By Curt Herron
One of the smallest schools in Illinois that has a wrestling program also has some of the biggest dreams as to what special things they may be able to accomplish this season.
With an enrollment of 64.5 students per the IHSA, Yorkville Christian is hoping that its championship in the return of Plano’s Reaper Classic on Saturday after a one-year hiatus is the start of something big for a young program that had just four individuals competing four years ago.
Coach Mike Vester’s Mustangs captured five titles, had six second-place finishers and placed in the top-six at each weight class after advancing all 14 individuals to the semifinals to claim the title of the 38th annual Reaper Classic with 229 points, which was well ahead of runner-up Sandwich, who had 179.5 points.
Princeton claimed third place with 143 points while Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher edged Prairie Central 100-99 for fourth place and the host Reapers were sixth with 84 points in a competition that featured 15 teams.
Winning championships for Yorkville Christian were Aiden Larsen (106), Isaac Bourge (120), Tyler Martinez (160), Jackson Gillen (170) and Michael Esquivel (285). It missed out on winning another title when Noah Dial (132) was disqualified in the late stages of a match where he had a big lead.
Others finishing second for the Mustangs were Grason Johnson (126), Braulio Flores (138), Jeremy Loomis (145), Drew Torza (152) and Chris Durbin (195). Brooklyn Sheaffer (113) finished fifth while Jackson Mehochko (182) and Garrett English (220) took sixth place.
Yorkville Christian, which finished fourth in its first tournament at Antioch, has a challenging schedule for a small school with a young program that features a significant percentage of the students who are wrestlers. The Mustangs have already met Deerfield and are scheduled to face highly-ranked teams like Joliet Catholic Academy and Washington in 2A and Lockport in 3A, as well as taking part in DeKalb’s Flavin Invite, the Cheesehead Invite in Wisconsin and Mahomet-Seymour’s Marty Williams Invite.
One of the Mustangs’ assistants who is excited about what’s happening at the young school in Kendall County and also happens to have his name on the wall at Plano is Travis Martinez. He was a state runner-up at 275 in Class A in 1998 for the Reapers and is the father of the tournament’s 160 champion, Tyler Martinez.
“It was very exciting to give him a hug afterward and to tell him that in this gymnasium he was able to do something that his father never did, I never won the Reaper Tournament,” Travis Martinez said. “It was great to see the competition here and we’ve been wrestling a lot of 2A and 3A schools and that’s what we’ve been looking for. We want to get battle-tested early since we have some big intentions of trying to go deep into the tournament this year, both individually and as a team. We know the potential of the kids and they’re starting to realize their potential. We went 14 of 14 of getting the kids into the semifinals and 11 made the finals. All in all, you have to be proud of their efforts.”
Sandwich had three champions, Evan Reilly (138), Aidan Linden (152) and Alex Alfaro (182) while Ashlyn Strenz (106) and Samuel Dale (170) both took second. Bryce Decker (160) finished third, Miles Corder (126) and Kaiden Gustafson (195) were fourth, Sy Smith (132) and Nolan Bobee (145) placed fifth as all 10 Indians won medals.
Princeton had nine of its 11 competitors finish sixth or better with Matthew Harris (126) and Augie Christiansen (145) leading the way with championships while Ace Christiansen (120) claimed second place. Taking third for the Tigers were Drew Harp (195) and JJ Wicaryus (285), while Kaydin Gibson (113), Carlos Benavidez (132) and Carson Etheridge (160) all placed fourth and Preston Arkels (138) finished in sixth place.
Three other teams each had one champion and two of those were recognized with the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Award for lower and upper weights.
Earning the honor as outstanding wrestler for lower weights was Somonauk’s Shea Reisel (113), who not only made history as a girls champion in the tournament but also by claiming one of the two OWA awards, for the lower weights.
“Her biggest thing is that she just outworks everybody, that’s what it comes down to,” Somonauk coach Mike Otto said. “She’s a hard worker and doesn’t give up and doesn’t complain. Even if she’s behind in the score, I always think that she’s going to win because she’s never going to stop. She’s got a goal in mind and that’s what she’s aiming for.”
Receiving the outstanding wrestler award for the upper weights was TF North’s Alex Jackson, who also happened to claim his first title in a varsity tournament. He had been unable to break into the lineup due to the presence of a pair of state champion brothers, Bilal and Sincere Bailey.
The other tournament champion hadn’t even expected to be at the Reaper Classic until just the past week. Prairie Central’s Connor Steidinger (220) was supposed to compete in The Munch Invite in Pontiac, but after that event got canceled, his program was offered the chance to take part and made of the opportunity, which also featured Jerome Brown (138) recording a tournament-best six falls to place third.
