By Jason Maholy
Wrestlers spend all season improving their stamina, refining their technique and learning from their mistakes as they build toward being at their best at the state individual tournament – should they advance to that hallowed ground of mat warfare.
Some Sandburg grapplers may, however, have to peak a week early to even qualify for state, as the competition in some weight classes at the Class 3A Bolingbrook Sectional may be as fierce as what they would see in Champaign.
The field in Bolingbrook on Friday and Saturday will include some of the top programs in Illinois this season in Marmion, Montini and Mount Carmel, and strong programs including Naperville Central, St. Rita and Marist.
The Eagles tuned up for the challenge with an impressive showing at the T.F. South Regional on Feb. 1 and 2. Nine Sandburg wrestlers won individual titles and four more placed in the top three as 13 advanced to sectionals.
Sandburg finished with 263 points, well ahead of runner-up Marist’s 179. The RedHawks were followed by Shepard (94.5), Stagg (91.5), Thornton (58), T.F. South (57), Richards (53), Eisenhower (42) and Thornwood (11).
The Eagles by virtue of their team title earned a berth in their own Class 3A dual team sectional, which will also feature Montini, Marmion and Mount Carmel.
Tyler Milani (120), Jimmy Ferguson (126), Pat Nolan (138), Sam Wojcik (145), Tyler Villa (160), Mike Bosco (182), Kevin Zimmer (195), Alex Hirschfield (220) and Nate Goodman (285) won championships for the Eagles. Sammie Hayes (106) and Abdul Aljazara (170) took second, and Dominic Iannantone (113) and Carson Bruce (132) placed third.
The only weight at which a Sandburg wrestler did not advance to sectionals was 152.
Nolan, a senior who placed fifth at state at 120 in 2016-17 and fourth at 132 last season, defeated Jacob Dado, 5-2, in a regional championship match between two of the state’s top 138-pounders. Nolan (39-1) looked to have a slight edge heading into sectionals, as his physical strength and defense were at least for one match tough for Dado (39-5) to overcome.
Dado finished fourth in state at 120 in 2016-17 and third last year at 138.
Sandburg’s Nate Goodman was in the longest match of the finals, and outlasted Ahmad Suleiman for a 2-1 ultimate tiebreaker victory in the 285-pound title match. Goodman has emerged victorious in several overtime matches this season, so grappling with Suleiman for more than eight minutes was not uncharted territory.
Goodman, a senior, scored the winning point on an escape with 20 seconds remaining in the seventh period.
“He’s gotten very comfortable in those matches,” Eagles coach Clinton Polz said of Goodman. “He’s a 220-pounder wrestling at heavyweight and he’s adapted really well.
“And he has a lot of overtime wins. One of our coaches made a joke that if you think you’re comfortable in double overtime I think Nate Goodman owns a house there.”
Milani, a sophomore, won a championship in his first regional, but that only equaled his expectations.
“My goal was to win regional, so I’m doing pretty good,” Milani said. “I just went out there, wrestled my matches and did what I needed to do to win.”
Polz believes there is more and better to come from Milani.
“He didn’t wrestle his best but he has a great feel and he’s someone we’re really excited about for the future,” Polz said. “He’s put in his time this year and the sky’s the limit for him.”
Marist advanced nine wrestlers to sectionals, with Owen Dunlap (106) and Mike Leveille (113) earning championships. Dado, Mateen Taylor (126) and Ghee Rachal placed second, and Bobby Gaylord (152), Kendric Nowling (182), Tim Maher (220) and Tom Munoz finished third.
Dunlap (34-8) topped Sandburg’s Hayes in the title match in a battle between freshmen.
Dunlap did not know what to expect in his first high school season, but has met every challenge and continually improved throughout the season. He credited his coaches and the teammates he works with every day in practice for helping him along.
“Honestly, I didn’t see myself doing this well, having this much success, but my big goal is to make it downstate and winning regionals puts me in a good position, I think, to have that opportunity,” Dunlap said.
“I’ve had a lot of improvement in different areas, but mostly on my feet. My confidence is high. I think I can go with anyone and I’m feeling good going into sectionals.”
Shepard got a championship from Sherman Dixon at 170 pounds. Dixon (35-2) used a combination of brute force and solid technique to defeat Abdul Aljazara of Sandburg by technical fall in the title match.
Dixon, a senior who did not begin wrestling until his freshman year, put it more time last offseason than he ever had before as he focused on making his final high school season memorable and making his first trip to state.
