Unity prevails in clash of Class 1A powers to win own invite

By Curt HerronTOLONO – Three teams that advanced to last year’s IHSA Class 1A Dual Team Finals, runner-up Tremont, third-place Unity and qualifier IC Catholic Prep, met in Saturday’s Unity Invitational.

And while all graduated some outstanding individuals, it’s apparent that the trio should once again be factors in determining who the top dual teams in Illinois’ smallest class are.

The host Rockets turned in an impressive performance to win the 15-team invite at Rocket Center with 242 points while IC Catholic Prep took second place with 216.5 points and Tremont was third with 161. Hoopeston Area/Milford (127), Olympia/Heyworth (111), Bishop McNamara (108), Rochester (95), Benton (92), Carterville (87) and St. Joseph-Ogden (71) were next.

Since the top two teams in the field both have several football players, they were affected by the IHSA football playoffs. IC Catholic Prep won the Class 3A championship 48-17 over Williamsville at the nearby University of Illinois Memorial Stadium on November 25. Six days earlier, Williamsville ended Unity’s season in the semifinals by a 12-7 score.

While Unity has been able to face a lot of competition since its season ended, this was the first time that IC Catholic Prep was able to participate in an event. Needless to say, some of the Knights football players, which were about half of those who competed in the tournament, were still trying to make the adjustment to the mat.

Leading the way for coach Logan Patton’s champion Rockets were title winners Kyus Root (170), Hunter Eastin (182) and Nick Nosler (195) while Thayden Root (160) and Alex Abrahamson (285) both placed second.

Turning in third-place finishes for Unity were Travis McCarter (106), Kaden Inman (132) and Halen Daly (145) while Ryan Rink (152) and Haidyn Hendricks (220) were fourth, Trevor McCarter (113) and Hunter Shike (126) took fifth and Graydin Cler (138) also scored points.

“JR (Jason Renteria) and I are super close and we talked about how we loved seeing the football success and it translates to wrestling, but man we were ready to get on the mats and he had some bracket busters in there,” Patton said. “J had these dudes ready to compete today and I loved that they got to come down and we had some fun since we’re on the Fargo staff together. We could just go and compete.

“A year ago, Mikey Calcagno and Grant Albaugh were finalists here and then they wrestled in the state finals. I kind of said the same thing when Mikey got a little banged up today that December 17 doesn’t matter. On February 17, when this match happens for real, so let’s have some fun together.”

The night before the Invite, Unity hosted a dual team competition and perennial Class 1A power Vandalia was one of the competitors. The Rockets won that dual meet by a 57-18 score and are currently ranked fourth in Class 1A behind Coal City, Dakota and defending state champion Yorkville Christian. They have a 14-2 record with their lone losses coming to Washington and Dakota, who are both ranked second in their classes.

“I think last night we kind of showed everybody that we’re here,” Patton said. “We had Vandalia come in, who’s kind of been a big rival, and win that dual 57-18. If you look at last year’s team, we had Tavius Hosley, a three-time finalist, Grant Albaugh, a finalist, and Oran Varela, a three-time qualifier. It’s kind of cool that now these guys don’t rely on those guys to win a dual. They look at each other and say, ‘if I do my job, we’re going to win,’ and today was kind of the same thing.

“As a program since I’ve been here, we enjoy duals more than tournaments. These guys battled together and were like, listen, if we do our job, we’ll win this tournament. It wasn’t a goal, but it was nice that it happened. I think we only have three or four seniors in the lineup and one or two juniors, so we’re super freshmen and sophomore young. Hunter Eastin had a great weekend. He’s a sophomore who understood that he was behind two state finalists last year. 

“We’ve lost two duals this year, one to Dakota and one to Washington and we’re 14-2 and just won our own invite. We’ll get a little time to get healed up and to clean some things up before ABE’s and hopefully make a good run at ABE’s and kind see where we stack up against the rest of the state. I think there’s a lot of parity this year. There’s a lot of good teams and it will be who can get on a roll. I’ve got Josh Inman, who wrestled for my dad, on the staff, and then we have my dad, Henry, and my brother, Dakota, on the staff. You talk about that unity and family, all of that stuff intertwines because of what we’ve built here.”

Top performers for coach Jason Renteria’s runner-up Knights were champions Omar Samayoa (126), Bryson Spaulding (138) and isaiah Gonzalez (285) and second-place finishers Saul Trejo (120), Joseph Gliatta (152) and Michael Calcagno (195). 

Taking third place was Foley Calcagno (182) while KC Kekstadt (132), Nate Brown (160) and Vinny Gonzalez  (220) all finished fifth.  For his efforts, Samayoa received the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Award.