Others claiming second-place finishes were Saint Ignatius College Prep’s Nate Sanchez (113) and Dylan Kabance (132), Marian Catholic’s Lloyd Mills (160), Wheaton Academy’s Hunter Kazmierczak (182), TF North’s Bryant Bobadilla (220) and Plano’s Alex Diaz (285).
Seventeen individuals who were placewinners in the last Reaper Classic returned to the awards stand again and eight of those, East Aurora’s Zamir Castanon, Bourge, Flores, Harp, Harris, Kazmierczak, Linden and Reisel are three-time placewinners in the tournament with 2019 first-place finisher Gillen and 2018 title winners Bourge and Harris became two-time champions in the competition.
Teams that have won Reaper Classic titles have fared very well in the IHSA Class A and 1A dual team series. Twenty of the 37 championship squads have won trophies for top-four showings while 15 have competed for titles and nine have captured state championships.
Here are the tournament champions and the other place winners at their weight classes:
106 – Aiden Larsen, Yorkville Christian
Yorkville Christian freshman Aiden Larsen won by fall in 2:18 over Sandwich sophomore Ashlyn Strenz at 106 to start the Reaper Classic finals. He advanced to the title match after getting a quick fall in his first match in the semifinals while Strenz, who joined Shea Reisel as one of the two girls who advanced to consecutive title matches, moved on with first-minute pins in both the quarterfinals and semifinals. Larsen, who is ranked third at 106 in 1A, took second place at Antioch’s DeRousse Tournament.
“It’s a great school and we’ve been together since we were eight or nine years old,” said Larsen of his school and teammates. “It feels good to get your first high school tournament win. I had a tough loss against Hanrahan (Antioch’s Gavin), who’s a good opponent. It’s going to be a good year.”
De La Salle Institute’s Raymond Alvarado bounced back from his semifinal loss to Larsen to claim third-place with a fall in 2:24 over Saint Ignatius’ Mike Marafino, who lost to Strenz in the other semifinal. Prairie Central’s Drake Clemons took fifth place in the weight class.
112 – Shea Reisel, Somonauk
Saturday marked an historic day for Somonauk senior Shea Reisel, who not only earned her third trip to the awards stand in the event and was one of two girls who competed in the first two title matches, but she claimed top honors at 113 with a 4-1 decision over Saint Ignatius College Prep freshman Nate Sanchez. Reisel got a fall in the quarterfinals and then claimed an 11-6 decision in the semifinals over Princeton’s Kaydin Gibson to help her earn the tournament’s outstanding wrestler award for the lower weights.
“I’m so grateful that the numbers are increasing in female wrestling,” Reisel said. “It’s such an amazing sport but I think that people tend to overlook it. I’ve been wrestling boys all of my life, the same as other girls my age, and I like now that there’s more availability in girls wrestling. But I think overall, wrestling boys up until this time has made me the wrestler who I am. I’m really grateful and I appreciate all of the opportunities that I’ve been given and not just for me but for so many female wrestlers. And I have a load of support., so I’m grateful for that, too.”
Sanchez advanced to the finals with a 7-0 victory over Yorkville Christian’s Brooklyn Sheaffer. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Jakob Howell won the third-place match with a fall in 3:55 over Gibson while Sheaffer took fifth place by previous decision against East’s Aurora’s Leo Cardoza.
120 – Isaac Bourge, Yorkville Christian
Yorkville Christian senior Isaac Bourge captured the championship at 120 with a 4-0 decision over Princeton freshman Ace Christiansen. Bourge, who’s ranked seventh in Class 1A, also won the tournament in 2018 when his team had just four competitors and he is also a three-time placewinner in the event. He won a major decision in the quarterfinals and claimed a 5-1 decision over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Shawn Schlickman in the semifinals.
“It’s very exciting,” Bourge said. “We’ve all been trying really hard in practice and just working on our moves and it’s really paying off. We have really good communication and unity since we’ve all known each other since we were little. We grew up together so we’re really friendly with each other and so our teamwork is amazing. Four years ago, there was just four of us, there was just me and three other kids and they’re gone now and now there’s just me left. We went from four to eight and 11 and from there we’ve just skyrocketed and have a full lineup and it’s just amazing to watch how we grow. This tournament gave us great opportunities since it had kids that we’ll see at state and there were good matches that we got in. This year is really about me placing at state since I’ve qualified my last two years, that will make my dad proud.”
