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By GARY LARSEN
The young fellas at Montini got it done.
The 62nd Annual Berman Holiday Wrestling Classic saw the Broncos win the team title in their first trip to Palatine over the holiday break. Six individual titles and one runner-up finish included wins from two freshmen and three sophomores.
“It’s a young team but it’s a dedicated team,” Montini coach Israel Martinez said. “So the age doesn’t matter. The guys have a high standard for themselves.”
Montini had no wrestlers entered at 120, 126, or 220 pounds, and wrestled without Real Woods, who is currently ranked 2nd at 126 in Illinois Matmen’s Go Earn It Wrestling Apparel Class 3A rankings.
Montini posted a 218.5-185 edge over second-place Lincoln-Way West. Barrington (175.5) was third and Deerfield and Wheeling tied for fourth with 170 points.
Of the 28 matches that Montini’s place-winners wrestled in the two-day tournament, they posted bonus points in 18 of them, including 11 pins.
Melendez lived up to his top seed and top ranking at 113 by posting four pins on his way to the title.
“I was happy with the way I wrestled,” Melendez said. “I got a bunch of takedowns, scored on my offense, and got some pins because we needed team points with (Woods) not being here. I just wanted to get as many points as I could for the team.”
Montini got titles from Dylan Ragusin (106), Joey Melendez (113), Fidel Mayora (132), Jake Stiles (138), Will Lewan (145), and Matt Ortiz (152). Pat Christensen (170) finished second.
In a bracket at 145 that included wrestlers ranked first and second in Class 2A, and first and second and Class 3A, Lewan climbed to the top of the podium.
The junior Lewan (15-1), ranked first in 3A, won a 4-3 decision over Barrington’s Markus Hartman (24-1), ranked second in 3A, to win the Berman title at 145. Lemont’s Egan Berta, ranked first in 2A, finished third.
Warren’s Grant Zamin placed fourth and Richmond-Burton’s Gavin Sutton was fifth. Sutton is ranked second in 2A and Zamin is 10th in 3A.
Lewan was named the tournament’s outstanding wrestler for surviving the Berman’s toughest bracket, but he walked away from the title mat less than thrilled with his performance.
“Will just had to put more points on the board,” Martinez said. “Hartman is really good, has a really good style, and Will wrestled his style instead of his own, and that’s what it was.
“Some of our guys made some mistakes in the finals that I wasn’t too pleased with. If you’re losing, you don’t stay down because downstate, you can’t rely on a stall call, or a reversal. So we just made some young wrestling mistakes.”
Freshman Ragusin (15-2) was seeded second and he used two pins and a tech fall win to reach the title mat, where he handed top-seeded Nate Cummings (20-1) of Downers Grove North his first loss of the season with a 13-6 decision.
Ragusin walked on to the title mat ranked 10th at 106 against third-ranked Cummings.
“He’s something special,” Martinez said. “He’s very good technically. He’s a little light for the weight class but he’s growing. He wrestled the (#5) guy in the state, the (#2) guy in the state, he majored them both and he’s still not happy. I love that attitude.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise for people outside of Montini’s practice room was the day freshman Mayora had in Palatine. Mayora (15-2) won by major decision in his semifinal against top-seeded Holden Heller of Deerfield.
He then majored Barrington’s Jarit Shinhoster by major decision on the title mat.
“He’s unreal,” Martinez said of Mayora. “Good kid, hard worker, and he works his butt off. It’s only the beginning for him. He’s just a baby.”
Stiles and Ortiz lived up to their top seedings and Ortiz won the closest title-mat match for Montini, 2-1 over second-seeded Ameen Hamdan of Hinsdale Central. Christensen lost 8-4 on the title mat to unbeaten and top-ranked Johnny Mologousis (21-0) of Lyons Township.
Mologousis added a Berman title to tournament titles he won at Barrington and at Hinsdale Central this season.
