is just the next step.
“This is a staple in our room that we have a lot of guys that can wrestle at all levels,” Carrick said.
“It’s just a statement to the room that we have, and the culture we have created over the years.”
Ranked No. 6, Carrick (30-7) reached the final with a fall in the first period over Cary-Grove’s Joe Burton in the semifinals.
Pietak (28-17) dispatched Aurora Christian’s Tyler Martinez in the lower bracket semifinal.
In the third-place match, Crystal Lake South’s Declan Egan prevailed with a 4-2 win by sudden victory over Burton. Egan also defeated Martinez by major decision in the wrestleback.
220 – Nate Diaz, Kaneland
Kaneland senior Nate Diaz proved a master of the counter.
In a match often marked by strength and power, Diaz withstood the pressure of Cary-Grove freshman Logan Abrams for a 3-1 victory at 220.
The result was not assured until the closing seconds. Diaz used a takedown in the first period for the early advantage.
Down 3-0 at the start of the third period, Abrams secured his escape. On multiple occasions in the final minute, he secured a single or double on Diaz, who negated his advantage with his power, strength and defensive maneuvers. It was just enough to secure the victory.
“Knowing this was my senior season, I just wanted to put my name up there,” Diaz said.
“At the end, I just had to kind of stall there. I had the shot right where I wanted it, so I just had to kind of get there.”
Diaz (30-13) beat Crystal Lake South’s Camden Moffet in the semifinal with a fall in 0:51. Abrams (13-7) used a fall in 5:59 over Sycamore’s Ethan Bode to win the lower bracket.
Ethan Bode responded with a late flurry to earn third place. He posted falls over Aurora Christian’s David Avitia and Burlington Central’s Sammy Winstrom to secure his place in the sectional.
Bode joined the team two weeks ago. “He started the season 0-5, but we knew he just had to get his conditioning,” Culton said.
285 – Braden Hunter, Aurora Christian
They truly saved the best for last.
With three of the top six heavyweights grouped here, something had to give.
Aurora Christian senior Braden Hunter continued his remarkable comeback from a meniscus injury suffered during the football season.
“From the start, it was a blessing because I was supposed to be out for six months and instead I was only out for about two,” Hunter said.
After defeating Crystal Lake South’s Andy Burburijia 6-0 in the semifinals, Hunter pulled out a 6-2 comeback victory over Sycamore’s Lincoln Cooley.
The first period ended scoreless as the two circled and tied up each other. Down 2-0 late in the second period for using two illegal moves, Hunter caught Cooley on his back after a failed roll resulted in three back points.
“He tried earlier in the match multiple times to do that roll, and I caught on and knew it was coming,” Hunter said. “So I tried to lean back as much as I could, and keep my balance and stay over.”
His escape and late takedown in the third period completed the scoring.
Hunter (6-0) finished fourth in the state at 285 last year. Ranked No. 3, he beat No. 6 Burburijia and No. 5 Cooley just hours apart.
Cooley (28-3) posted a fall in the first period over Cary-Grove’s Lucas Burton in the upper bracket semifinals.
The top-heavy division featured just four wrestlers. Burburijia (26-2) won by fall in 2:17 over Burton to claim third place.
Burlington Central Regional championship matches
106 – Owen Sater (Morris) F 1:39 Michael Olson (Sycamore)
113 – Deven Casey (Aurora Christian) F 2:56 Tyler Lockhart (Sycamore)
120 – Josh Vazquez (Aurora Christian) MD 16-8 Kamron Scholl (Kaneland)
126 – Doug Phillips (Burlington Central) TF 3:37 Alex Gochis (Kaneland)
132 – Caden Grabowski (Kaneland) D 13-12 Zyon Schlee (Crystal Lake South)
138 – Pat Mullen (Aurora Christian) D 6-2 Austin Laurie (Crystal Lake South)
145 – Tyler Semlar (Morris) F 0:19 Jaden Cochran (Sycamore)
152 – Tay Silva (Aurora Christian) D 7-1 Gus Cambier (Sycamore)
160 – Zack Crawford (Sycamore) F 3:29 Adan Rocha (Aurora Christian)
170 – Cooper Bode (Sycamore) F 2:57 Cole Olsen (Kaneland)
182 – Gabe Simpson (Cary-Grove) D 9-4 Dominic Savini (Aurora Christian)
195 – Gable Carrick (Sycamore) D 4-0 Max Pietak (Kaneland)
220 – Nate Diaz (Kaneland) D 3-1 Logan Abrams (Cary-Grove)
285 – Braden Hunter (Aurora Christian) D 6-2 Lincoln Cooley (Sycamore)
Sectional qualifiers at Burlington Central Regional
106: 1. Owen Sater (15-5), Morris; 2. Michael Olson (16-13), Sycamore; 3. David Wyruchowski (22-17), Burlington Central.
113: 1. Deven Casey (33-7), Aurora Christian; 2. Tyler Lockhart (33-8), Sycamore; 3. Hunter Lenz (16-11), Cary-Grove.
120: 1. Josh Vazquez (20-6), Aurora Christian; 2. Kamron Scholl (39-7), Kaneland; 3. Austin Lee (28-11), Burlington Central.
126: 1. Doug Phillips (30-11), Burlington Central; 2. Alex Gochis (34-13), Kaneland; 3. Kazden Klinker (14-17), Morris.
132: 1. Caden Grabowski (42-4), Kaneland; 2. Zyon Schlee (8-9), Crystal Lake South; 3. Cole McGuire (8-19), Burlington Central.
138: 1. Pat Mullen (20-9), Aurora Christian; 2. Austin Laurie (18-11), Crystal Lake South; 3. Noah Pechotta (20-14), Cary-Grove.
145: 1. Tyler Semlar (31-8), Morris; 2. Jaden Cochran (13-25), Sycamore; 3. Anthony Bradburn (14-16), Crystal Lake South.
152: 1. Tay Silva (32-7), Aurora Christian; 2. Gus Cambier (38-5), Sycamore; 3. Christian Duffing (30-15), Kaneland.
160: 1. Zack Crawford (35-1), Sycamore; 2. Adan Rocha (5-2), Aurora Christian; 3. Matt Gimenez (18-10), Crystal Lake South.
170: 1. Cooper Bode (30-10), Sycamore; 2. Cole Olsen (22-21), Kaneland; 3. KC Brichta Bachar (11-11), Crystal Lake South.
182: 1. Gabe Simpson (21-7), Cary-Grove; 2. Dominic Savini (14-14), Aurora Christian; 3. Dominic Ariola (16-13), Crystal Lake South.
195: 1. Gable Carrick (30-7), Sycamore; 2. Max Pietak (28-17), Kaneland; 3. Declan Egan (3-6), Crystal Lake South.
220: 1. Nate Diaz (30-13), Kaneland; 2. Logan Abrams (13-7), Cary-Grove; 3. Ethan Bode (3-6), Sycamore.
285: 1. Braden Hunter (6-0), Aurora Christian; 2. Lincoln Cooley (28-3), Sycamore; 3. Andy Burburijia (26-2), Crystal Lake South.