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Big Northern Conference preview

Richmond-Burton graduate Jordan Blanton was a three-time state champ from the Big Northern conference.


Small-school conference big on quality

By Mike Holbrook

The Big Northern Conference splits into two divisions this season, East and West, the same as in football. There will be no conference tournament; the conference champion will be decided by the dual-meet results.

Harvard should breeze to first in the East. The West Division promises to be more competitive, with Stillman Valley, Oregon, Byron, Winnebago and Rockford Lutheran battling it out. The conference also welcomes two first-year wrestling programs, North Boone and Hampshire.


East Division

Burlington Central Rockets
Coach: Tony Rigitano
Last season’s record: 16-8 (won first AA regional championship)

Top returnees
112/119–Kevin Marshall, sr. (25-6, regional champion in 2007-08); 119/125--Shane Burke, jr. (31-6, regional champion); 160/171--Taylor Schuck, jr. (26-7, regional champion); 215--Tim Vincent, jr. (sectional qualifier);
171/189--Tim Maroder, so. (23-12); 189--Thomas Perko, jr.; 145--Tim Botsford, jr.;
135/140--DeMitirius Phillips, jr.

Top wrestlers lost
145--Curt Mastio (36-2); 125--Zac Schrieber;  119--Garrett Firito; 130--Zach Kein;
171--Drew Hallstead.

“We’re looking to build upon our regional championship and continue the growth of our program,” said Rigitano, who has seen his program grow from 17 kids in the program’s first season (2005) to nearly 50 this year. “The guys spent a lot of time on the mat this summer, with Burke, Schuck and Vincent competing at the USA Wrestling Freestyle/Greco-Roman Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D. Schuck was one match from being an All-American.” Rigitano has added assistant coach John Major, who wrestled in college at the Division I level.

Hampshire Whip-Purs
Coach: Terry Wilkinson
Last season: no team

Top wrestler
189/215--Ron Bronke, sr. (all-conference football player).

There are two seniors on the team, which is loaded with freshmen. Wilkinson was an assistant coach under Al Zinke the past seven years at Dundee-Crown, a perennial power that has won the Fox Valley Conference six of the past seven years, was brought in to restart a Hampshire program that has been dormant since 1989.
“D-C is usually one of top 10 programs in the state. I’m trying to bring that mentality to this program,” Wilkinson said. “We’re playing a giant game of catch-up and there’s only one way to do it--through hard work and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I’m dealing with absolutely raw talent. But the kids are very enthusiastic; the parents are very supportive. There is potential here.”

Harvard Hornets
Coach: Tim Haak
Last season’s record: 27-2 (first in conference, second in Harvard Class AA Regional)

Top returnees

112/119--Sergio Figueroa, sr. (38-3, second in State); 119/125--Brian Lovell, sr. (34-10, sectional qualifier); 285--Jake Pribble, sr. (37-4, placed 4th in sectional). Others to watch: Geo Bianchi, Jerry Gratz, Jimmy Clarke.

Top wrestlers lost
Twelve seniors graduated.

“We graduated 12 seniors from last year’s team, so we will have inexperience in the lineup,” Haak said. “(But we’ll) have a typical Hornet team with great kids that have great work ethic."

Marengo Indians
Coach: Mike Crane
Last season's record: 6-12

Top returnees
145/152--Joey Moorhouse, jr. (14-3, conference champion, all-conference, regional champion, sectional qualifier); 189--Ryan Gaines, sr. (18-8, all-conference, sectional qualifier); 103/112--Jake Keefer, so. (20-11, JV conference champion); 152/160--Rick Goerke, jr. (14-13, sectional qualifier); 125/130--Brendon Steakle, sr. (18-12, sectional qualifier).

Top wrestlers lost

“With all of our sectional qualifiers returning and a great freshman and sophomore class, this year’s team should do very well in the conference,” Crane said.

North Boone Vikings
Coach: Phil Baker
Last season's record: New program.

Top wrestlers

Jarred Jones (171), Kyle Hendon (285).

Baker was a varsity assistant coach at Belvidere North last year before coming to North Boone to start up the program. He had 24 kids sign up but none of them has wrestled at the high school level before.

“Without being too pessimistic, we have no real shot to contend for conference title. We’re just trying to build the program and generate some interest in school,” Baker said. “We just hope the kids wrestle tough and smart. The direction of the program has a lot of potential. What we do in the first year sets the tempo for the future.”

Coach: Bret Wojcik
Last season’s record: 13-10

Top returnees
215--Andrew Anderson, sr. (26-10, conference champion); 125--Jeff Kukla, sr. (31-6, sectional qualifier, second place in conference).

Top wrestlers lost
171--Jordan Blanton (152-1 career record, three-time state champion ’05, ’06, ’08. State runner-up ’07; full ride to University of Illinois); 152--Joby Bodi (33-8, four-time sectional qualifier, two-time conference champion); 103--Mike Heuer (27-6, three-time sectional qualifier).

“We are going to have a very solid team this year,” Wojcik said. “We have a strong freshman class coming in and I expect three of them to step in and fill varsity spots. With a strong core group of returning lettermen and this talented group of freshmen, I would think we could finish in the top three in conference.”

West Division

Byron Tigers
Coach: Mike Elsbury
Last season’s record: 13-12

Top returnees

119--Allen Fish, sr. (39-0, state champion); 130--Andy Smith, jr. (35-7, state qualifier, regional champion, second at sectional); 135--Steven Bradley, so. (27-7, suffered injury late last season and did not finish year); 152--Kyle Klotz, sr. (9-20, sectional qualifier); 112--Dustin Elsbury, so. (7-0 varsity, 19-3 JV); 189--Joel Brantner, sr. (21-15, sectional qualifier).

