State Finals Feature: Every Champion has a Story

Photos by Becky LaMont / Illinois Matmen

Illinois Matmen

Every state champion has a story.

Years of hard work and training, wonderful coaching, supportive families, the reasons for success are endless.

David Ferrante has enjoyed all of the above, and more, but the Huntley senior found another way to increase his chances for success – and apparently it has paid off two-fold.

Two-fold in that last weekend the Northwestern-bound Ferrante lifted his second straight state trophy – capping a brilliant four-year career that has seen the Red Raiders star earn three state medals out of his four trips, while along the way helping his club reach the 3A dual-team state tournament twice.

“It’s amazing how quickly my four years of high school have gone by,” begins Ferrante, whose uncharacteristic ‘howl’ moments after his 8-2 defeat of Luke Rasmussen in his state final helped release plenty of stored (up) emotion.

“I was so relieved at the final whistle (there’s) been so much put into my journey to get down here to win again.”

“A lot goes into (it) all: the training, the daily grind, eating right, and my academics, of which Ferrante takes five AP classes.

Ferrante’s diet is what he believes has been that one final piece of the puzzle which has turned him into one of the top men in the state, and nation, and a subject he has spent hours upon hours researching before putting a plan into effect.

Ferrante began to trend towards a plant based diet after pouring through data that convinced him to bring about a change just before the Dvorak in late December.

This, of course, means no meat or dairy, plenty of protein, no sweets, whole wheat pasta, greens, brown rice, beans, etc.

“My metabolism has increased so much, my cardio is off the charts, I feel so fresh when I wake up, and after my workouts, and it’s been so easy to (at) weight, and I know my diet will go a long way towards a healthy life,” says Ferrante.

The affable Ferrante added his plant-based diet gives him the high octane fuel he needs each time he’s out on the mats.

“Food effects your performance, I (know) that now more than ever, so staying away from artificial drinks and sugars, fried foods, and all that – my body is constantly clean and ready for whatever my day looks like,” says Ferrante, who gets full support at home from his parents, who, themselves have done their best to make healthier food choices.

Of course, part of his success can be attributed to natural talent, work rate and a work ethic off the charts, wonderful coaching, however, plus positive lifestyle habits and routines that have helped along the way.

“David is as dedicated as they come – his desire to be the best, while still being a terrific young man is something he should be proud of,” says assistant coach, Erik Lachel.

“We’ve been fortunate to have someone like David in our room during his four years with us,” adds head coach, B.J. Bertelsman.

“It’s a lot more than what he does for us during competition(s) – he’s a tremendous leader, someone who is always about the team, and his teammates, and his great work in the classroom that’s made him the young man he’s become.”

Over at Belleville West, where the aforementioned BJ Bertelsman won his state title in 1998, Josh Koderhandt (42-0) finished off a marvelous junior campaign when he claimed the top prize at 120 in 3A.

Koderhandt was never challenged in advance of his final with the freshmen phenom from Marian Catholic, Vincent Robinson – who forced overtime when he leveled at 4-4 with 60 sixty remaining in regular time.

The match-winner came with a take-down near the edge with just a hint of time left on the clock, sending Koderhandt into orbit as he became just the fifth in program history to win a state title, and first since 2013 when Mech Spraggins did so.


“It’s an amazing feeling to be a state champion – you put all of yourself into your training, on and off the mats, and when you get into that final, it has to be 125% (because) you never know if you’ll ever get another chance,” said Koderhardt, who last season lost in his 113-pound final to Colton Drousias of Mt. Carmel, 8-4.

“I didn’t like the way it felt to lose in that final last year with Colton, and from that point on, I promised myself (if) I got back to the finals (it) wouldn’t happen again,” Koderhardt said to this reporter following his championship run at the Rex Whitlach (Hinsdale Central) back in late December of 2019.

Koderhandt would heap plenty of praise on the former Bloomington High School star, Savian Haywood, who in 2018 would complete a brilliant four-year career with a state championship bracket after claiming three state medals prior to that year.

“Savian has taught me so much about the sport (and) with my mental game as well, and he’s the biggest reason for my season,” said Koderhandt.

“Josh is a great student of the game, and it’s been really a joy working with him, in and out of the room – he’s even taught me a few things also,” joked Haywood, who is now at SIU after spending a year at Old Dominion University.

“My college wrestling career is over for now, but I am enjoying the coaching side of things very much, as well as the academic part of my life,” adds Haywood.

Joel Vandervere is one year away from the start of his college career at Northwestern, but when the Warren Township junior finally arrives on the Evanston, Illinois campus, he hopes to bring along two state titles, in addition to the top spot in the nations polls.

Vandervere overwhelmed the 138-pound field in Champaign – ending his three day stay with a convincing 9-0 major decision over former state champion, Fabian Lopez of DeKalb.

As the state tournament approached, it appeared this weight class was destined to be one of the most carefully watched of all with three superb men owning the top three spots in the state polls.

Vandervere stood just ahead of No. 2 Danny Pucino (Libertyville) and No. 3 Jake Harrier (Jacobs) when the postseason began – until Pucino suffered a season ending concussion at regionals, and Harrier an ACL injury in training just before the state tournament began.

