NAPERVILLE • Coming into the Naperville Athletic Center’s 3A I.W.C.O.A. Regional Championships last Monday, Libertyville Head Coach Dale Eggert felt comfortable with not only his team, but also with the competition he and his wrestlers would see. He knew he would have to lean on his upper-weights if a title was to be won, and they each came through as expected. In the end, Libertyville would not only win the regional title, but all thirteen entrants would qualify for this week’s sectional championships.
“I wouldn’t really say that anything surprised us,” Eggert said of the tournament’s competition. “The other competitors and teams in there we had beaten during the year—we beat Huntley and Grant—we did not beat Jacobs—but I think we did really well all year and we have been really strong in our upper weights—and I was counting on them to do well.”
Egger’s upper-weights then did exactly what he expected; each of his wrestlers from 152 through 195 made the finals. His 220-pounder would place third, and the team did not enter a heavyweight.
At 152 pounds, Matt Kubas would advance through the tournament with two falls in his first two matches. His bonus points would start with a quarterfinal fall in 5:39 over Mundelien’s Ty Murray, and a semifinal fall over Grant’s Nola Flores in 4:00. In the finals, however, undefeated Brody Hallin of McHenry would remain unbeaten with a 9-0 decision over Kubas.
When Austin Gomez took the mat for Libertyville at 160 pounds, he had already collected a series of bonus points for the team on his way to the title match. Gomez would win by a technical fall over Caleb Rezmer of McHenry in his quarterfinal bout, and then advance into the championship match with a 7-1 decision over Jacob’s Joey Scrivani. However, like Kubas, he too would fall short in his regional title run. He would lose by fall in 1:47 to Nick Lesch of Taft.
Up next for the Wildcats would be returning state qualifier and number-six ranked Josh Knuten at 170- pounds, and his final’s match would break the runner-up trend. Knudten made quick work of his first two opponents and maximized his team point opportunities with a quarterfinal fall in 00:24 over Warren, and a semifinal fall in 2:15 over Huntley. In the finals, Knudten would face Zion Benton’s Gabe Quezada, and go the distance claiming a 4-2 decision and an individual crown.
With Knudten creating some momentum, number-three ranked 182-pound senior Chase Baczek would collect a second upper-weight title. Baczek only wrestled two matches on the day; a semifinal fall over Huntley’s Aadi Patel in 00:37, and a fall in the finals over Round Lake’s Aidan McCain in 00:25.
“Chase Baczek did not go down state last year,” Eggert explained about this standout wrestler. “He lost 2-1 in the sectional ‘Blood Round’ and the four guys in front of him placed one, two, three, and four in the state finals. As far as I’m concerned, he wrestled like a state qualifier last year, he just didn’t get the chance to go. And for him to have a shot this year to compete for a state tournament is fantastic. He’s nails and I am looking forward to these next few weeks with him.”
At 195-pounds, senior Adam Pressley would advance to the finals by way of a quarterfinal fall over Rockford East’s Reggie Pinedo in 4:23, and an 8-2 semifinal decision over Rockton-Hononegah’s Payton Gantz. In the finals, however, Pressley would run into the number-five ranked wrestler at his weight class from Huntley, Ryder Hunkins. Hunkins would claim the championship with a 10-2 major decision.
“Adam Pressley did great,” Eggert said, “and he would love to go 182—but we need him at 195. He was a sectional qualifier last year, and we are also glad to see him get a shot [qualifying for the state series] this year.”
Aside from the upper-weights, Libertyville also saw two lower-weight wrestlers reach the finals. Luke Berktold was a runner-up finisher at 113 pounds, and number-two ranked Caelan Riley remained perfect on the season with a 14-2 major decision against James Wright of Jacob’s in the finals.
“Luke Berktold and Caelan Riley wrestled well and made it to the finals,” Eggert said of his lower- weight finalists, “but the other guys, the ones who struggled a little more this year, they were able to wrestle well and they each found a way to get to sectionals.”
Trevor Jean (126) would place fourth, while senior Loren Semler (132) and Charlie Clark (145) would place fifth. The Wildcats would see two more sectional qualifiers in Orion Moran (106) and Scott Wiegold (138), each placed sixth.
