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IKWF Senior Division
championship recaps

By Kevin McGavin
Photos courtesy of Ken Dado


74 pounds


Joe Ruffino, right, of St. Charles East, looks for an advantage against Joshua Fiegel, of the Crystal Lake Wizards, during their IKWF Senior Division 74-pound title match.

Joshua Fiegel was in trouble.

The Harvard wrestler was staring at a one-point deficit to St. Charles’ Joe Ruffino with less than 10 seconds to go in the championship match.

But Fiegel secured a takedown and 3-point near-fall as time expired to ease past Ruffino 7-3 on March 9 at the Harris BMO Center in Rockford.

“I know what I’m good at when it comes to desperation,” said Fiegel, who concluded his season with a 39-4 record. “(Ruffino) thought he had it won, and I used that to my advantage. I wrestled him before and knew what to expect.”


Joshua Fiegel gets his arm raised as 74-pound champion after his 7-3 win over Joe Ruffino, of St. Charles East.


79 pounds


Michael McGee, of Force Wrestling, is in control against Joey Melendez, of Izzy Style Wrestling.


Michael McGee had the proverbial cherry for his sundae.

The Plainfield native had Joey Melendez in a vulnerable position. With only seconds remaining in the match, McGee had enough back points for a technical fall.

But the reigning state champion one-upped himself by defending his title with a pin with 10 seconds remaining.

“It meant a lot more,” McGee said of the extra bonus point. “I didn’t go in there with any fear. I didn’t care who (Melendez) beat to get (to the finals).”

Michael McGee celebrates his championship.


84 pounds


Chase Bittle, right, of Crusaders Elite, holds tight to Sean McKenna, of Martinez Fox Valley Elite.

After surviving a 3-2 scare in the semifinals, Sean McKenna was poised for a better showing in the championship match.

The Naperville resident, an eighth grader at Washington Junior High, had the only takedowns of the match in his 5-2 victory over Chase Bittle, who scored his points on a late reversal.

McKenna captured his first career state championship with takedowns in the second and third periods.

“I knew I had to be smart, take my shots when they were open,” said McKenna, who improved to 34-3 with the win.


Sean McKenna is all smiles after his 84-pound title.


89 pounds


Anthony Madrigal, top, of Martinez Fox Valley Elite, controls Brandon Ramos, of the Bollingbrook Junior Raiders.

Anthony Madrigal racked up points as if he were playing a pinball machine

The Chicago resident had four takedowns, a reversal and a 3-point near-fall against Brandon Ramos.

Madrigal became a three-time state champion when Ramos was vanquished with a pin late in the third period.

Ramos scored several points on escapes before succumbing to the fall at 4:06.

“I wanted to put on a show for everyone out there,” Madrigal said.


95 pounds


Nolan Baker, top, of Xtreme WC, fights off a single leg from Jason Renteria, of Martinez Fox Valley Elite.

Jason Renteria was one of 15 state qualifiers in the senior division for the famed Martinez Fox Valley Elite wrestling club.

In his championship match against Nolan Baker, the Chicago native was in jeopardy of being whitewashed.

Down 2-0 in the second period, Renteria had a reversal for the equalizer.

A scoreless third period ensued, and the subsequent overtime — the only extra session of the 18 state championship matches — was fraught with drama.

Renteria was seeking his third-consecutive state championship, and it became reality with a takedown nine seconds before the overtime buzzer sounded.

“I just tried to push myself to the limit,” Renteria said. “I knew I still had good stamina left (during overtime). It’s a great feeling (to be a three-time state champion).”


101 pounds


Dack Punke (top) of Central Elite Rebels and Yahya Thomas of Harvey Twisters

Dack Punke, top, of the Central Elite Rebels, battles Yahya Thomas, of the Harvey Twisters.

Dack Punke could put wrestling on the map in the central Illinois community of Washington, which is known as a basketball hotbed.

The eighth-grader, representing the Central Elite Rebels, had an arduous road to the state championship.

