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AA and AAA finals action

By Ed Muniz
Class AA photos by Akayna Calkins
Class AAA photos by Ken Dado

The yearly excitement of this year IHSA Wrestling Finals in Champaign concluded with some sure things, and a few upset and surprises.

In single A action, Dakota was the standout with 3-of-6 finalists capturing state titles. The trio consisted of four-time state champion Josh Alber at 132,  J.J. Wolfe at 138 and Carver James at 152.

Alber continued his unbeaten IHSA career with 177 victories through the individual tournament. He will conclude his career at the state duals Saturday (March 1) in Bloomington. Alber would become the first unbeaten and tied wrestler in Illinois history. Newman’s Mike Mena finished his career at 157-0-1 in 1992.

AA powerhouse Montini had 12 entrants in the tournament and placed nine in championship bouts. Five wrestlers walked off the mats as champs for the Broncos, who will move to Class 3A next year.

In the large school division, Oak Park-River Forest topped the field when 4-of-5 championship bout competitors took the top prize.

There were many others who carried on their winning ways for their schools. Some were unheralded and opened eyes. Here are some highlights from classes AA and AAA.


St. Rita's Austin O'Conner (top) keeps the pressure on OPRF's Jason Renteria, who looks for advice from his corner. The AAA 106 title match went to O'Conner by 10-4 decision.

Nationally ranked freshmen took to the mat for the lightweight title in 3A. Once beaten Jason Renteria, of OPRF, and St. Rita’s Austin O’Connor each wanted to end their first Champaign trip with a championship.

What started as a defensive tug, was soon broken open as O’Connor (43-3) took control of the match and eventually put Renteria (41-2) on his back en route to a 10-4 decision.

“I wish I had the lead at the end of the first period, but I’m still happy at the outcome,” said O’Connor. “He kept moving around, and it was hard to get a hold of him at times until I worked him to his back. I mean I had a good lead by then against a pretty good wrestler but I guess it would have been better to end it there not that I needed the pin; still I'm happy of my effort.”

Jabari Moddy (left) of Rich Central knocks Oak Forest 106-pound finalist Francis Edelen off his feet. Soonafter Edelen was forced to default due to an injury.

The 2A final went to junior Jabari Moody (37-0), of Rich Central, after his Oak Forest opponent Francis Edelen defaulted due to injury.

As Edelen tried to escape 20 seconds into the second period, Moody lifted him and brought him back to the mat. Edelen hit his head and was deemed unable to continue due to a concussion.


Brian Rossi (right), of Lockport, fights off a shot by Miguel Silva, of Plainfield South. Rossi grabbed the AAA title with a 7-0 win.

When Lockport senior Brian Rossi stepped on the mats in Champaign, you could sense he was on a mission. What fans saw was a dominating wrestler who was not going to give in to anyone.  In his march to the 3A title, Rossi (48-1) was stingy -- he allowed four opponents just three points in three days of wrestling.

In the championship match Rossi displayed his defensive prowess in his 7-0 win over Plainfield South senior Miguel Silva (45-4).

Returning state champion Dan Swan (left), of Oak Forest, made it two in a row after defeating Ethan Reel, of Washington, by fall in the AA championship match.

In 2A the defending champion was back at it. Oak Forest's Dan Swan (42-1) sought his second-consecutive championship. In his way was Washington freshman Ethan Reel (43-6), who had vanquished many upper classmen all season.

Swan was superior and eventually grabbed title no. 2 with a fall at 4:44.

“In this last year I have learned more than I ever had. I was a lot more motivated this year,” Swan said. “Last year I never really thought I would get on that top podium. I was told I was expected to medal so never thought of being a state champ.

"This year I had a lot of pressure on me because people want to wrestle you, go after to you, beat you, and fans expect you to win. It’s pressuring. but you deal with it. I felt it some down here a few times.”


Thornwood's Kris Williams (left) and Libertyville's Steve Polakowski struggle for control during their AAA championship bout. Williams won his third title with a 2-1 overtime decision.

For outgoing senior Steve Polakowski (42-2), of Libertyville, capping this season with a state championship before he embarks on a college career at the University of Minnesota would have been a pinnacle of an outstanding career. But to do that, he’d have to outwrestle a two-time state champion from Thornwood.

Vying for his third title in three years was junior Kris Williams (31-0), who continued his move up the ladder after title wins at 106 and 113. Williams squeaked by with one-point wins in two previous bouts and this looked to be his toughest opponent yet.

It took overtime to decide this championship but again, Williams came out the victor with a 2-1 victory when Polakowski could not escape. Williams would join elite company with a final title next year.