It was the first competition of the season for IC Catholic Prep, which is in an honorable mention selection in the most recent rankings. Half of the contingent that it sent to the mats on Saturday were on the school’s football team, which went 13-1 and captured the Class 3A championship with a 48-17 victory over Williamsville, giving the school its sixth state title and fourth under coach Bill Krefft, whose teams won three in a row from 2016-2018. 

“It feels good to have the whole team back,” Renteria said. “Right now, it’s just about making sure that we get our football players back the way other guys  are. We’ve got guys like Omar and Bryson who both won today. They trained throughout the whole summer and really put their heads down and they’re grinding. We’re starting to see with our guys that guys who are really putting the work in, it’s starting to show. So it’s just about making sure that the boys put the work in come February. 

“It’s more mature now with the boys because I think they do understand now what they’re capable of. When I got to start coaching at IC, I don’t think they knew exactly where they could be, but now I feel like they have a light on it and now they know what they need to do. So now the fire is different.”

Pacing coach TJ Williams’ third-place Turks were champions Payton Murphy (120) and Mason Mark (132) and runners-up Bowden Delaney (126) and TJ Connor (182). Konnor Martin (113) placed third, Jayden Neil (106) finished fourth and Josh Geyer (145) and Thomas Conn (285) both took fifth place. Tremont is ranked 16th in the latest poll.

Also winning titles were Rochester’s Conner Carroll (106), Lutheran School Association Decatur’s Clinton VerHeecke (113), Benton’s Mason Tieffel (145), Bishop McNamara’s Luke Christie (152), Lanphier’s Connor Janssen (160) and St. Joseph-Ogden’s Owen Birt.

Others who finished in second place were Hoopeston Area/Milford’s Ceaser Espinoza (138) and Angel Zamora (170), Bishop McNamara’s Blake Arseneau (106), Urbana’s Cordero Sims (113), St. Joseph-Ogden’s Holden Brazelton (132), Rochester’s Nolan Mrozowski (145) and Olympia/Heyworth’s Nolen Yeary (220). The two co-op teams in the invitational, Hoopeston Area/Milford and Olympia/Heyworth are honorable mention in the 1A rankings.

The closest matches saw Tieffel beating Mrozowski 8-5 at 145, Mark beating Brazelton 8-3 at 132, Christie winning 10-4 over Gliatta at 152 and Janssen beating Thayden Root 13-7 at 160.

Winning titles by fall were Carroll (106), Spaulding (138), Eastin (182), Birt (220) and Gonzalez (285) while VerHeecke (113) and Kyus Root (170) both won with major decisions.

In a reflection of the tough nature of the competition, title matches at 120 (Murphy over Trejo), 126 (Samayoa over Delaney) and 195 (Nosler over Calcagno) all ended early due to injuries.

Champions who also won titles in 2021 were Carroll (106), Christie (152), Nosler (195) and Gonzalez (285). Individuals who were second a year ago and won titles on Saturday were Samayoa (126), Tieffel (145) and Janssen (160). And 2021 title winners who placed second were Brazelton (132), Mrozowski (145), Zamora (170) and Calcagno (195).

One of the more anticipated title matches was at 195, where Michael Calcagno and Nosler and Calcagno met up in a clash of state finalists, with the former taking first and the latter second. But Calcagno got injured early in the match and eventually had to injury default to Nosler.

There was a tie for most team points with 28 between six individuals, Birt (220), Gonzalez (285), Murphy (120), Nosler (195), Samayoa (126) and Spaulding (138). Scoring 27 team points were Kyus Root (170) and Clinton VerHeecke (113). Carroll (106), Christie (152), Eastin (182) and Tieffel (145) all scored 26 points, Janssen (160) had 24.5 and Mark (132) had 24 points.

Other third-place finishers were Benton’s Anthony Hernandez (138) and Collin Hill (170), Olympia/Heyworth’s Bentley Wise (152) and Kelton Graden (160), Carterville’s Zechariah Miller (220) and Riley Bradford (285), Lutheran School Association Decatur’s Garrett VerHeecke (120), Bishop McNamara’s Jackson Jeck (126) and Charleston’s Marcellx Boling (195).

Individuals who also placed fourth were Olympia/Heyworth’s Mateo Martinez (120) and Cole Bauer (170), Hoopeston Area/Milford’s Aiden Bell (126) and Cohen Brown (160), Rochester’s Drake Pfeiffer (132) and Jared Lauwerens (195), St. Joseph-Ogden’s Emmitt Holt (113), Urbana’s Jonnah Fonner (138), Bishop McNamara’s Lance Onyeukwu (145), Prairie Central’s Connor Steidinger (182) and Charleston’s Stormy Hughes (285).