“After last year, I worked hard over the summer and during this season to perfect the skills I already had and learn new ones so I could take first at this tournament today,” Dixon said.
Dixon enters each match with the goal of giving up no points to his opponent. He has worked to improve his explosiveness and aggressiveness on offense, and finish matches strong.
“Last year I had trouble finishing matches because of (lack of) conditioning, so this year I really worked hard on that and staying focused my entire match,” he said. I really love the sport, so I dedicated my time to it. It’s been a great year for me and I just want to keep improving.”
The Astros’ Damari Reed (113) and Eric Muhammad (132) placed second, and Alex Muhammad (145) finished third.
Reed, a freshman, lost to Marist senior Mike Leveille, 10-5, in the championship match. Leveille was sixth at state at 106 last season.
“I just didn’t wrestle my best,” Reed said. “I was slow on my feet and setting up my shots.”
Reed (28-4) was disappointed about losing, but expressed confidence he can hang with any of the wrestlers he’ll see in Bolingbrook.
“I still don’t think I’ve reached the best I can wrestle,” he said. “I could be way better than I am now if I push the pace at practice and work a lot and work harder, keep composure in my matches and stay focused.”
Richards, wrestling in Class 3A this season for the first time, advanced three wrestlers to sectionals. Rocco Palumbo (152) and Ahmad Suileman (285) placed second, and Adam Alkilani (126) was third.
Palumbo said there is a definite difference in the depth of the field in 3A as opposed to 2A.
“There’s a lot more competitive guys at every weight,” he said. “They work harder, and [schools] have more to choose from, obviously.”
Palumbo was exhausted midway through his championship match against Jamal Osborne of Thornton, and acknowledged his conditioning isn’t where it needs to be this time of the year. He hopes to rise to the challenge at sectionals and reach his season goal.
“I knew it was going to be tough being in 3A, so I set my goal as being a state qualifier,” he said.
Suileman, a senior, said the ultimate tiebreaker against Sandburg’s Goodman in the finals was the longest match he has ever wrestled.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome because no one likes to lose, but I’ll take it as a learning experience,” he said. “I’ll go [to practice] Monday and just start working work on the things I messed up, and I’ll improve and just get better every day.”
Domenic Zaccone was the lone Stagg wrestler to advance to sectionals. Zaccone (30-1) is a three-time state qualifier who placed fourth at 106 in 2015-16 and second at 113 in 2016-17. His junior year fell short of expectations as he failed to medal, and he’s looking to close out his career with a state title.
Area Wrestlers Moving On
The following wrestlers advanced to sectional competition by placing in the top three of their respective weight classes at regionals.
The Caravan finished first in the Reavis Regional and will compete in the Sandburg Dual Team Sectional for the chance to wrestle in the Class 3A dual team state tournament.
Jordan Blew, freshman, 106
Colton Drousias, junior, 113
Rohan Uribe, senior, 120
Noah Mis, sophomore, 126
Alex Lalezas, junior, 132
Connor Gaynor, sophomore, 138
Miles Hoey, senior, 145
Andrew Mulay, 152
Ashton Breen, junior, 160
Asa Jerrell, junior, 170
Dan Benoit, senior, 182
Robert Bowman, sophomore, 195
Nik Mishka, sophomore, 220
Anastarios Alexander, junior, 285
Marcel Bitner, sophomore, 120
Anthony Bitner, junior, 152
Nico Uriarte, senior, 195
The Mustangs advanced 13 of 14 wrestlers to sectionals and finished first at the Solorio Regional. They will compete in the Oak Forest Dual Team Sectional for the chance to wrestle in the Class 2A dual team state tournament.
Davion Johnson, sophomore, 106
Sam Bik, freshman, 120
Edwin Opaku, junior, 126
Loyal Howard, senior, 132
Terrence Jones, senior, 138
Horace Holifield, senior, 145
Ra-El Moore, senior, 152
Matt Miglieri, junior, 160
James Williams, freshman, 170
Christian Rosso, sophomore, 182
Myles Kerwin, junior, 195
Nasir Gilmore, freshman, 220
Charles Holifield, sophomore, 285
Michael Loughney, junior, 106
Emmett Connolly, sophomore, 113
Nathan Chirillo, freshman, 126
Tom Bennett, freshman, 145
Thomas Crane, junior, 160
Dominic Murphy, senior, 170
Damen Michicich, freshman, 106
Mike Archer, junior, 126
Mike Rodriguez, sophomore, 145
Xavier Roa, senior, 170
Sean Burns, junior, 220