Dylan Duncan of Montini tries to escape the grasp of returning state champion Kyle Akins of Sycamore in their AA 120 title bout. Duncan upset Akins, shutting him out 7-0.

Dylan Duncan, of Montini, tries to escape the grasp of returning state champion Kyle Akins, of Sycamore in their AA title bout. Duncan upset Akins 7-0.

When the regionals began a few weeks back, Montini sophomore Dylan Duncan (36-11) had a lot of losses. The Broncos wrestle a very tough schedule, so the losses can pile up.

Three weeks later after the IHSA individual state championships concluded, Duncan still had eleven losses, but quite a few more wins including a 2014 2A state championship.

Duncan took on unbeaten and top-ranked Kyle Akins, of Sycamore, in the title bout. For Akins (45-1), the winning kept piling on after standing on top of the podium last season. The returning state champion did the same all season in tournament after tournament.

Based on records, the state finals appeared to be his for the taking again. But no one told that to Bronco sophomore Duncan, who controlled Akins throughout their bout and won 7-0.

“The whole season in one match,” stated Duncan. “We are not the kind of club that backs off and just takes a defensive position. Winning is amazing, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

He may have that feeling a couple more times in the future.


Kegan Calkins (top) of Montini has Richmond-Burton wrestler Grant Sutton tied up during the AA 126 title bout. Calkins captured his first state title with a 5-1 decision of the top ranked Sutton.

Kegan Calkins (top), of Montini, has Richmond-Burton wrestler Grant Sutton tied up during the AA title bout. Calkins captured his first state title with a 5-1 decision of the top-ranked Sutton.

Entering the 2A final, Kegan Calkins, of Montini, sported the most losses of any wrestler in a title bout. His 15 losses were likely been noticed by many -- usually finalists only sport a loss or two.

But wrestling the kind of competition he did all season and having a poor start explained away the losses. After correcting some things and getting into a wrestling groove, Calkins (34-15) put himself on the path to the championship bout. He defeated two top-ranked wrestlers and was about to take on the number one.

What Calkins did this time was score quick and add points when he needed to once again upset Grant Sutton (38-2), this time 5-1. Sutton, after being quickly taken down, never seemed to be able to recover and Calkins stymied his every action. Calkins had his grandfather in his corner, literally. Coaching him was Paul Faris, who had been in the same position 40 years ago as a coach of Hinsdale South after the very first “Grand March.”

“I wanted to shut down his offense and get to mine so I did,” said Calkins. “I waited for my opportunities and took advantage of when they came.”

When asked about having his grandfather on the mat, the tear-eyed senior said: “He is the most important person in my life, he means everything to me.

“He’s been with me since I started wrestling; he has always been there for me. I love him so much. It was a big moment for me with him here."

Faris concurred. “It was truly something very special,” he said.


Kenny Baldridge (standing), of Morris, and Alexander Butler, of Boylan, meet again in the AA title match in Champaign. Baldridge avenged a loss to Butler the previous week with a win by a fall in overtime.

After a fourth-place finish last year, junior Alex Butler (40-4), of Rockford Boylan, stood just one win away from a coveted state championship. He faced an opponent he had previously defeated a week earlier -- Kenny Baldridge (41-1), of Morris.

Baldridge wanted another shot at the only wrestler to defeat him this year and end his senior season as a state champion. For the top two ranked wrestlers at the weight, everything was on the line.

After a tie in regulation, it took just 27 seconds of overtime for Baldridge to end the bout with a sudden pin of Butler. He avenged his only loss and earned the 2A title.


Walter (Isaiah) White, of OPRF, battles Mario Leveille, of Marist, in the AAA final. White won the title 3-1.

Sophomore Walter (Isaiah) White Jr., of OPRF, captured the Huskies' first-of-four titles on the day with a win over Mario Levielle (31-8), of Marist. The senior Redhawk found the defense of White (38-4) to be stellar -- he could only manage an escape point in the 3-1 loss.

Springfield's Randle Taborn (left) gets taken down by Montini's Vince Turk. Turk denied the returning champion a repeat with his 5-2 title win in overtime.

The 2A championship featured top-ranked Vince Turk (43-6), of Montini and returning state champion Randle Taborn, a senior from Springfield. Taborn entered unscathed in 37 bouts but found himself in a battle.
Having already narrowly escaped with a 3-2 semifinal win, Taborn (37-1) was hopeful of a less traumatic final, what he got was a feisty, hardnosed, come-after-you opponent who was relentless in his attack.