Also finishing in fifth-place were Carterville’s Landyn Flood (120), Chris Bates (182) and Jonathon Weiderman (195), Hoopeston Area/Milford’s Owen Garrett (106) and Ayden Larkin (152) and Bishop McNamara’s Cole Kimberlin (138) and Ethan Pfieffer (170).

Unity hopes that it not only can qualify for the dual team finals for the third-straight season, but also get a semifinals win so that it won’t be in the third-place match for the third year in a row. The Rockets have lost to the last two state champions in the semifinals, falling to Yorkville Christian last season and to Dakota in 2020, and then finished in third place both years.

Tremont beat IC Catholic Prep 39-34 in the quarterfinals last season in Bloomington and then went on to finish second to Yorkville Christian. The Turks hope to advance to the dual team finals for the fourth-straight year and pick up hardware for the second time.

IC Catholic Prep made its second appearance in the dual team finals and first since 2018 but came up short in the quarterfinals to Tremont. The Knights hope that this is the season when they capture their first state trophy.

Unity Invitational championship matches

106 – Conner Carroll (Rochester) F 0:54 Blake Arseneau (Bishop McNamara)

113 – Clinton VerHeecke (Lutheran School Association Decatur) MD 14-6 Cordero Sims (Urbana)

120 – Payton Murphy (Tremont) INJ 4:35 Saul Trejo (IC Catholic Prep)

126 – Omar Samayoa (IC Catholic Prep) INJ 2:00 Bowden Delaney (Tremont)

132 – Mason Mark (Tremont) D 8-3 Holden Brazelton (St. Joseph-Ogden)

138 – Bryson Spaulding (IC Catholic Prep) F 3:44 Ceaser Espinoza (Hoopeston Area/Milford)

145 – Mason Tieffel (Benton) D 8-5 Nolan Mrozowski (Rochester)

152 – Luke Christie (Bishop McNamara) D 10-4 Joseph Gliatta (IC Catholic Prep)

160 – Connor Janssen (Lanphier) D 13-7 Thayden Root (Unity)

170 – Kyus Root (Unity) MD 13-0 Angel Zamora (Hoopeston Area/Milford)

182 – Hunter Eastin (Unity) F 3:14 TJ Connor (Tremont)

195 – Nick Nosler (Unity) INJ 3:52 Michael Calcagno (IC Catholic Prep)

220 – Owen Birt (St. Joseph-Ogden) F 3:35 Nolen Yeary (Olympia/Heyworth)

285 – Isaiah Gonzalez (IC Catholic Prep) F 1:25 Alex Abrahamson (Unity)

Here’s a breakdown of the Unity Invitational champions and their weight brackets:

106 – Conner Carroll, Rochester

After joining three others who repeated as a champion at the Unity Invitational, Conner Carroll now sets his sights on something that he wasn’t able to a year ago, and that’s to qualify for the IHSA finals in Champaign.

The Rochester sophomore improved to 10-0 after claiming top honors at 106, recording a fall in 0:54 in the title match over Bishop McNamara’s Blake Arseneau after getting a pin in 4:15 in the semifinals over Unity’s Travis McCarter. Listed as honorable mention at his weight in Class 2A, he was one of two members of coach Brad Alewelt’s Rockets to reach the title mat and the lone one to capture a championship.

“I worked on my half, and steering wheel, so that got me to the final,” Carroll said. “I just kept doing it, and that’s how I got first place. I didn’t make state last year and became 106 this year so I’m hoping I can be the state champ. I went to any type of camp and have been working out and lifting. I’m definitely pretty excited. I just have to keep it going.”

Arseneau, a freshman who is 10-3, was one of the two members of the Fightin’ Irish to reach the title mat after getting a win by technical fall in the quarterfinals and then winning in the same fashion in the semifinals against Tremont’s Jayden Neil.

McCarter (8-2) defeated Neil  (9-5) by fall in 3:55 for third-place in a matchup of freshmen. Fifth-place honors also were settled by two freshmen as Hoopeston Area/Milford’s Owen Garrett (6-4) won with a pin in 3:08 over Charleston’s Lucas Ross.

113 – Clinton VerHeecke, Lutheran School Association Decatur

Clinton VerHeecke and his twin brother Garrett decided to go to a high school after being home-schooled. The only problem was that the two freshmen from Decatur wanted to attend a school that previously had no program, Lutheran School Association Decatur.

Thanks to an influx of similarly-minded athletes, coach Zach Whitsel’s Lions were able to bring eight to the Unity Invite and the VerHeeckes led the way with Clinton taking first at 113 and Garrett finishing third at 120. After recording a fall in 1:47 in the quarterfinals, Clinton (18-0), who’s second-ranked at 113, won with a fall in 4:26 in the semifinals over Tremont’s Konnor Martin and then won a 14-6 major decision over Urbana’s Cordero Sims in the 113 finals.