Narrowly escaping with a 3-2 win in the semifinals Saturday afternoon at the Harris BMO Center in Rockford, Punke authored a defensive gem in the championship match against Yahya Thomas.

Punke had single takedowns in the opening two periods. A third-period escape and a penalty point added up to a 6-0 victory.

“I knew (Thomas) was going to be a hard kid,” Punke said. “I had to be smart on defense and go on the offensive when I had the chance.”

The sectional champion had a second-round pin and two simple decisions to reach the championship match.

Dack Punke acknowledges the crowd after his 101-pound title.


108 pounds


Austin O'Connor, right, of the Tinley Park Bulldogs, and Zachary Villarreal, of the Downers Grove Cougars WC, compete in the 108-pound championship.


Austin O’Connor is truly in elite company when it comes to the all-time greats in IKWF.

The Lockport native became the fourth athlete in history to become a five-time state champion with a technical fall over Zachery Villarreal.

O’Connor, who plans on attending St. Rita High School in the fall, joins Tony Davis, Israel Martinez and Isaiah White on the elite list of athletes.

After a slow start, O’Connor turned the match into a rout with a series of second- and third-period takedowns and near-falls. O’Connor had a final 3-point near-fall with 12 seconds remaining to terminate the match.

One of seven representatives of the Tinley Park Bulldogs, O’Connor never tasted defeat in 51 matches this season.

“I knew (winning the fifth title) was still going to be tough,” said O’Connor, who recorded a pair of pins in his three earlier matches. “I knew I had to wrestle well going into the (championship) match. I just kept getting my points.”

Zachary Villarreal works to withstand an Austin O'Connor attack.


115 pounds


Anthony Cheloni, top, of St. Charles North, and Chris Betancourt, of the Harvey Twisters, tussle in the title match.


The pipeline to Marmion Academy, which recently finished as Class 3A state runners-up, continues to show no signs of ebbing.

Drawing from throughout the Fox Valley, the Cadets have yet another promising athlete entering the multiple state-championship program in the person of South Elgin eighth-grader Anthony Cheloni.

The 115-pounder was all business in his shutout of Chris Betancourt.

Cheloni won his 56th-straight match with a pair of takedowns and a 3-point near-fall to highlight his 8-0 verdict.

“I was more prepared than (Betancourt),” Cheloni said of his initial state championship. “I was able to use some cradles (to get the near-fall). I wanted to make sure that (Betancourt) didn’t score.”

Cheloni is a product of the St. Charles North Youth Club, whose most famous alumnus is Johnny Jimenez.
The Marmion junior, whose younger brother Nathan was a IKWF junior division state champion, will seek a fourth IHSA state championship next winter.


122 pounds


Jamie Hernandez, of Martinez Fox Valley Elite, tries to pin Datrelle Kozeluh, of Cross Town Wrestling Club.

Nathan Martinez was a busy man at the state championships.

The two-time high school state champion from West Aurora had his charges represented in 12-of-18 weight classes. Jaime Hernandez did not disappoint at 122 pounds.

Pitted against Datrelle Kozeluh in the finals, Hernandez knew patience and defense were his top priorities.

After a scoreless opening period, Hernandez had the all-important first takedown in the second period.

The Aurora resident cemented his 5-0 victory with an escape and second takedown in the final period.

“I knew I had the match at that point,” Hernandez said of the second takedown. “I had him in a good move and knew he wasn’t going to be able to score against me.”

With the win Hernandez improved to 49-7 on the year.

130 pounds



Devin Donovan, top, of the Villa-Lombard Cougars, and Andrew Okayama, of Force Wrestling Club, compete in their tight 130-pound final.


The battle for the title was contested until the final seconds.

Wheaton resident Devin Donovan was looking for his first state title, but Andrew Okayama presented a formidable roadblock.

Donovan took the early lead with a takedown, only to see Okayama reverse him late to knot the match at 2-2 after one period.

Okayama briefly had his one and only lead of the match with a second-period escape, but Donovan responded with a second crucial takedown.

Donovan escaped early in the third period for the final point of the showdown to improve to 49-2 with a 5-3 triumph.