Turk and Taborn took their action into overtime before Turk handed the returning champ his first defeat in a 5-3 decision.

“I definitely don’t feel like I dominated like I should have,” said a brewing Turk. “I should of done better but a win's a win. I am happy with a state championship.”

The junior wrestler talked about the move to Class 3A next season for Montini.

“At Montini we’re surrounded by each other, surrounded by greatness everyday that’s how you become great," he said. "We’re going to keep on building for 3A next year, getting tougher, everything all around.”


Larry Early III (left), of OPRF, keeps the pressure on as Fernie Silva, of Hononegah, tries to getto his feet. Early III won the championship match-up 7-3.

Last year for OPRF junior Larry Early III became like this year -- he found himself wrestling for a state title. In 2013, Early III finished second at 132 after a surprise pin in the title bout, his only loss of the season.

Leading up to state was different altogether for Early, who suffered seven losses in 42 matches. It was also different because he walked away from Champaign as a state champion. He controlled much of the action against fellow finalist and Hononegah sophomore Fernie Silva.

Silva (44-5) couldn’t get much going against Early. Each attempt to score or take an advantage was stopped cold and left some openings for Early III offense. The end result was a 7-3 decision and a state championship for the Huskie.

Chris Garcia (left), of Montini, thwarts SirRomeo Howard, of East St. Louis, during their AA championship match. Garcia won his second state title with a 6-4 decision.

Of all the wrestlers in Champaign, no one put more pressure on himself than Montini senior Chris Garcia.
After winning a 2013 title after he was injured in the final, and hearing the booing that rained down on him from the stands though no fault of his own, Garcia went on a quest to prove several things. He never accepted the title of state champ from 2013. He said it wasn’t his even though he was awarded it after a penalty point was given while he couldn’t and was not allowed to continue by medical staff.

“This last year, I’ve never thought of that as mine. In my mind I wouldn’t let it," he said. "Others in my family said I was a state champion but in my mind I wasn’t so this year I had a lot to prove and set out to do it."

As soon as the season started, Garcia set his sights in righting a wrong and proving to all those who booed that he was worthy of being called a champion.
Garcia (39-5) faced highly regarded SirRomeo Howard, of East St. Louis. Howard (34-3) was ranked second to Garcia at 145 and had shown in Champaign that he was formidable and a threat to ruin Garcia’s quest.

Garcia displayed his smoothness in his 6-4 triumph, fulfilling a quest that was so important to him.

“I had a lot of sleepless nights thinking about last year,” said the Bronco as tears streamed down his cheeks. “Everyone doubted me saying that I didn’t win that match, and I believed it. There was a lot of pressure, and I needed to prove more to myself that I could win a state championship.

“It was an internal battle that I had to face regardless of how many people told me I won last year. I just didn’t believe it, that’s why this is so important to me. It now lets me get ready to wrestle in college and move on in my life.”


Mt. Carmel's Bryce Brill (right) looks to his coaches as he cruises to the AAA title with a 17-6 win over Nate Higgins, of Belleville West.

While Northwestern University waits for Bryce Brill to complete his senior year at Mt. Carmel, the Caravan star worked on his third state title in four tries.

Trying to prevent Brill from the triple was another senior looking for his own glory. Belleville West’s Nate Higgins was prepared to give it his all, but the very savvy Brill made things go all his way in the 17-6 major decision.

“I just tried to put the pressure on the side. and it wasn’t pressure from other people. It was what I put on myself, and I kind of just tried to let that go. I wrestled it like it was any other match and felt like I did that, I’m proud of that,” said a very relaxed Brill.

Looking as if he had just gone for a stroll in the park and not like he just wrestled six minutes, Brill appeared to be just passing time without a care in the world.

“I tried to be relaxed the whole tournament," he said. "I’m kind of more excited about college and moving on to the next level. I think that was probably the key there and what you saw.”

Brill finished this season at 45-0 and joins the select list of Caravan champions with three or more state titles.

Randy Meneweather (standing), of Washington, fights off a single-leg attack from Montini's Luke Fortuna. Meneweather won his first state title via a 5-4 ultimate tiebreaker decision.

Montini’s Luke Fortuna (39-10) will remember his junior season as the one that got away or, as the referee thought, was stalled away. A questionable stalling call in overtime was Fortuna’s demise and his head coach Israel Martinez made sure the mat refs knew how he felt about it in the 5-4 ultimate tiebreaker title loss to Washington's Randy Meneweather (45-3).

Fortuna still had a chance to win the 2A title at 152 if he was able to escape in the UTB last portion. However, Meneweather put the clamps on and rode Fortuna out for thirty seconds for the championship.