“I’ve been home-schooled up through eighth grade, so this is actually my first year attending a regular school,” VerHeecke said. “And I have a twin brother and he’s been doing really well. We’re a really small private school with about 120 kids. We talked to the staff there and expressed our needs and they were really willing to start a program, and we ended up having like 10 kids who came out. It’s really exciting because it kind of feels like every time you do something big, it’s a new record. One thing that I did in the offseason was that I got into the weight room a lot. I can just tell how much stronger I feel versus last season. I also started playing football this year and that was also kind of nice.”

Sims (13-3), who’s ranked sixth in 2A and was a state qualifier a year ago, was one of two medal winners for Urbana. After opening with a win by technical fall and recording a fall in 1:12 in the quarterfinals, the Tigers junior earned his spot on the title mat with a 4-0 decision in the semifinals over St. Joseph-Ogden’s Emmitt Holt.

In the third-place match, Martin (5-2) claimed a 6-4 decision over Holt (7-5) in a matchup of Class 1A ranked sophomores. Martin is fifth and Holt, a 2022 state qualifier, is ranked sixth at 113. In the fifth-place match, Unity junior Trevor McCarter (9-9) won by fall in 4:21 over Hoopeston Area/Milford freshman Charlie Flores (9-5).

120 – Payton Murphy, Tremont

After being unable to compete a year ago due to injuries, Payton Murphy is focused on finishing his career with a bang and hopes that a new setting helps him to not only make a third trip to state but also earn his first trip to the awards stand.

The Tremont senior, who won 44 matches and qualified for state in 2020 and won 30 matches and advanced in 2021 to the IWCOA finals while competing for Deer Creek-Mackinaw, hopes that competing for coach TJ Williams at Tremont will help him to become a state medalist. Murphy (9-1), who just missed being ranked in the top-10 at 120, opened with a fall in 0:37 in the quarterfinals and then won by fall in 4:33 in the semifinals over Lutheran School Association Decatur’s Garrett VerHeecke before winning the 120 title by injury default in 4:35 over IC Catholic Prep’s Saul Trejo.

“I just came over to Tremont this year,” Murphy said. “I decided to come over here to get me better. TJ has been like a second father to me. He helps us with everything and just makes you a better wrestler. All of the energy and the culture around us, it builds you up, it makes it feel like they’re in the match with you. I know that me and him (Trejo) and one of my other buddies were all injured last year. Missing out on a year that I really wanted just made me want to come out here and get better and better. I’ve just been putting in the drill time. A lot of people that live wrestling gets you there. But to me it’s all drilling and repetition. You have to perfect things.”

Trejo (2-1), a senior who’s ranked third at 120, was a Class 1A champion in the IHSA at 106 in 2020 and in the IWCOA at 113 in 2021. After winning by fall in 0:41 in the quarterfinals, Trejo got a pin in 3:37 in the semifinals over Olympia/Heyworth’s Mateo Martinez to advance to the title mat, but he was unable to go the distance due to an injury that ended it in the third period.

VerHeecke (14-3), a freshman who like Murphy ranked just outside of the top 10, followed his brother Clinton’s 113 title win with a fall in 1:02 in the third-place match over sophomore Martinez (8-5). In the fifth-place match, Carterville sophomore Landyn Flood (10-6) captured a 6-4 decision over Hoopeston Area/Milford’s junior Talon Nelson (10-4).

126 – Omar Samayoa, IC Catholic Prep

After qualifying for state for the last two years and being a member of a team that competed in the 1A dual team finals a year ago, Omar Samayoa is looking to take things to the next level this season, both individually and for IC Catholic Prep.

The Knights junior definitely did his part in his team’s season debut at the Unity Invitational. After recording a fall in 1:47 in the quarterfinals, Samayoa (3-0), who’s just ranked outside of the top 10, won by fall in 4:47 over Bishop McNamara’s Jackson Jeck in the semifinals before winning by injury default in 2:00 in the 126 finals over Tremont’s Bowden Delaney. As a result of his efforts, he was selected by the coaches as the recipient of the Outstanding Wrestler Award. A year ago, he took second place at 132 in the Unity Invite.

“This was exciting,” Samayoa said. “The level of competition was pretty good. We couldn’t certify earlier, and if we could have, we would have won more team trophies. We have a lot of football players. Otherwise, we would have had more duals and matches and more experience so that we could get all of the kinks out that we had today. It would have been a much more dominating performance. Last year (at dual state), everybody didn’t perform up to their standards, because if we did, we could have gotten second place. So this year, we’re going for first. I’ve been training all summer, and practicing five or six days a week, at least. I just kept pushing harder and harder. And I’m still pushing.”

