Neuqua Valley shares UEC Valley title
By Steve Nemeth
After the Upstate Eight Conference held an Invitational to decide the best at each weight class, the unofficial calculation of team points erroneously led to some premature assumptions.
Despite accumulating the points needed to be the team winner of the UEC Invite, the St. Charles East would be passive observers when it came to the UEC River Division crown since everything hinged on the outcome of Friday's Batavia at Geneva dual meet.
A Viking win would allow them to rule the River by themselves, but a Bulldog victory would mean that Batavia, Geneva and the Saints all shared the top slot. Geneva wound up beating Batavia to claim the outright title.
Having finished a strong second in the unofficial team standings at the UEC Invite and already boasting an unblemished 5-0 mark toward the UEC Valley Division, the phrase "clinched" was mistakenly used for Neuqua Valley's situation.
What should have been indicated were the additional words: "at least a share" when discussing the Wildcats being in the driver's seat for the end of the journey.
And that's where South Elgin entered with a 39-34 victory over Neuqua in Naperville on Friday that screamed in ESPNesque fashion, "No So Fast."
The Storm's pinfall prowess not only put a major damper on Neuqua's senior night festivities, but forced the Wildcats to share the Valley title with South Elgin, as well as Lake Park.
As expected at senior night meets, the upperclass managers and wrestlers were escorted by proud parents while their achievements, memories and words of wisdom for the teammates left behind were recited.
By coincidence, the actual meet began with the most notable and decorated Neuqua senior in 152-pounder Luke Pigott.
Boasting the most impressive resume, Pigott's senior resume recital included two week-old additions: being UEC 152-pound weight class champ and the winner of the UEC's Jeff Mirabella Outstanding Wrestler of the Meet Award winner.
Then came yet another accolade that Pigott described as "what will always be one of my greatest honors as a wrestler."
A passionate middle school wrestler and participant in the Wildcat wrestling club, Brandon Bringas died tragically in a summer motorbike accident which led to his parents establishing the Brandon Bringas Memorial Scholarship to be presented to a Neuqua senior continuing his education.
Seniors had to fill out an application and write an essay which Bringas family members then used to determine the recipient, and that became another entry on Pigott's resume.
"We're grateful and indebted to the Bringas family for allowing Neuqua Valley wrestling to help honor and preserve the memory of a young man who was passionate about the sport and life," Wildcat coach Mick Ruettiger said.
"The family said every essay was well-written and it was a tough decision because all four applicants are not only quality kids, but good student-athletes and the type of role models needed to memorialize a young man gone far too soon."
With all that as a backdrop, Pigott was in control from start to finish in a 22-10 major decision over Nick Skoczylas.
The Wildcat senior, ranked No. 7 by Illinois Matmen for the Class 3A 152-pounders, registered 10 takedowns and a reversal when he started the second period in the down position while Skoczylas' 10 points came strictly from allowed escapes.
"Between the honor, senior night, my last home meet, I really wanted the match," Pigott said. "However, I was disappointed not to get us more points because going in we knew this would be a tight match and every single point would be needed. Now we all have to refocus in time to do our best at regionals.
"As to the award's essay, I basically wrote about how I've dedicated my life to wrestling because of everything I've been able to gain back from it. There's no question my life has been impacted in a very positive way by wrestling and there are so many lessons I know I'll apply again and again," Pigott said.
One lesson that always applies in wrestling is that extra team points pay off. South Elgin demonstrated that when Cody Pych, a 160-pound Honorable Mention rated wrestler by IM, came through with a 2:51 over Drelyn Hunt to vault the Storm into a 6-4 lead.
That brought up the first of a series of rematches from the previous week's UEC Invitational. In a 171-pound quarterfinal, South Elgin senior Ricky Garcia got a late takedown to pull out a 4-3 decision over Neuqua's Bobby Costello.
As one of the Wildcat senior night honorees, Costello was determined to make this his night. After a scoreless first period, Garcia opted for the down position for period two only to have Costello ride him out.
The Storm's fourth-place UEC finisher opted to give Costello a point to start the third period in neutral.
"That didn't surprise me because I had sat out twice to get escapes in our previous match and he was thinking he got the crucial takedown then and would do it again," Costello explained. "But I was very determined to not lose this one. I used my legs on top to help ride him and stayed in control of my emotions and him physically.
"Actually I had to fight to earn the slot in tonight's lineup to begin with, then I had to battle him and avenge that loss, so this is one of the best accomplishments in my wrestling career," Costello concluded of his 1-0 triumph that put the Wildcats ahead 7-6.
Next came a five-star showdown in the form of a rematch of the UEC Invite's 189-pound championship match. Last Saturday, Neuqua's Casey Greenberg pushed his way to a pinfall over Adam Lehnus with just two seconds left in the third period.
Although Greenberg was collecting nearfall points late in the third period, Lehnus fought enough to simply come up on the low end of an 11-3 major decision making it 11-6 for the hosts.
