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By MIKE CLARK
Illinois Matmen

Stagg’s Domenic Zaccone knew what to expect in his title match at Saturday’s Dave Anderson Invitational, or maybe he didn’t.

Sound confusing? It really isn’t.

Zaccone, a returning Class 3A state runner-up, was matched against Warren’s Joel Vandervere in the 126-pound final at Stagg.

“We wrestled the whole preseason, so we know each other’s skills a lot,” Zaccone said.

But this was the first time the two had met in competition, which is a whole other dynamic.

“Practice is obviously different from matches,” Zaccone said.

But the result was no different for the Stagg junior, who improved to 6-0 with a 5-2 decision over Vanderveer.

It’s another stepping stone for Zaccone, who finds himself as both the hunter and the hunted this season.

On the one hand, he’s chasing a pair of nationally ranked rivals in Montini senior and North Carolina recruit Joey Melendez and Marian Catholic junior Travis Ford-Melton. Melendez beat Zaccone in last year’s 3A 113 final and Ford-Melton was third after losing to Melendez in the semis.

“You’ve got the same guys coming back in the same weight class this year,” Zaccone said. “It’s just going to be fun. They’re ranked in the country” — Melendez is fifth and Ford-Melton sixth at 120, according to Intermat.

“So you have to be hyped to go out there and wrestle.”

The same is true of the wrestlers Zaccone sees night in and night out.

“Obviously, exposure is great,” he said. “You’re sitting at the top, a little higher. Kids know who you are so they’re going to come after you more. You’ve got to expect better fights.”

Zaccone is ready, having fully recovered from a torn labrum that limited his offseason competition. He got back in action with some preseason events including the Journeyman and Agony in Ames.

The result? He’s as fit as he has ever been and ready for the challenges ahead.

“My conditioning is 100 percent compared to 95 percent last year at the state tournament,” Zaccone said.

Among the other repeat champs besides Zaccone were Manteno’s Caleb Boudreau (9-0 at 132) and Bradley-Bourbonnais’ Jared Llorens (10-0 at 145).

“My teammates have been pushing me in practice a lot,” said Boudreau, who’s aiming to return to state for the first time since he qualified in 1A as a freshman. The Panthers now are in their third season in 2A.

“There are a few guys up there from our 126 to our 170-pounder who I wrestle with every day,” Boudreau said. “They give me great challenges, are great drilling partners.”

Warren had a pair of winners in Sawyer Nash (3-0 at 106) and Cam Domke (3-0 at 120).

Domke pinned his way through the bracket, including falls of 15 seconds in the semifinals and 1:13 in the title bout.

He credits a newfound calm for his promising start.

“Last year I was nervous before my matches,” Domke said. “(Now) I’m just more focused on thinking, ‘Just wrestle.'”

Also winning titles were Bradley’s Anthony Mancilla (6-2 at 113), Manteno’s Stevie Silva (9-0 at 182), Waubonsie Valley’s Garrett St. Clair (7-1 at 195) and Thornridge’s Darael Dugar (6-1 at 220).

Indiana power Crown Point had five champs and beat Warren 243-150.5 for the team title.

Stagg (145.5), Bradley (123), Waubonsie Valley (106) and Manteno (99) rounded out the top half of the 12-team field.