Photo by Jason Maholy
Marist's Diata Drayton has the upper hand against Nick Sondag of Waubonsie Valley in the Downers Grove North Class 3A Sectional title match at 220 pounds.
Diata Drayton believes no wrestler in his weight class can beat him when he is at his best.
“That's my mentality – the winner's mentality,” the Marist senior said after winning the 220-pound title last Saturday at the Illinois High School Association Class 3A Downers Grove North Sectional.
And Drayton must be at his best every time he steps on the mat. He will enter the state tournament 40-0, and as the wins piled up this season while the losses remained at zero, he became a marked man. He understands that for a while now he has had to be prepared to thwart every opponent's greatest effort as they've tried to drop him from the ranks of the unbeaten.
“It only makes me work harder because everyone's gunning to beat me, so I've got to do my best out there,” he said.
Drayton cruised to the sectional title, pinning Adnane Lanaati of Oak Lawn in 2:21 and Jesus Lopez of Glenbard East in 44 seconds before handling Nick Sondag of Waubonsie Valley, 11-3, in the championship bout. Sondag entered the final 36-1.
Drayton will be making his third appearance at the state tournament, which begins today at the University of Illinois' State Farm Center in Champaign. He placed fourth last season at 220 pounds.
“It feels good, I worked hard for it,” he said of earning one last opportunity to win a state title. “I wrestled a lot over the summer, different guys, to help me get better. I said that I wouldn't let [losing his final match of the season] happen again, so I've worked to get better and better every time out.”
The biggest difference for Drayton this season is that he's able to push himself late in matches when both he and his opponents are tiring.
“Even though I'm up, I try to get more take-downs,” he said.
Domenic Zaccone of Stagg will also enter the state tournament unbeaten after taking the Downers Grove North Sectional crown at 113 pounds. The sophomore pinned two opponents and beat another by technical fall before earning a hard-fought, 6-4 decision over Tommy Russell of St. Rita in the title match.
Zaccone took fourth last season at 106 pounds, and has ambitions to be a three-time state champion. That, of course, means he must win that first title this weekend; and despite his unblemished record he acknowledged he has some work to do if he hopes to be atop the podium Saturday evening.
“I just didn't like the second and third periods [in the title match], how they went,” he said. “There's a lot to improve on based on today. The semifinal match felt great, got two take-downs and back points right away, but then started getting slow.”
Zaccone doesn't think much about being undefeated – his focus is on dominating his opponent every time he steps on the mat, he said. After falling short of a state championship last season, he doesn't take g for granted.
“Coming into this year it was like, 'Okay, you need to step up your game. If you want to be a three-time state champ you've got to get this first one. I've been working on everything to be the best. [Being undefeated]'s fine, but I don't really pay attention to it. I just try to pay attention to what's in front of me. Numbers are numbers; when you're wrestling there's no numbers out there.”
Pat Brucki of Sandburg is the other area wrestler who won a title in Downers Grove. The two-time state medalist will head to Champaign 40-1, and unbeaten against Illinois wrestlers. He easily defeated Mason Kroening of Waubonsie Valley, 17-5, in the semifinals at 195 pounds, then beat Illinois Matmen's No. 2-ranked wrestler, Downers Grove South’s Sergio Villalobos, 20-5, in the final.
Other state qualifiers via the Downers Grove North Sectional are a pair of 120-pounders, Jacob Dado of Marist (second place) and Patrick Nolan of Sandburg (fourth place); and Noah Price of Stagg, who finished fourth at 132; Cole Bateman of Sandburg, third at 220; and Malik Scates of Sandburg, third at 285.
Brother Rice is sending eight wrestlers to state including Thornridge Sectional champs Hassan Johnson (120 pounds) and Jake Hutchinson (170).
Other Crusaders who qualified were Angel Granado (126), Rahman Johnson (145), Dominick Murphy (152), Paul Gilva (160), Scott Sierzega (220) and Myles Ruffin (285).
Richards will bring two wrestlers to Champaign -- Basil Muhammad (113) and Anthony Quinn (195).