Delaney (11-2), a sophomore who also is ranked just outside of the top 10, hoped to follow up on a first at the Plano Reaper Classic, but had to give up on his hopes for a second title in two weeks due to injury after one period of the finals. Delaney opened with a fall in 0:44 in the quarterfinals and got a pin in 1:59 over Hoopeston Area/Milford’s Aiden Bell in the semifinals.

For third place, senior Jeck (9-2) won by technical fall over freshman Bell (12-4). And in  the fifth-place match, Unity freshman Hunter Shike (13-6) won by fall in 3:30 over Olympia/Heyworth junior Bryson Wilson. Shike won the award for recording the fastest fall, which was 0:16, and that was the second of his four pins during the competition.

132 – Mason Mark, Tremont

Mason Mark definitely had a tough task in front of him if he intended to claim top honors at 132 at the Unity Invitational.

The Tremont junior faced not only a pair of ranked opponents in his final two matches but also two individuals who had won 40 or more matches and qualified for state last season, something that he didn’t do after competing in the IWCOA finals in 2021. But Mark (15-1), who’s ranked sixth, was definitely up to the challenge, following a fall in 0:56 with a 6-4 win by sudden victory in the semifinals over Unity’s Kaden Inman, who’s ranked seventh, and then capping his title run with an 8-3 decision over St. Joseph-Ogden’s Holden Brazelton, who’s ranked ninth.

“You want to win, but we’re doing the best that we can this year,” Mark said. “We lost a lot of seniors at big weights, but we have new guys that are working in the room. He’s (TJ) a great coach, he pushes and he puts us in tough positions in practice. He’s always trying to make us better. Payton had a tough year last year but he’s doing good this year back on the mat and getting reps in, he should go far this year. I’m just working hard in practice and getting the reps in. Just doing something every day to get myself prepared.”

Brazelton (13-1), who won 44 matches and placed sixth at 120 a year ago, suffered his first defeat of the season and was denied in his attempt to add to a title win at PORTA and repeat as a champion at Unity. The sophomore captured wins by technical fall in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, beating Rochester’s Drake Pfeiffer to advance him to the title mat, one of just two individuals who got there for the Spartans, with 220 champion Owen Birt being the other.

Inman (10-6), a sophomore who won 41 matches a year ago, recorded a fall in 0:31 in the quarterfinals, bounced back from his tough setback to Mark with a win by technical fall over sophomore Pfeiffer (5-3) to claim third place. For fifth place, IC Catholic Prep freshman KC Kekstadt won by fall in 5:14 over Hoopeston Area/Milford freshman Rasiah Jones.

138 – Bryson Spaulding, IC Catholic Prep

Bryson Spaulding is definitely hoping that the third time’s the charm for him this season after running into eventual 126 champion Phoenix Blakely in his opening match at state a year ago or losing by sudden victory and in an ultimate tiebreaker in the IWCOA finals in 2021.

The IC Catholic junior, who’s honorable mention at 138, opened his season in a good fashion with three-straight falls to win the title at 138. After needing just 0:59 to record a pin in the quarterfinals, Spaulding (3-0) won by fall in 1:14 over Urbana’s Jonnah Fonner in the semifinals before getting a pin in 3:44 in the finals against Hoopeston Area/Milford’s Ceaser Espinoza.

“The football players just got off from winning that state title, so they have the taste of blood already, so they’re ready to go get it,” Spaulding said. “The guys came in with a lot of energy and everyone else was already working, so coach already had the mentality that we were going to be hard-working the entire year. Last year, we didn’t have a full lineup but this year we have a full lineup of guys and they’re all motivated and ready to do this. J (Jason) expects all to win individual titles and a team title so we all have that expectation in our minds and are working for it, so that’s real good. I’ve worked on my mindset since going into certain matches, I wasn’t mentally there.”

Espinoza (9-3), a freshman, was one of two competitors for coach Chris Kelnhofer’s Cornjerkers who reached the title mat, with Angel Zamora the other at 170, and he also took second place. After winning by fall in 1:14 in the quarterfinals, Espinoza captured a 9-4 decision over Benton’s Anthony Hernandez in the semifinals to earn his spot opposite Spaulding in the finals.

Hernandez (16-6), a sophomore, claimed third-place honors with a fall in 4:40 over freshman Fonner. And in the fifth-place match, Bishop McNamara freshman Cole Kimberlin captured a 9-5 decision over Rochester junior Dylan Estes.

145 – Mason Tieffel, Benton

Mason Tieffel was able to experience the thrill of being in the Grand March last season, an impressive feat since only two other individuals from his school had ever done so previously. But after losing in the 1A 126 title match to Dakota’s Phoenix Blakely by technical fall, he’s focused on not only getting back to the finals but equalling Gabe Craig’s title at 285 at the IWCOA finals in 2021 and Zach Wilson’s Class A title at 140 in 2008.

