Photos by Becky LaMont / Illinois Matmen
By JARED BELL
Real Woods was the last man standing.
One of three wrestlers with a chance to win a third state title, the Montini 132-pound senior was the only one to accomplish the historic feat at Saturday’s IHSA State Tournament in Champaign.
“It’s awesome to be in this company and that’s where hard work will put you,” Woods said. “It’s the reward for all the time and effort I’ve put in over the years.”
In the Class 3A 132-pound state title match, the Stanford recruit cruised to a 16-1 technical fall over Oak Park-River Forest junior Eddie Bolivar.
It put the finishing touches on an all-around dominant state showing for Woods, who won his first two matches by fall in less than a minute and his semifinal by a 15-0 tech fall.
“It was a goal for me to show my dominance in this tournament,” Woods said. “I’m at that level where I should be dominating.”
While Woods captured his third state title, Chicago Washington 138-pound senior We Rachal and Althoff 126-pound senior Chase Bittle both fell Saturday in their quest for three state titles.
In 2A, Rachal lost to Carmel junior Riley Palm by an 11-1 major decision, while in 1A Bittle lost 9-7 in sudden victory to Aurora Christian sophomore Noah Villarreal in controversial fashion.
With Bittle up by three points in the final 20 seconds of the third period, Villarreal took down Bittle to pull to 7-6. With seven seconds left, Bittle was then called for stalling to tie the match at 7.
However, Bittle rose to his feet and escaped Villarreal’s control to win the state title – only for the escape to be called off because time had expired.
In the sudden-victory period, Villarreal countered a Bittle shot and the sophomore found the state-title winning takedown.
TWICE AS NICE
While Woods was the only wrestler to win a third state title, many grapplers won their second state title.
In Class 3A, 285-pound Hononegah senior Anthony Cassioppi won his second straight state title.
In 2A, the group includes 113-pound Champaign Centennial senior Justin Cardani, 126-pound Burlington Central senior Austin Macias and 220-pound Urbana junior Luke Luffman.
In 1A, the group includes 106-pound sophomore Cam Johnson, 138-pound IC Catholic senior Joey Bianchini, 152-pound Althoff senior Danny Braunagel as well as his 182-pound twin brother Zac Braunagel.
SECOND TO NONE
A trio of wrestlers experienced the triumph of victory Saturday after multiple years of the heartbreak of agony.
PORTA 145-pound senior Trey Hild, Morris 182-pound senior Cody Baldridge and Willowbrook 182-pound senior Jack Jessen all won their first state title after all three finished as a state runner-up two or more times in their high school careers.
Hild was the first to capture a state title as the three-time state runner-up defeated Quincy Notre Dame senior Zach Haley by a 5-3 decision.
“This is seriously the best feeling ever,” said Hild, who split a pair of postseason matches with Haley in the regional and sectional. “I’m still in the moment, but it’s going to be a great feeling when I see my family and friends. This means a lot.”
Baldridge – a back-to-back state runner-up – steamrolled his way to a title as he won by a 9-3 decision against Urbana senior Arnold Fox.
“This is probably the most exciting moment in my life,” said Baldridge, whose older brother Kenny also won a state title. “My excitement is off the scale, and there’s definitely a lot of relief and pressure off my shoulders. Coming up short two years in a row, you’re always afraid that you’re going to do it again, so walking away with the title is a great feeling.”
Jessen – a Northwestern recruit and a two-time state runner-up – won his first state title after he defeated Yorkville sophomore Nick Stemmet by an 8-3 decision.
“There was a ton of motivation to win this,” said Jessen, who placed second as a freshman and junior as well as third as a sophomore. “Coming up short again last year, that really motivated me. Before this tournament, I told myself that I didn’t want to feel that disappointment anymore, so that really keep me going.”
A handful of wrestlers absolutely dominated their weight classes en route to a state title.
Cassioppi led the charge as the 285-pound Hononegah senior had four first-period falls, including a pin at 1:45 in the title match against Homewood-Flossmoor senior Jeff Griffin.
“I just wanted to come in and wrestle,” Cassioppi said. “I figured out that I had never won a match at state that wasn’t by pin, so I wanted to keep that run going.”
Burlington Central 126-pound senior Austin Macias also had a dominant showing as the two-time state champion won a match by major decision and three matches by first-period fall, including a fall at 1:05 in the finals against Ottawa senior Ethan Harsted.
“It feels great to come out on top once again,” Macias said. “I always wait for this tournament, so to feel dominant throughout the whole tournament is a really good feeling.”
Joliet Catholic 106-pound freshman Dean Hamiti also steamrolled the competition as the JCA star had two first-period falls and two tech falls, including a 17-2 tech in the title match against Washington freshman Abraham Hinrichsen.
“It’s really hard to explain how I feel, but this means that I can compete against anybody,” Hamiti said. “If I can dominate 2A, I feel like I can wrestle with anyone in 3A or 1A. It’s an amazing feeling.”