Kamal Bey (top) fends off the escape attempt of Warren's Emery Parker. Bey won the AAA crown 10-5.

Being the top wrestler at any weight in Illinois can bring lots of unwanted pressure. But sophomore Kamal Bey, of OPRF, cherished it and wrestled confidently.

Bey (39-6) was dominant throughout his performances at the finals and easily reached the title bout where he faced senior Emery Parker (39-3), of Warren. Parker squeezed into the title bout with a 6-4 overtime semifinal win.

Bey’s again showed why he was the season-long, top-ranked wrestler at 160. He dominated Parker, 10-5 and notched the Huskies third title of the night.

For University of Michigan-bound Garrett Sutton, of Richmond-Burton, winning another 2A state title was an obligation. The feeling started after his title win last year.

Sutton didn’t disappoint and completed another unbeaten season with an 11-6 decision of Washington freshman Jacob Warner (43-5). Warner gave Sutton a match to begin the bout, but Sutton was never really tested throughout the tournament.

Sutton (44-0) is considered by many as the best wrestler in the state and showed why by easily winning by fall and by two major decisions prior to his championship match.


OPRF's Davonte Mahomes (bottom) tries to shake off Tyler Demoss, of Hononegah. Mahomes won the AAA title 7-3.

The final OPRF Huskie to appear in the finals was senior Davonte Mahomes. The top-rated 170-pound 3A wrestler made winning look easy with his power and speed against his opponents.

His finals for was Hononegah junior Tyler Demoss (42-6), who had been ranked in the top 10 throughout the year.
This had all the makings of an upset, but Mahomes wasn’t having any of that. He jumped ahead and never trailed, or was tested, in the 7-3 victory.

When the state tournament comes around, for most wrestlers, dropping down a weight is strictly strategy. For some it works, but others falter as the weight loss eventually weakens them.

Xavier Montalvo (top. of Montini, controls Tinley Park's Eric Schultz during their AA championship bout. Montalvo would not be denied in an 8-1 win.

Montini’s Xavier Montalvo (42-4) decided he was tired of worrying about his weight and wanted to focus solely on his wrestling so he moved up a weight after being the top-ranked wrestler at 160.

It was a bold move that most figured wouldn’t work out. On the contrary, Montalvo was even better at 170 and rode three pins into the 2A championship test against sophomore Eric Schultz (42-3), of Tinley Park.

Montalvo won his semifinals bout in fifty seconds while Schultz had to go into overtime for a 5-3 decision. With little left in the tank, Schultz was no match for Montalvo as the Bronco junior easily coasted to an 8-1 decision and Montini’s final title of the day.


Colton Emmerich (top), of Deerfield, cranks on Dundee-Crown finalist Christian Brunner. Emmerich took the AAA title with a 5-3 win.

The 3A title bout featured familiar foes in Deerfield’s Colton Emmerich and Dundee-Crown sophomore Christian Brunner. The two had battled twice this year with Emmerich posting dominating wins both times.

In the state championship, the wrestling tends to tighten up because neither combatant wants to make a mistake. This turned out to be just that. Emmerich (47-1) took his top ranking and challenged Brunner (43-5) to knock him off. While neither was able to establish much offense, Emmerich had just enough to hold on and defeat the D-C sophomore for a third time and take the title with a 5-3 victory.

Colin Carr (left), of Washington, snatches the leg of Mike Zelasco, of Crystal Lake Central, in the AA final. Carr held on to win 4-2.

The much anticipated rematch in 2A was more noise than action. The two finalists did show burst of energy at times throughout as they both gauged the other. For senior Michael Zelasco (42-4), of Crystal Lake Central, the rematch is all he had talked of and wanted.

He wanted to avenge an earlier loss he felt was undeserved against senior Colin Carr (47-1), of Washington. Early on Zelasco did appear to be forcing all the action and seemed to push the once beaten Carr around, but there was very little scoring.

As the match went on, Zelasco appeared to tire severely and this was what led Carr to gain control and post another win against Zelasco, this time 4-2.


The 3A title was a case of total opposites. Lockport’s Tyler Johnson brought his impressive 51-0. The junior Porter was easily considered the best in the weight having won everything this year which included a Dvorak title along with Wisconsin’s premier open tournament, the Cheesehead,

Meanwhile Lake Forest senior Regis Durbin was unheralded and little known despite his unbeaten record.

As the heavy favorite, the statuesque Porter and his intimidating presence was enough to put some doubt in any opponent. But the shorter, Durbin (41-0) wasn’t effected at all.