“The difference in the match was that I got two takedowns, and he didn’t get any,” said Donovan, who had two pins en route to the finals. “I wrestled very strong in the neutral position.”


138 pounds


Johnny Mologousis, of the Lions Wrestling Club, won the opening championship bout of the night.

Johnny Mologousis had a significant distinction Saturday night.

The draw for the opening match of the IKWF state finals came at his weight, and the eighth-grader from Burr Ridge earned the initial of 18 crowns with his 8-2 victory over Trent Rakers.

To secure his first state championship, Mologousis used an old-fashioned move on two occasions: the cradle.

After taking down Rakers midway through the opening period, Mologousis had a 3-point near-fall to build a comfortable 5-0 lead.

Rakers got on the scoreboard  with a first-period reversal before the buzzer.

The score remained the same entering the final 90 seconds as Mologousis denied Rakers’ every bid to earn back points in the second period.

Rakers would not be as fortunate in the third period.

Mologousis was able to turn Rakers and employ another cradle with the same effect as the first-period maneuver: another 3-point near-fall that accounted for the final score.

Mologousis came ever so close to securing the fall both times.

“I thought I had him (pinned) the first time,” Mologousis said. “I saw the opening for the cradle and locked it up.”

Mologousis was vanquished only once in 47 matches this season.


Johnny Mologousis, of the Lions Wrestling Club, holds his championship bracket next to runner-up Trent Rakers, of the Highland Bulldog Junior Wrestling Club.

147 pounds


Jack Jessen, of Martinez Fox Valley Elite, controls Jake Lanning, of the Pontiac Wrestling Club.


Willowbrook High School wrestling coach Bryan Murphy has yet another chance to add to the number of Warrior wrestlers who have advanced to the IHSA state tournament.

Jack Jessen may possibly hold the distinction of most IKWF matches after earning his third-consecutive state championship in his 73rd bout of the season.

But it was far from an easy road. The seventh-grader from Villa Park eventually earned a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Jake Lanning.

Lanning came off back-to-back pins in the quarterfinals and semifinals, but Jessen had a first-period takedown in what had all the characteristics of a defensive struggle.

The strategic battle of wills continued during a scoreless second-period in which Lanning was unable to escape Jessen.

With the roles reversed to start the third, Jessen did manage an early escape to take a 3-0 lead.

Jessen was unable to score any more offensive points, but his defense remained suburb throughout the clash.

Lanning did avert the shutout with a takedown in the waning seconds, but it was not enough to stop Jessen.

“(Lanning) kept fighting me the whole time,” Jessen said. “This (third title) really means a lot. I had to get through a lot of hard guys to get (to the championship match).”

Jessen improved to 67-6 on the year with the razor-thin victory.


156 pounds


Cole Bateman, left, of the Orland Park Pioneers, faces off against Jacob Warner, of the Champaign Wrestling Club.

Athletes winning multiple state championships were a common theme at the IKWF state finals.

Jacob Warner certainly lived up to his status as a defending state titlist. The Tolono resident was all business against Cole Bateman.

Warner had five takedowns and an escape to win an 11-2 major decision over Bateman, who scored on a second-period reversal.

“The key was to stay in shape and keep going hard (for offensive points),” said Bateman.

The eighth-grader had two takedowns in the opening period, and his lead swelled to 9-2 with another pair of takedowns in the second period.

“After the first period, when (the score) was 4-0, I knew I was in control of the match,” Bateman said.

Bateman is 42-5 on the year after his second-straight state championship.


166 pounds



Zachary Nemec, top, of the Arlington Cardinals, had the early lead against eventual champion David Riojas, of the Force Wrestling Club.

David Riojas had arguably the most unusual pedigree of the 18 IKWF state champions.

The Plainfield native entered the finals with a mere six matches under his belt.

“It was just laziness,” Riojas said of his paucity of matches.

But Riojas dispelled any notions of indolence with a dominant performance over the weekend in the senior division of the 166-pound weight class.

The future Plainfield East student had two first-period pins and a major decision to reach the championship.