Lyons finished fifth overall and also got a title from Zach Villareal (21-1) at 126 pounds. The senior had two pins, a tech fall, and a major decision win as a top seed.
“I felt really good today. Yesterday, I felt sick and tired, and I just tried to push through it,” Villareal said after his pin of Wheeling’s Mason Skloot on the title mat.
After Tuesday’s opening round, Villareal had a novel approach to getting himself back on track for the Berman’s second day.
“After yesterday, I went to Life Fitness and played volleyball,” he said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep and I’d get psyched up, and I play volleyball every Tuesday and Thursday night. And I felt really good today.
Villareal won an individual title at Barrington to start the year, finished third at Hinsdale Central, and returned to the top of the podium in Palatine.
Second-place Lincoln-Way West sent eight wrestlers to the podium and two to the title mat in runner-up Jake DiBenedetto (138) and Berman champion Jake Dudeck (220).
Top-seeded opened with a pair of pins before winning 3-1 over Rock Island’s Alex Andrews, and then improving to 19-3 with his 3-2 title-mat decision over Kaneland’s Colin Gussman.
“I started the tournament off pretty slow so it was nice to have two good matches in my semifinal and final and come out on top,” Dudeck said. “I started the season with a pretty bad football injury but now I’m starting to feel like I’m coming back to where I need to be.
“This is my first actual tournament this year and I feel good. I was stepping on the scale at 195 last year but wrestling 220 and now I’m closer to 220.”
Third-place Barrington placed nine wrestlers, led by champion Dan Rasmussen (160) and runners-up Shinhoster (132) and Hartman (145). Rasmussen improved to 20-5 with his 11-6 title-mat decision over Wheeling’s top-seeded Jaylen Shaw (18-3).
“I’m definitely happy with how I wrestled and things are starting to come together now,” Rasmussen said. “Last year I went 0-2 at this tournament. I’m down from 170 to 160 this year and I feel a lot better.
“I still have to work on my single-leg defense but I got two takedowns on (Shaw) and I felt like I forced the action. I’m also much more confident this year. Our coaches instill in us that anyone can be a champion if they have the right mindset. My mental approach is just better this year.”
Kaneland had a pair of champions in Austin Kedzie (120) and Riley Vanik (182), in addition to runner-up Gussman at 220. Top-seeded Kedzie improved to 10-0, top-seeded Vanik improved to 16-1, and second-seeded Gussman – who is ranked second in Class 2A at 195 – wrestled up at 220 and improved to 15-2 in Palatine.
“The most (Gussman) ever weighed in was about 204 but he’s just a physical specimen in terms of the weight room and the work he’s done,” Kaneland coach Joe Orosco said. “If he can manage the 20 pounds he’s giving up to these guys, he’s going to do well.
“We came rolling in her with only five scoring wrestlers and we finished (eighth). We want those guys to get the best matches in that they can get and there were some top guys here.”
Hinsdale Central heavyweight Niko Ivanisevic (16-2) added a Berman title to the Whitlatch title he won this season, thanks to a 5-0 decision over Lincoln-Way East’s Sam Diehl.
Warren’s Andrew Demos improved to 20-0 at 195 with his 5-0 title-mat win over Rock Island’s Erick Cole. Demos wrestled at 170 pounds last season but the 25-pound jump to 195 has been no problem.
“I always had a lanky frame and I just filled out this year,” Demos said. “By the end of the year last year I had to cut too much weight to get to 170, and right after last year’s state tournament I wrestled in Wisconsin and I was at 195. I feel really good at 195.”
Holding his plaque after getting off the top of the awards stand in Palatine, Demos spoke to the mentality of Illinois’ top wrestlers.
“It’s a good day and a big win but it’s just something to savor shortly and then move on to the next day of wrestling,” Demos said. “I just have to keep moving forward. I’ll celebrate at the end of the year when I get on top of the podium (in Champaign).”
Also reaching the title mat were Rock Island’s Nate Shesky (120) and Lincoln-Way East’s Nick Mihajlovich (182).