The Benton junior, who took third at 120 in the IWCOA in 2021, is 22-0 after winning 8-5 over Rochester’s Nolan Mrozowski in the 145 title match. Tieffel, ranked third at 138, lost in the Unity Invite finals at 126 last year in one of his few setbacks in a 47-5 season. He recorded a fall in 1:14 before getting a pin in 1:12 in the semifinals over Bishop McNamara’s Lance Onyeukwu. This is his second invite title of the season, adding to a championship at Civic Memorial.

“It was really cool and that’s what I was wanting to do,” Tieffel said of reaching last year’s finals. “But I did not wrestle as good as I was hoping to. The (finals) match really wasn’t what I wanted to happen, but I think it really helped in the long run. It really showed me that I’m not where I need to be and where I want to be. It really showed me what I needed to work on. I think I’ve improved a lot over the summer and will for the rest of this year. I’ve been all over the place with my weight. I’m just trying to find the best matches I can get. I’ve just been pushing my pace and trying to put as many points on the board the entire match that I can.”

Mrozowski (9-3), a junior who won a title in the Unity Invite last season at 132, joined 106 title winner Conner Carroll as the Rockets’ lone finalists. An honorable mention selection at 145, Mrozowski, who qualified for last year’s IHSA finals as well as the 2021 IWCOA finals, won by fall in 1:15 before recording a pin in 0:34 in the semifinals over Unity’s Halen Daly.

Daly (8-3), a junior, won by fall in 1:28 over freshman Onyeukwu to claim third place. And in the fifth-place match, Tremont junior Josh Geyer won by fall in 5:10 over Hoopeston Area/Milford sophomore David Bell. 

152 – Luke Christie, Bishop McNamara

Luke Christie recalls well when his brother Blain capped a 21-1 season to win the 1A title at 145 in the 2021 IWCOA finals since he was also competing in Springfield in that historic event. 

After going 29-4 and placing fourth at 152 a year ago and being a state qualifier in 2021 in the IWCOA and also in 2020, the Bishop McNamara senior has his sights set on capping his career like his brother did, as a state champion. Christie (9-1), ranked third at 152, repeated as a Unity Invite champion after opening with a fall in 3:31, getting a pin in 0:39 over Unity’s Ryan Rink in the semifinals and then winning 10-4 over IC Catholic Prep’s Joseph Gliatta in the title match.

“I knew going in here that there was going to be tough competition, for sure,” Christie said. “I didn’t know exactly how the brackets were going to play out, so I just had to be ready to go all out through matches. I think we have 11 to 14 freshmen and they have a lot of work to do, but they’re still winning and we’re winning duals and it’s great to see them and they’re going to be good by the end of the year. Seeing his (Blain) success really made me see that that was something I could do, too. Last year, mentally I knew going into the state tournament, that I was one of the best. I let it slip in my first match but then I wrestled all the way back. So this year in the summer, I just made sure I just made sure that that was always in the back of my head. So I’m just working on my mindset.”

Gliatta (2-1), a junior who took sixth last year at 145 and was an IWCOA qualifier in 2021, is ranked sixth at 152. He won by technical fall in the quarterfinals before recording a fall in 2:26 in the semifinals over Olympia/Heyworth’s Bentley Wise to earn his spot on the title mat.

Wise (13-4), a junior who won a title at Pontiac, captured third place after recording a fall in 1:29 over sophomore Rink (9-6). In the fifth-place match, Hoopeston Area/Milford sophomore Ayden Larkin (11-4) got a pin in 3:44 over Carterville junior Merrick Orendoff (8-5).

160 – Connor Janssen, Lanphier

Connor Janssen realizes that not many wrestlers from Lanphier have advanced to the awards stand at the state finals in recent years. And while just four Lions have received state medals in the past 20 years and none has placed better than fourth, Janssen thinks he might be able to  make a run at it and perhaps become the third individual from his school to compete for a title, which was last done in 1996.

Janssen, a senior who’s ranked eighth at 160 in Class 2A and also a returning state qualifier, improved to 8-0 after capturing the title at 160 with a 13-7 decision over Unity’s Thayden Root. Following an 11-3 major decision in the quarterfinals, Janssen won by technical fall over Hoopeston Area/Milford’s Cowen Brown in the semifinals. Janssen took second place at last year’s Unity Invite.

“I’ve been really successful so far this season,” Janssen said. “My goal is obviously to win state and I’m just going to do anything that it takes to achieve that. It’s really hard without any practice partners, so I mainly focus with all of the coaches. I lost my practice partner, so I have to wrestle all of the coaches and get beat up every day. And I’ve also been lifting weights. Last year, my max on bench was like 185 and now it’s 225. I’m real confident and I’m super excited.”