In the 215-pound bout, South Elgin's D.J. Greene appeared to be on his way to a one-sided thumping of Vince Morrone whose three points were a result of allowed escapes in what was an 11-3 match.
But with 40 seconds left in the second period, Morrone bull-rushed his foe for a surprising takedown. When he was allowed another escape to start the third and then a takedown, he made an actual escape and followed it with a takedown.
The Morrone picked up a point for Greene being whistled for stalling, and after yielding an escape, got another takedown before time ran out in a 14-12 decision for Greene to pull South Elgin to within two at 11-9.
UEC heavyweight champion Andrew Geers produced a 2:52 pinfall over Jacob Bergroshtje only to have South Elgin 103-pounder Cory Pych negate that with a 1:26 stick of A.J. Jordan. It was a virtual encore to a 1:25 pinfall Pych gave Jordan during the UEC Invite.
At 112 pounds, Neuqua was looking to Justin Killacky, an eighth-place finisher in the UEC meet, to take on a South Elgin varsity call-up in freshman Salman Sayeed. Killacky had Wildcat fans thrilled with a 1:57 pancaking that gave their team a 23-15 lead.
"Coach told me I had more experience than my opponent and to use that to my advantage," Killacky recounted. "The first time I took him down, I knew I could control him.
"When I turned him he had one shoulder up and was trying to roll, I knew I could get the pin and bring out team closer to where we needed to be to win."
But that's when the visiting Storm exploded for back-to-back pinfalls. At 119, Dave Onemany's determination to prove his 0-2 showing at the UEC Invite wasn't reflective of his ability, which led to a 3:56 pinfall over Max Boone.
"Of course I knew my results at the UEC meet didn't show what I can do and that was incentive, but more importantly, my coaches have kept on pushing me to keep improving," Onemany said.
"I've got to thank my coaches and my teammates for their faith and helping push me through to what is one of my best wins so far."
Then at 125, Marco Aguirre made quick work of Troy Kendryna in 1:12 for 27-23 Storm lead that left the host fans unsettled. Plus it seemed to feed the volume of the chants from the South Elgin frosh-soph, JV1 and JV2 units to rally their varsity teammates.
At 130 pounds, Neuqua's Julian Ochoa was in control throughout his bout with Adrian Garduno, but the question was could he get a third pin for the Wildcats.
The answer was no as the match became an 18-3 tech fall tally within 5:36. Despite edging ahead 28-27, Neuqua knew that its lead was tentative.
At 135 pounds, UEC Invite third-place finisher Nick Citta got a quick takedown of Connor McGill and a pair of three-point nearfalls for an 8-0 first-period lead before getting the pin in 3:07.
"I knew I was one of three guys near the end who had to win and that it would come down to us being able to get max points," Citta said. "We've come such a long way since that first loss to Lake Park, so I had to do it for my teammates."
Having given the Storm a 33-28 lead, the opportunity for a comeback was closing and when 140-pounder Andrew Marola, the runner-up in the UEC Invite, wasn't facing the Wildcats' third-place finisher in Chris Koulianos, who was sidelined.
The Storm senior pounced for a 3:00 pinfall over Dillon Lacke, slamming the door on Neuqua Valley.
"That's the kind of moment you work for all season," Marola insisted. "We came in knowing pins are what count, the extra-point wins are what seal the outcome. And this is a great outcome for us to use as motivation for regionals."
The last two pinfalls, the fifth and sixth sticks within eight matches won by South Elgin, made it moot when Neuqua's Matt Slavik finally got the Wildcats a third pinfall with his 2:44 flattening of James Mariani.
"Give all the credit to South Elgin, they wanted to be part of a championship, went after it and got it," Ruettiger said with evident disappointment.
"You just can't get pinned, that was the big difference. We knew coming in it would be close, so as far as possible the outcome would hinge on who got the extra points and who didn't."
As a result of South Elgin's success in that department, the Wildcats dipped to 14-12 on the year and 5-1 in the UEC Valley while the Storm improved to 21-8 and joined Lake Park in also sporting a 5-1 ledger for league dual meets.
"We're a pinning team, so I never feel we're out of a match," Storm coach Mark Cameron noted. "If you're down 10 but get a couple pins, you can still win.
"You look at our lineup and it's easy to say that guy should win. Andrew (Marola) for example, but he's got a ton of pins. Our guys know that if you get your opponent on his back, you have to bury him.
"At 119, David was probably one of the least likely guys someone would expect a pin from, but that was a huge win. He got the pin and it's reflective of the kind of team effort we got tonight," Cameron added. “Three of our four seniors lost, so this wasn’t our normal guys coming through, our underclassmen really stepped up for us.”
Although Neuqua now sets its sights on next Saturday's Class 3A Bolingbrook Regional, South Elgin finishes up this morning with a 9 am triangular hosted by Glenbard West with Deerfield as all three squads are listed in the IM Class 3A team rankings as Honorable Mention programs.