Zachary Nemec  drew first blood with a first-period takedown, but it would be the only points he would muster in the match.

Riojas sliced his deficit in half with a first-period escape, and seized command of the match with a second-period takedown and 2-point near-fall. He added another escape and takedown in the final period to account for his 8-2 triumph.

“I just had to stay calm and know that I could win,” Riojas said of falling behind early. “When I put him to his back in the second period, I knew I was in control.”


177 pounds


Jordan Shahrikian, left, of the Hononegah Wrestling, and Hunter Crowley, of the Mahomet-Seymour Youth Wrestling Club, fight for an advantage in their title bout.


It had all the earmarks of a defensive war of attrition when Hunter Crowley and Jordan Shahrikian, representing two wrestling-rich communities, collided in the title match.

Crowley, who hails from downstate Mahoment-Seymour school district, and Shahrikian, a Hononegah (Rockton) freshman-to- be, were both unable to score over the first three minutes of the match.

But Crowley gained the upper hand after riding out Shahrikian the entire second period.

The eighth-grader then escaped Shahrikian to take a 1-0 lead. After four-plus minutes of intense combat, Crowley solidified his 3-0 state championship with a takedown with 20 seconds remaining.

“I just tried to keep moving,” said Crowley, who had nothing but falls in his three finals preliminaries. “The takedown? It just happened. I knew going into the match that it was probably going to be low scoring. I knew every point would matter.”

Crowley is unblemished on the year after extending his season-long unbeaten streak to 41 matches.


189 pounds



George Bessette, top, of the Lakeland Predators Wrestling Club, goes for the win against Alexander Crook, of the Barrington Broncos.

Antioch eighth-grader George Bessette wrestled like his coach had double-parked the team van at the state finals.

To complete an astonishing season, Bessette needed all of 28 seconds to pin Alexander Crook, of Barrington, in the championship match to secure the state championship.

Bessette wrestled a total of 78 seconds. which was more than enough to earn him the Ron Urwin Award for Outstanding Senior Division Wrestler. Then again, it was nothing new for Bessette.

“I have 42 pins on the year,” Bessette said. “All 42 have been in the first period. (The final fall) was (made possible) with a fireman’s carry. I have been using that move all year.”

The only loss Bessette suffered on the season was to an out-of-state opponent.

In his previous three matches to reach the finals, Bessette had falls in respective times of 13, 17 and 20 seconds.


215 pounds


Blake Zalapi, top, of the Hononegah WC, has the upper hand on Joe Spivak, of the Hinsdale Falcon Wrestling Club.


Blake Zalapi made sure that the Rockton area did not leave Rockford without an IKWF state championship.

With 10 representatives in the state tournament, Hononegah Wrestling, which feeds into Hononegah High School, was down to its final chance for a triumphant wrestler.

But Zalapi delivered the goods by scoring all the offensive points in a 7-1 victory over Joe Spivak.

“I was really on my game,” Zalapi said after securing takedowns in each of the three periods to frame his state championship. “I was not in the mood to go on the defensive. I wanted to secure the win.”

Spivak, representing the Hinsdale Falcon Wrestling Club, scored his lone point on a third-period escape.

Both wrestlers were coming off first-period semifinal falls, but Zalapi was the aggressor throughout the first two periods, scoring the first five points of the match.




Christian Beck, of the WW Tigers Wrestling Club, goes for the pin against Ricky Cantu, of the Western Illinois All-Stars.

Ricky Cantu got a rude awakening against Christian Beck in the final.

Beck, an eighth-grader at Hubble Middle School in Wheaton, needed every ounce of effort to get past his semifinal opponent. But the IKWF senior heavyweight championship match was an entirely different story.

Beck needed only a dozen seconds to achieve a violent takedown, and the 275-pound state title was his after 18 seconds.

Beck improved to 44-3 on the year with the first-period fall.

“I was nervous the whole time,” Beck said. “I did not know that it would go that quick. My determination (was the difference).”

Beck advanced to the championship with two razor-thin decisions, including a 4-3 triumph over Hononegah heavyweight John Terry in the semifinals.


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