Root (13-3), a junior who’s honorable mention at 160, was one of five Unity competitors who reached the title mat from 160 to 285, with three of those winning titles. After recording a fall in 1:11 in his opener, Root advanced to meet Janssen by getting a pin in 3:43 over Olympia/Heyworth’s Kelton Graden in the semifinals.

Graden (12-6), who’s a sophomore, captured third place with a fall in 0:59 over senior Cohen Brown (9-6). In the fifth-place match, IC Catholic Prep sophomore Nate Brown (4-1) recorded a pin in 3:43 over Charleston senior Alec Sellers (7-5).

170 – Kyus Root, Unity

Kyus Root helped to put the finishing touches on a big weekend for the host Rockets when he became the first of their three champions of the own invite, and he was quickly followed on top of the awards stand by teammates Hunter Eastin and Nick Nosler to help Unity win the team title by 25.5 points over runner-up IC Catholic Prep.

Root (14-1), a senior ranked 7th at 170 who won 45 matches and qualified for state a year ago as well as in 2021 in the IWCOA finals, won his first two matches by fall before winning a major decision to secure his team’s first individual title. After winning his opener by fall in 1:23, Root recorded a pin in 0:54 in the semifinals over Benton’s Collin Hill and then won 13-0 over Hoopeston Area/Milford’s Angel Zamora to capture the championship.

“I thought it was a very good day for the team,” Root said. “It’s early in the season and there’s room to improve and we still have a long way to go. You can’t win a state tournament in December. I think this team has a lot of potential. It’s not the same team that it was last year, but you’re not going to have the same team two years in a row. Every day we’re bonding more and more. What I like most about the team is that no matter what, we always wrestle for each other. You’re wrestling for the team and you’re doing what’s best for the team to win the tournament or win the dual. Coach always knows best and we’re really loyal to him and we trust him a lot. Right now, my main biggest work has been working on my conditioning.”

Zamora (11-3), a sophomore and honorable mention at 170, was one of two Cornjerkers to reach the title mat, got a pin in 2:18 in his opener and a fall in 2:39 over Olympia’Heyworth’s Cole Bauer in the semifinals. Zamora won a title at the Unity Invite last season.

Hill (6-2), who’s a junior, captured a 17-11 decision over sophomore Bauer (9-6) to finish third. In the fifth-place match, Bishop McNamara sophomore Ethan Pfieffer (7-6) won a 12-5 decision over Lanphier sophomore Jayden Crowder (7-3).

182 – Hunter Eastin, Unity

When an athlete is at the same weight classes as teammates who compete for state titles, they’re probably not going to get many chances to stand out. But training with guys like runners-up Grant Albaugh at 182 and Nick Nosler at 195 certainly benefited Hunter Eastin and he’s excited about the opportunity that awaits both himself and Unity.

Eastin, a sophomore who had fewer than 20 matches a year ago, is off to a 15-1 start after taking first at 182 with a fall in 3:14 over Tremont’s TJ Connor, who entered the match with no losses. Eastin, ranked fourth at 182, opened the tournament with a fall in 0:53 and then claimed a 10-5 decision over IC Catholic Prep’s Foley Calcagno in the semifinals.

“I am excited, especially considering how our team is so young,” Eastin said. “We only have four seniors and our JV kids are building up nicely. I’ve worked on my conditioning, especially after football season. Plus I’ve been working on stuff like underhooks and drives. Last year, I didn’t start because I was behind Grant Albaugh and Nick. I didn’t have many moves last year., I just had my fireman’s and maybe a high-cross sometimes. So I’m really expanding my horizons in moves this year.”

Connor (14-1), one of the four Turks to reach the title mat for coach TJ Williams, followed a fall in 1:38 in the quarterfinals with a pin in 3:59 in the semifinals over Prairie Central’s Connor Steidinger. Ranked fifth at 182 and coming off of a tourney championship at Plano, Connor qualified for state a year ago.

Calcagno (3-1), a freshman who’s ranked sixth at 182, made a nice debut and claimed third place with a fall in 4:48 over Steidinger (8-4), a senior who took sixth a year ago at 195 and an IWCOA qualifier in 2021, is ranked seventh and put up a good fight despite being a bit banged up. In the fifth-place match, Carterville senior Chris Bates (12-4) won 5-4 over Rochester senior Mason Wheeler (10-2).

195 – Nick Nosler, Unity

Nick Nosler got as close as you can get to being a state champion a year ago, falling 8-6 in sudden victory to Dakota’s Noah Wenzel in the 195 title match and is determined to take the next step toward the top of the awards stand this season while also helping his team to finish better than third in the dual team competition.