One of the surprises for Libertyville came in the form of Cole Matulenko placing third at 220 pounds. “Cole has been behind two of my seniors,” Eggert commented on his sophomore finalist. “In some duals we had to bump our other 182 and 195-pounder up just so he had some matches at 182; he had an okay record. But when they all came down for the [state] series, it was either go up to 220 pounds or nothing. He is well undersized from the guys he wrestles, but he won three matches and took third—it was very positive.”
Overall, Eggert felt that his team was prepared and, even though it was a different season competition- wise, he was proud of what his wrestlers we able to accomplish with this having been the first tournament of the season.
“Before this,” Eggert said, “we were only getting triangulars and all of a sudden we are getting four and five matches in a day and they’re all six minutes. You had some pooped guys from all teams, but that is good, that’s what we want—that’s what we’re used to.”
In regard to how Eggert and his staff prepared for the regional, “Honestly,” Eggert admitted, “there was nothing in particular that we could do—it is difficult to duplicate four or five matches in a short amount of time, but we let them know they are all in the same boat and it is going to come down to conditioning as much as mental toughness—whoever wins the mental toughness battle is going to win. I felt we won most of those battles—we did lose a few—but I think one of the reasons why I was so happy with our performance was that we did suck it up a few matches and won.”
Eggert did make sure to comment on the I.W.C.O.A.’s ability to make this state series happen. “I wasn’t involved,” Eggert said of the state series in progress, “but I can only imagine the nightmare that they had to go through to get all of these sites and mats moved and gather workers and such, and how grateful everyone is for them. The fact that they were able to scramble and get the sites that they got—so appreciative.
“The tournament was also quite pleasant,” Eggert continued, “and everyone was thrilled they were able to be there. It seemed like it was tight quarters, but everyone cooperated and there was little crabbing about calls and such because I think people were just grateful to be wrestling. And some of those officials were in a second day in a row and their performance was good. It was quite memorable and pleasurable. A great deal of credit goes to the I.W.C.O.A. and everyone involved.”
Huntley would finish as the number-two team coming out of the regional, and, like Libertyville, they too qualify for the I.W.C.O.A. Dual Team Championships in two weeks.
The Red Raiders would place four guys in the championship match and come away with three champions. One of Head Coach BJ Bertelsman’s seniors, a returning state place-winner and currently number-two ranked 138-pounder, Jeremy Jakowitsch, would close out his final regional with a championship over Taft’s Joey Arroyo in the form of a dominant 5-0 decision.
“Jakowitsch took third place in state last year,” Bertelsman said regarding a senior who has been successful and the difficulty of the late season, “and not having the regular season and missing Fargo with an injury last year pushed him back recruiting-wise. Usually with a third-place finish in Illinois in the large class, you get more attention. He didn’t maybe get the attention he deserved. He stuck it out and has only lost one match this year—Tommy Curran of Dekalb up at 145—and it was a double overtime match. He is ready to go for the rest of the season and I am happy to say he’ll be committing to Mizzou.
He will be a Tiger and that made my week. I feel for all those seniors who maybe fell off those recruiting radars before the pandemic since it was hard to get on there.”
Bertelman’s other two champions were Jake Jensen (126), and Ryder Hunkins (195). The Red Raiders also had four wrestlers in the consolation finals. Sam Henkle (120) would place third, while Shane McGuine (113), senior Jason Coleman (170), and Aadi Patel (182) would each place fourth.
“I think we did pretty well,” Bertelsman said of his team’s finish, “and the support they gave each other was great. I had a lot of young kids in my lineup and getting them some tournament experience was nice. It’s easy to sit around and wait your turn at a dual and wrestle your one match and sit down, but I think a tournament experience is much different for any wrestler than a dual experience. So, I was happy to get a bunch of kids into it today. I think I had a mix of twelve juniors, sophomores, and freshman— just two seniors. We built this whole year up as getting ready for next year and I think today helped that come full circle with getting tournament experience. I enjoyed it.”
Bertelsman was also very complimentary of the I.W.C.O.A. in making sure a state series was put in front of this season’s wrestlers.
“I give nothing but praise to the I.W.C.O.A.,” Bertelsman said. “I think the they totally stepped up and they gave us a chance to wrestle. I am grateful that my fourteen wanted to do it and, hopefully, all goes well at sectionals and we’ll see how the state tournament goes. I was totally happy with today. I would like to thank the I.W.C.O.A. for the opportunity to wrestle—bring on Sectionals
• TC LIFONTI / tclifonti.com
CONTRIBUTING WRITER FOR ILLINOIS MATMEN