Christiansen earned his spot in the finals with a pair of first-period falls, including a pin in 0:56 against Somonauk’s Mason Smith in the semifinals. Schlickman recorded a fall in 2:39 over Wheaton Academy’s Will Hupke to claim third place while Prairie Central’s John Traub got a fall in 3:58 over Smith to finish fifth.
126 – Matthew Harris, Princeton
Princeton senior Matthew Harris claimed a 7-2 victory over Yorkville Christian sophomore Grason Johnson to claim top honors at 126. Harris, who is ranked fourth in Class 1A and a title winner in 2018 and a three-time medal winner in the tournament, opened with a win by technical fall in the quarterfinals and followed that up with a fall in 1:37 over Somonauk/Leland’s Aiden Rowan in the semifinals. Johnson got a fall in the quarterfinals and then claimed a 3-1 semifinal victory over Marian Catholic’s Joey Baranski.
“We’ve got a good practice room, for sure,” Harris said. “Once you figure out how to use your leverage, it’s good and I’ve got pretty funky hips. This spring I got fourth at 126 so I’m excited for this season. One of the real nice things about the finals match is that was actually my 100th career win.”
Baranski bounced back from his narrow semifinal loss to capture a 4-2 victory over Sandwich’s Miles Corder to claim third place. Rowan also responded to his semifinal defeat with an 8-5 decision over Prairie Central’s Mekonnen Steidinger to finish fifth.
132 – No championship awarded
Yorkville Christian junior Noah Dial was only seconds away from wrapping up a decisive major decision in the 132 finals against Saint Ignatius senior Dylan Kabance when the situation deteriorated following a late escape. Before the match was able to be concluded, there was contact between the two and during that, the referee got hit and landed on the mat where he was attended to for a few minutes before being assisted out of the gym. As a result, both individuals were disqualified and no championship was awarded.
Dial, who’s ranked fourth in 1A and was fourth at Antioch, followed a pin in the quarterfinals with a win by technical fall in 2:49 over Sandwich’s Sy Smith in the semifinals. Kabance, who was third at Hinsdale South, got a quick fall in the quarterfinals and captured a 6-5 semifinal victory over Princeton’s Carlos Benavidez. In the third-place match, East Aurora’s Zamir Castanon, a three-time medalist in the event, won 5-4 over Benavidez. Smith took fifth place with a fall in 3:38 over Wheaton Academy’s Daniel Kersey.
138 – Evan Reilly, Sandwich
Sandwich senior Evan Reilly claimed top honors at 138 when he captured a 6-3 victory over Yorkville Christian senior Braulio Flores. Reilly, who is ranked sixth in 1A and was seventh at Barrington, recorded first-period falls in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, pinning Princeton’s Preston Arkels in 1:27 to reach the finals. Flores, a three-time medalist in the tournament who placed fifth at Antioch, opened with a fall before capturing a 2-0 semifinal victory over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Carson Maxey.
“Being a senior is definitely an advantage,” Reilly said. “Being an older guy, you get the same competition but you feel a little bit better mentally knowing that, hey, I’m an older guy here, so I have a little more experience. It’s good to come into the season with some confidence, especially from last year, when it was a weird season. So to come into the next year and say I made it down there gives me some confidence. This upcoming season, and especially with all of our guys, it’s going to be a good season, for sure.”
In the third-place match, Prairie Central’s Jerome Brown recorded a fall in 0:52 over Maxey to collect his sixth-straight pin, which was the highest total in the event. And in the fifth-place match, Plano’s Norbert Gajda was a 10-4 winner over Arkels.
145 – Augie Christiansen, Princeton
Princeton junior Augie Christiansen won a 15-8 decision over Yorkville Christian junior Jeremy Loomis in the 145 finals to give the Tigers a second title in the event and also to join his brother, Ace, who competed at 120, as one of the team’s three finalists. He won by fall in the quarterfinals and claimed a win by technical fall in the semifinals over East Auora’s Emmanuel Gutierrez. Loomis, who was fifth at Antioch, used two first-period falls to reach the finals, pinning Sandwich’s Nolan Bobee in 1:42 in the semifinals.
“This is a very big year for me,” Christiansen said of his state hopes. “I want to be able to get there and to be able to compete with the best of the best and to hopefully come home with some hardware in Champaign. You need to have tournaments like this, especially with the postseason, because you have to have the stamina to come in and wrestle four matches in a day. Especially for this being our first tournament, it was very good for us, we needed that. We’re still super young, too, with a lot of freshmen and sophomores and juniors. We just need to keep working hard in the wrestling room, obviously, and everyone’s got stuff they need to work on. Now it’s just about getting ready for February.”