Durbin and Johnson clashed with neither gaining much of an advantage forcing the championship into overtime. There a bewildered Johnson was unable to overcome and determined Durbin. He went on to win 3-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker decision after standing up and turning into Johnson for the point to give Lake Forest its first state champion.

When Andrew Marsden, of Crystal Lake Central, reached the finals, he gained the opportunity to face Anthony Ferraro, of Montini, and a rematch of the Lakes sectional final where Ferraro (21-9) defeated him.

Top-ranked Ferraro didn’t mind; he previously stated he could defeat Marsden again, only worst. That didn’t come close to what transpired on the mat. Marsden was the attacker from the get-go and quickly took a 4-0 lead after taking down Ferraro and putting him on his back. Again Marsden manhandled the Bronco and had him once again quickly on his back where the Crystal Lake Central junior managed to end the bout at 1:32 of the first period.
A stunned Ferraro could not believe what had just happened and stopped several times in disbelief before heading to the locker room. Meanwhile new champion Marsden was overwhelmed with his win.

“I was shocked. All I kept thinking about was it’s my time,” said a choked up Marsden. “My dad used to push me going to practices, and I never wanted to go. In IKWF the highest I ever placed was sixth but coming here and winning, it’s very emotional. All the hard work paid off.”


Sage Hecox (top), of Harlem,  has Jose Luis Hernandez of McHenry in big trouble during their AAA 220 Championship rumble. Hernandez fought off his back but Hecox prevailed, 8-2.


Last year Sage Hecox, of Harlem, wrestled well enough to reach the state finals. He returning home with a fourth-place finish. A fourth-place finish is not what either of the two seniors in the 220 3A final wanted. Hecox (40-2) and McHenry senior Jose Luis Hernandez wanted the top step of the podium.
Hernandez (37-2) knocked off the top-ranked wrestler from OPRF in his semifinal win and had thoughts that maybe this was his year.

But the final was never in doubt the second period began, when Hecox opened a comfortable lead. At the end, it was Hecox who took the state championship with an 8-2 win.

Nate Magiera (right), of Wauconda, looks to score as he forces the action against Edgar Ruano, of Montini. Magiera convincing 17-4 win gave him revenge and the AA title.

The top two contenders faced off in 2A. For top-ranked Nate Magiera, of Wauconda, seeing Edgar Ruano, of Montini, again was just what the doctor ordered.

Magiera lost his unbeaten season to the same wrestler in the Lakes Sectional final where Ruano kept Magiera under control throughout the encounter.

This time, the Wauconda senior was not going to take a wait-and-see tack and took it to Ruano from the get go. Before you knew it, Magiera had built a double-digit lead from putting Ruano on his back.
In the end, Magiera dominated his junior Bronco opponent so thoroughly; you would have never thought he had lost to the same wrestler just a week ago. The 17-4 thrashing was in itself a surprise to many but not to the Wauconda faithful.


Adarios Jones (left), of Moline, and Brian Allen of Hinsdale Central. lock up each other while looking for an advantage. Jones defeated the defending AAA 285 champion 3-2 in an ultimate tiebreaker when Allen couldn't escape.

Defending heavyweight champion Brain Allen (45-2), of Hinsdale Central was having another great tournament with two falls, one in forty-nine seconds, and a decision over the second-ranked wrestler in the semifinal.

Adarios Jones (47-2), of Moline, returned from a third-place finish last year with designs on the first place medal. Jones also displayed the ability to win with ease and gut it out when needed.

The aggressive battlers became defensive in a match that came down to the an ultimate tiebreaker decision. Jones surprised Allen and vanquished the defending champion 3-2 after he kept Allen from escaping.

All season in 2A, the top-ranked wrestler was not returning champion Tanner Farmer, of Highland, but Montini junior Michael Johnson. Even unbeaten, Farmer (36-0) was not seeing himself at the top at his weight, and he couldn’t understand it.

The championship bout quickly put an end to that question. The rankers were wrong. The University of Nebraska-bound Farmer put an end to all that nonsense when he pinned Johnson (40-2) 25 seconds into the second period.

“I was really nervous," Farmer said. "I knew he was really good on his feet and really moved well. But once I got out there I felt really good.

“I just kind of treated it like a practice match. My other matches I had been kind of holding back, but here I just decided to not hold anything back and took chances.

“I felt that I could keep up with him on my feet because that’s how I was taught and wrestled.”

To celebrate Farmer knew exactly what he was going to do and stated; “I’m probably now going to go get a good night's sleep.”

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