“It was tough to see Danny and Jake go down (injuries) are part of any sport, as I know,” said Vandervere after his first match on Thursday night inside State Farm Center.

Vandervere’s season a year ago began late as he worked his way back from offseason ACL surgery – finally cleared in early January – which eventually ended when he lost his 126-pound state final in overtime to Dylan Ragusin.

Since then, few have matched the all-out attack of Vandervere (33-1) who gives former Libertyville star, and Poeta Training Center lead man, Jon Henslee all the credit for his mercurial rise.

“Henslee is the man in so many ways (the) real difference maker for me,” says Vandervere, whose desire to be No. 1 in the nation is quite clear.

“Yes, that’s where I want to be, absolutely,” says Vandervere, the 2019 Super 32 champion at 132 pounds.

“I know all of those ahead of me in the national polls, and after a few of the seniors move on and graduate, I feel that I’ll be right there at the top, so that will be one of my goals for next year, as well as winning another state title,” admits Vandervere.

Daniel Jezik is destined to move atop the 195-pound poll here in Illinois, after his thrilling 3-2 decision over-then No. 1 Brandon Hoselton (Prairie Central, 56-1) who was after his third consecutive state 1A title.

“Brandon is such a great person and wrestler, and will probably be in the final next year (so) to beat someone like him made winning it all that much better,” said the classy senior from Coal City, who helped lead his club into the dual-team state tournament for the 11th time in program history, and third straight under head coach, Mark Masters.

“Daniel is a high character young man, who excels in the classroom also,” begins Masters.

“He has a lot of God-given talent, but his work ethic is unbelievable, particularly in the weight room where he dead lifts over 500 pounds.”

“He could have gone at 182 this season, but doesn’t enjoy cutting weight.”

“He’s one of those rare three-sport guys (football, baseball) so he basically wrestling (only) from November through February.”

Daniel Jezik
Daniel Jezik

Jezik (51-1) caught the eye of the Oklahoma State staff during his sophomore year when he went 3-2 at Fargo, and a subsequent visit to Stillwater was all the nationally ranked four-year star needed to decide his new address.

“I was a little nervous before heading there – but once on the campus it all felt right to me,” recounts Jezik.

“The coaching staff was down to earth, which is something I like and appreciate (they) told it like it (is) so there was that immediate comfort level.”

“The offer was good, and I know on the academic side, I’ll be able to pursue an engineering degree, and quite possibly attempt to walk on with the football team as well..”

That Jezik felt comfortable 700 miles away from his beloved Coal City is what makes the two-time state champion so special.

“We’ve had a few D-1 wrestlers in the past – but Daniel is the first big time D-1 scholarship athlete in our history, but aside from his obvious talents, his teammates see him as a calm leader, one that they all look up to, who is at his best under the spotlight,” says Masters.

“Being a part of Coal City wrestling is very important to me,” begins Jezik.

“To see the Green and Yellow (Coal City colors) up in the stands at the state tournament inspires all of us – there’s a real sense of pride with our fans, and in our history, and it carries on through to our kids program, and the younger guys just coming into our room (and) that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Jezik will leave with 160 career victories, fourth best, second in take-downs (415).

Peoria Notre Dame senior, Tristan Daugherty (48-0) is the all-team leader in victories for the Irish with 176, his last coming following his technical fall triumph over previously undefeated Nik Jimenez (47-1) of Harvard in the 126-pound final.

“It felt good to finally erase (those) three third-place finishes down here,” admitted Daugherty, who sent off a trio of opponents in Champaign: beginning with the first of three tech-fall results, followed by a pin at 1:21 in the quarterfinals.

His impressive victory over Jimenez gave PND its first every wrestling crown in program history, and a record setting 17th win at the state tournament.

“Tristan is just a tremendous young man, and he really wanted this state title so badly for the school and himself, so we’re all very proud of him,” said his head coach, Kevin Burk.

“Our coaching staff is amazing, especially Danny (Burk) who has been a major influence on my wrestling life, as well as my life away from wrestling,” says Daugherty.

Tristan Daugherty hugs PND Assistant Coach Danny Burk after becoming the school's first state champion
Tristan Daugherty hugs PND Assistant Coach Danny Burk after becoming the school’s first state champion

“His approach to everything makes so much sense to me, and he’s really helped me turn things around in a way that I can be at my best each time I go out and compete.”

Daugherty admits his last third place finish a year ago inspired a major assault during his offseason training, which included a step up in his approach to his fitness and conditioning, as well as extra work on every wrestling position – and a concentration of stepping up the pace, and always looking to add points along the way.

“That heart-break I felt from the 2019 third place medal is what turned me around,” said Daughtery.

Daugherty would take some time off from his training regiment to focus on his next stop – which will be at the University of Buffalo, which also happens to be where his former PND teammate, Leo Mushinsky resides.

“I knew Leo loved being at Buffalo, and I have to say, my visit (there) was great, the staff, team and campus are exactly what I am looking for, so I felt like I was home the minute I arrived there,” said Daugherty, who for now, will look to major in Finance.

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Written by Mike Garofola

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