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Altin Nettleton captured third place after recording a fall in 1:22 over De La Salle’s Nicholas Arvetis. At the start of the finals, there was a malfunction of a recording of the national anthem and after a brief delay, Aaron Nettleton came down to the head table and volunteered to sing and turned in a well-received performance of the anthem. In the fifth-place match, Bobee won by fall in 1:13 over Gutierrez.
152 – Aidan Linden, Sandwich
Sandwich senior Aidan Linden captured a 6-4 win over Yorkville Christian junior Drew Torza in the 152 championship match. Linden, who’s ranked second in 1A and was fourth at Barrington, is a three-time medalist in the tournament. He followed a fall with a win by technical fall in 1:57 in the semifinals over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Carter Kallal. Torza, who’s ranked seventh in 1A and was sixth at Antioch, recorded two falls to reach the title mat, winning in the semifinals with a pin in 3:06 over Plano’s Gio Diaz.
“We have an amazing team,” Linden saiid. “We’re rebuilding again with a lot of seniors on the team and we have some good kids that are coming in, too, which should fill our spots well. This season, we’re just working on getting better and take it one day at a time. We have a team of leaders and we’re always giving each other high fives and talking to each other if someone loses a match. We’re like, hey, we’ll get them next time, you work toward the future. Since I was young, I’ve always had dreams and wanted to accomplish my dreams and I’m just taking it one step at a time. I’ve had a bunch of setbacks with injuries the last couple of years, but this is my final ride so I have to make it count.”
In the third-place match, Diaz was a winner by fall in 1:39 over Wheaton Academy’s Caden Smith and in the fifth-place match, Marian Catholic’s Evan Fitzgerald recorded a fall in 3:30 over Kallal.
160 – Tyler Martinez, Yorkville Christian
Yorkville Christian junior Tyler Martinez accomplished something that his dad, Travis, a 1998 state runner-up at 275 in Class A for Plano, didn’t do, which was to win a Reaper Classic title. Martinez, who’s ranked fifth in 1A, recorded a fall in 1:09 over Marian Catholic junior Lloyd Mills in the 160 finals to add to the title that he won at Antioch. All of his wins were by first-period fall, including one in 0:45 over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Kellen DeSchepper in the semifinals.
“My dad’s an assistant coach at Yorkville Christian and is helping coach to run the program,” Martinez said. “It brings a little bit of competition into the household, always trying to one-up him, We performed really well and I think it was a good way to set the pace for the team as we head toward the end of the season and the state tournament. We went to a solid-sized 3A tournament and went 4-1 for the duals and took seventh as a team. Our team looks really solid and we’re able to fill out all of the weight classes and something we weren’t able to do in past years. I’m really glad to be able to help lead this team and hopefully we can come out with a team state championship this year.”
Mills recorded three falls to reach the finals, including one in 5:15 in the semifinals against Plano’s Vincent Herbig. Sandwich’s Bryce Decker claimed third place with a fall in 4:31 over Princeton’s Carson Etheridge while Verbig got a pin in 1:54 over DeSchepper in the fifth-place match.
170 – Jackson Gillen, Yorkville Christian
Yorkville Christian junior Jackson Gillen won 6-0 over Sandwich senior Samuel Dale in the 170 finals. Gillen, who’s ranked fifth in Class 1A and placed second at Antioch, also won a Plano title in 2019. He got a fall in the quarterfinals and won a 2-1 decision in the semifinals over Putnam County/Hall Township’s Connor Brooker. Dale, who’s ranked seventh in 1A and was ninth at Barrington, advanced to the finals with two falls, including one in 5:14 over Saint Ignatius’ George Akkawi in the semifinals.
“It’s good having a bunch of people in the room who want to push each other and want to get better,” Gillen said. “We’ve got the best kids in the state in the room, so it’s a really good atmosphere. We started with four, then we got to eight and now we’re here. I’m really grateful to have all of these people around me and pushing me. We’re pushing each other every day, and that’s nice. I wrestled him (Dale) the week before and pinned him so today I tried to make sure I didn’t mess anything up, just win, and it was fun. ”
Brooker bounced from his tough semifinal loss to claim third place after recording a fall in 2:53 over Akkawi, who placed third at Hinsdale South. East Aurora’s Ashton Gutierrez got a fall in 1:25 over Plano’s William Collins in the fifth-place match.
182 – Alex Alfaro, Sandwich
Sandwich senior Alex Alfaro entered the Reaper Classic as top-ranked at 182 in 1A and maintained that designation after recording three falls, with his shortest match in the finals, in 1:00, over Wheaton Academy senior Hunter Kazmierczak. Alfaro, who took third at Barrington, got a fall in 3:17 in the semifinals against TF North’s Marcos Gomez. Kazmierczak, a three-time medalist in the event, advanced to the finals with two falls, including one in the semifinals in 3:46 over Yorkville Christian’s Jackson Mehochko.