Top wrestlers lost


“We are young, but have a quality group of kids,” Elsbury said.

Genoa-Kingston Cogs
Coach: Sam Walt
Last season’s record: 9-8

Top returnees
135--Ronnie Sribniak, jr. (20-8, state qualifier); 189--Zach Dean, sr. (7-1 in 2007-08 before suffering a season-ending injury); 215--Justin Arana, sr. (14-10, sectional qualifier); 145--Nate Beach, jr. (10-8, sectional qualifier);
125--Jackson Kettner, jr. (14-12, sectional qualifier); 140--Dustin Beach, jr. (10-8).

Top wrestlers lost
285--Cody Knapek (first Cog to win a tournament, sectional qualifier); 145--Alex Mammoser.

“We’re in a really competitive conference, one of the most competitive Class A conferences in the state,” said Walt, whose program is in its third year of existence. “We hope to be over .500 for the conference and over .500 for the season. We also want to have 6-8 guys qualify for sectionals and get 3-4 guys to State. We’re looking to have our best season yet.”

Oregon Hawks
Coach: Nate Rogers
Last season’s record/place in state: 26-4 (third place Class A).

Top returnees

189--Nick Snyder, sr. (40-6, state qualifier, conference champ, unanimous all-conference); 171--Danny Gale, sr. (30-9, all-conference); 119--Robbie Brink, sr. (30-18, state qualifier, third in BNC, unanimous all-conference); 160--Ryan McWethy, sr. (33-12, state qualifier, third in BNC, unanimous all-conference); 285--Ben Bruns, sr. (30-13, honorable mention all-conference); 145--Ethan Gale, sr. (11-4); 112--Mike Brink, so. (27-12); 140--Jeff Wehmhoefer, jr. (17-12); 215--Josh Wiggins, jr. (11-3).

Top wrestlers lost

125--Dan Brown (35-14, state qualifier); 135--Brad Kaskavage (34-14); 130--Mychal Messenger (35-8); 152--Colby Kenney (39-13).

“Our team should have a good opportunity to compete for the conference title,” Rogers said. “Our biggest obstacle will be the Stillman Valley Cardinals. They bring back a great deal of talent and will have a lot of good individuals on their team. SV beat us twice last year--one of those losses coming in the state semifinal match. We lost quite a few experienced seniors in the middle part of our lineup, so we’ll need to work very hard to improve in that area."

Rockford Lutheran Crusaders
Coach: Tim Muther
Last season: 7-20

Top returnees:
103--Dan Allen, so. (11-11); 135--Jordan Semevolos, jr. (23-14); 140--Michael Andrukaitis, fr.; 145--Quinn Johnson, jr. (17-14); 152--Martin Dobler, jr. (24-12)
; 171-- Dillon Haller, jr. (22-18).

Top wrestlers lost
140--Nick Votava (ninth in wins in school history).

In his 17th season as Lutheran’s head coach, Muther guides the program back to the Class A level after a year in Class AA. He looks to improve on last season’s seven dual-meet wins and get an individual or two to the Class A state tournament. Keep an eye on Andrukaitis, a freshman who qualified for USA Wrestling’s Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D. this past summer.

Stillman Valley Cardinals
Coach: Ben Morris
Last season’s record: 25-1 (second in Class A, lost to Wilmington in finals).

Top returnees
112/119--Nick Harrison, so. (42-4, third in state, all-conference); 140--Cody Brewington, sr. (39-7, placed 4th at state, all-conference); 103--Miah Shearer, so. (28-13); 135/140--Tad Hawley: so. (25-14); 145/152--Zach Patterson, so. (28-17, state qualifier, all-conference); 145/152--Jake Hicks, sr. (27-13); 160/171--Barry Glaudel, sr. (36-7, state qualifier, all-conference); 160--Derrick Watson, jr. (12-13); 160--David Callahan, jr. (4-4); 215--Dolan Maxwell, jr. (23-16); 189--Cole Bishop, sr., (injured last year).

Top wrestlers lost
125--Tony Whaley (two-time all-state); 140--Tom Hawley (state qualifier, conference champion); 171--Brandon Person; 215--Alex Bunk (state qualifier); 285--Dan Kunkle.

"I expect a good year from this group,” Morris said. “We have solid seniors in Brewington, Hicks, Glaudel, Bishop. The wild card for this team will be filling all the weight classes, the work ethic and effort we get in the practice room, how good the incoming freshmen are, how well they improve and develop, and the development of the first-year heavyweights.”

Winnebago Indians
Coach: Shawn Babcock
Last season: 12-8

Top returnees
215--Michael Sojka, so. (fourth in Class A, sectional champion); 125--Cody Insko, sr. (sectional qualifier in 2007); 160--Michael Preiss, jr. (sectional qualifier); 140--Kody Kuczynski, jr. (sectional qualifier).

Top wrestlers lost
171--Logan Behn (second Class A, will be an assistant coach this year); 285--Michael Fisher (state qualifier).


“We’re very young but I think we’ll show a lot of good individual improvement,” said Babcock, in his first year as head coach after serving as an assistant last year. “Three-quarters of our team are freshmen and sophomores. It’s a pretty tough conference. I’d like to end up somewhere in the middle of the pack.”


Overall predicted order of finish for conference
1, Harvard; 2, Burlington Central; 3, Stillman Valley; 4, Oregon; 5, Marengo; 6, Byron; 7, Richmond-Burton; 8, Winnebago; 9, Genoa-Kingston; 10, Rockford Lutheran; 11, Hampshire; 12, North Boone.



Today's Schedule: Season Schedule