The Unity senior, who went 50-3 a year ago, is off to an 11-2 start after winning by injury default in 3:52 over IC Catholic Prep’s Michael Calcagno, last year’s 1A champion at 182 who finished with a 27-1 record. Calcagno got hurt early in the title match and fought on before halting the match late in the second period. Nosler, who’s ranked second at 195, got a fall in 0:31 in his first match and then recorded another pin in 0:31 in the semifinals over Charleston’s Marcellx Boling. Nosler also won a title at his own invite last season.

“I’m just working hard in the room and getting better every day,” Nosler said. “Everybody is getting better in the room and Patton is pushing us every day to get better. It takes time and we have two months until the state finals. The loss last year at the state finals and getting third again at team state. So we have to push our team and push ourselves.”

Calcagno (2-1), one of the many Knights who were delayed in their return to the mat as a result of helping the school’s football team to the Class 3A championship, got a pin in 0:34 in his first march before recording a fall in 1:13 in the semifinals over Rochester’s Jared Lauwerens. Ranked fourth at 195, Calcagno, a title winner in the Unity Invite last year, also took sixth at 160 in 2021 in the IWCOA .

Boling (7-4), a sophomore, claimed third place honors with a fall in 3:21 over junior Lauwerens (4-3). In the fifth-place match, Carterville sophomore Jonathon Weiderman (13-8) won with a pin in 0:56 over Benton freshman Payton Robinson (10-6).

220 – Owen Birt, St. Joseph-Ogden

Owen Birt got the chance to compete in the IWCOA state finals in 2021 but fell one win shy of advancing to the IHSA finals last season. It’s safe to say that the St. Joseph-Ogden senior doesn’t want to see any drama in reaching state as he wraps up career as a Spartan.

Birt (10-1), an honorable mention selection at 220, followed a fall in 2:33 with a pin in 2:21 in the semifinals over Unity’s Haidyn Hendricks before recording another fall, this time in 3:35 to capture top honors at 220 over Olympia/Heyworth’s Nolen Yeary, to be one of the three medal winners for the five-man Spartans.

“There were a lot of good wrestlers out there today,” Birt said. “I know that a lot of them placed at state last year, so it’s great to see them back. I’ve just tried to make sure I’m in shape in the offseason and I’ve obviously just tried to get stronger since I have to stay in shape. I’m doing pretty good. I’ve only lost one match so far so that’s probably one of the better seasons that I’ve had. I just enjoy not losing, it’s always a good feeling to come out on top.” 

Yeary (8-5), a junior who is also an honorable mention selection in the rankings, won his opener with a pin in 0:22 and then recorded a fall in 3:27 over Carterville’s Zechariah Miller before becoming the lone individual from Olympia to advance to the title mat.

Miller (16-2), who’s a junior, captured third-place honors with a fall in 0:54 over senior Hendricks (7-6). And in the fifth-place match, IC Catholic Prep junior Vinny Gonzalez (4-1) won by fall in 1:39 over Lanphier senior Nick Avendano.

285 – Isaiah Gonzalez, IC Catholic Prep

Most athletes would be thrilled to be involved in two state title competitions as an individual or to be a captain on a state championship team in another sport. Isiah Gonzalez has had the good fortune to be in both positions and now would like an individual championship to go along with his recent state with his team.

A starting right tackle for IC Catholic Prep’s football team that won 48-17 over Williamsville in last month’s Class 3A title game also has the distinction of being a two-time state runner-up at 285, falling in the finals to Alleman’s Charles Jagusah last year to finish with a 34-2 record and to Benton’s Gabe Craig in 2021 in the IWCOA finals. The senior and three-time state qualifier who’s ranked second at 285, went 3-0 to capture top honors at 285 and repeat as a champion at the Unity Invite, following a fall of 0:49 with a pin in 0:47 in the semifinals over Charleston’s Stormy Hughes and then pinning Unity’s Alex Abrahamson in 1:25 in the title match.

“It was awesome, especially playing at the big stadium,” said Gonzalez of the championship football team, which was honored by the Bears the following day at Soldier Field. “I feel like we can have individual state championships and I think that we have a really good shot at winning the team state. We just got certified last week and have been in the room for a week and a half. It was a great start to the season. We can definitely perform a little better, but that just happens more as you practice more and get into the flow of the season.We’re working harder in the room and we’re more focused. There’s no messing around. We know what we want and we know what we have to do to get it.” 

Abrahamson (13-1), who suffered his first loss of the season, was one of five Rockets to advance to the title mat to help the hosts claim top honors. The junior opened with a pin in 1:21 before recording a fall in 5:05 in the semifinals over Carterville’s Riley Bradford.

Bradford (17-3), who’s a senior, won third place with a fall in 0:46 over junior Hughes (5-3). In the fifth-place match, Tremont senior Thomas Conn won with a pin in 4:31 over Lanphier freshman Noe Reyes.

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