“I have to give a big thanks to the coaches because if it wasn’t for the coaches who’ve pushed us hard every day, I feel that our team wouldn’t be where it should be right now,” Alfaro said. “And also, everybody on our team right now is very dedicated and going to the gym all of the time. We want to get a really good and fun season and have a good time. Since the beginning of the season, our coach has been telling us that he wants the whole team going to state with everyone working hard and pushing it past their limits. The first months are the roughest because everyone’s trying to get back into conditioning and after that, everyone has picked up their rhythm and we’re going from there.”
In the third-place match, Prairie Central’s Owen Steidinger won by fall in 3:34 over Gomez while Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Aiden Sancken claimed fifth place with a fall in 3:41 over Mehochko.
195 – Alex Jackson, TF North
It was a long wait for Alex Jackson to win a varsity tournament title, but that’s what happens when you have a pair of state champions around your weight. The TF North senior who had brothers Bilal and Sincere Bailey ahead of him during his career, captured the title at 195 when he recorded a fall in 2:53 over Yorkville Christian junior Chris Durbin. After recording three falls for the day, including one in 3:53 in the semifinals over Princeton’s Drew Harp, Jackson received the outstanding wrestler award for the upper weights.
“This was the first one that I’ve ever won on varsity,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been a younger guy on the team. In my freshman year I was 13 and we had the Baileys and I was always between them. I was wrestling at 152 and almost made it to state but lost in the blood round. I feel different this year and feel like nobody can do anything to me.”
Durbin, who was one of 11 Mustangs who competed on the title mat, advanced to the finals with a 6-1 semifinal win over Sandwich’s Kaden Gustafson. In the third-place match, Harp, who is a three-time medalist in the tournament, claimed a 13-4 major decision over Gustafson while in the fifth-place match, Marian Catholic’s Leo Mendez won by fall in 0:30 over Prairie Central’s Hunter Shawback.
220 – Connor Steidinger, Prairie Central
It’s a pretty good feeling when you can win a major tournament title that you hadn’t anticipated being at. But that’s what happened for Prairie Central junior Connor Steidinger, who was unable to compete in the canceled Munch invite in Pontiac but instead made the most of the good fortune of competing in the Reaper Classic. Steidinger recorded a fall in 1:10 over TF North senior Bryant Bobadilla in the 220 finals to cap a day where the nine-man Hawks finished fifth and had seven placers, including three Steidingers.
“I’m grateful for this since we got the chance to be able to wrestle,” Steidinger said. “You take every opportunity that you can get and just get better. This was pretty big for us since we had a meet on Tuesday but then we weren’t going to have a meet on Thursday because we had a big tournament coming up., so we would have gone almost a whole week without any competition. Last year I did the IWCOA tournament and almost placed and this year I’m just trying to wrestle as much as I can and try to get good competition and go against harder people and just get better.”
In the semifinals, Bobadilla won by fall in 3:42 over Plano’s Andrew Harrelson while Steidinger recorded a pin in 0:53 over Yorkville Christian’s Garrett English. In the third-place match, Wheaton Academy’s Peter Johanik claimed a 6-5 decision over East Aurora’s Bryan Romero and Harrelson pinned English in 1:05 in the fifth-place match.
285 – Michael Esquivel, Yorkville Christian
Yorkville Christian senior Michael Esquivel claimed a 7-1 victory over Plano junior Alex Diaz in a clash of state-ranked competitors in the 285 finals. Esquivel, who’s ranked fourth in 1A and also won a tournament title at Antioch, recorded a fall in 3:59 over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher’s Markus Miguel in the semifinals. Diaz, who’s ranked seventh, recorded a pair of falls to advance him to the championship mat, including a pin in 2:48 against East Aurora’s Arnold Walker in his semifinal match.
“I know how good this team can be, this is a heck of a team,” Esquivel said. “We only had eight guys last year and were trying to get a regional title and we lost by half a point and that hurt and we could have had them if certain things played out. Going into this year, I want that regional title and the sectional title and hopefully the state title. We have a bunch of hammers on our team now that we can make a run at that team state title. I’ve known Vester for awhile, since club at Team 1006. Our coaches want to push me to be the best that I can be. I knew right away that we could make an impact on the tournament. As a team, we wanted the team title, and we got the team title.”
Princeton’s JJ Wicaryus claimed third place with a fall in 1:56 against Walker while Saint Ignatius College Prep’s Corinthian Gladney took fifth by injury default over Miguel.