Boys wrestling: Five IHSA state tournament storylines to watch in McHenry County

Crystal Lake South’s Andy Burburija will compete for undefeated season

Andy Burburija, right, of Crystal Lake South competes against Lee Smith of Rockford East in the 285 weight class during the 2A sectional meet held at Sycamore High School on Saturday Feb. 10, 2024.

Thirty McHenry County-area wrestlers will travel to Champaign’s State Farm Center this weekend to compete in the IHSA individual state tournament. Action is set to start Thursday afternoon and end with the championships Saturday night.

Here are the five most important storylines to watch this weekend.

Can Crystal Lake South’s Andy Burburija cap an undefeated season?

South senior Burburija will try to become the area’s second straight undefeated champion this weekend after McHenry’s Chris Moore accomplished the feat last year. He’ll also compete for South’s second state title in three years.

Burburija enters the tournament with a 32-0 record at 285 pounds after being ranked No. 1 at the weight in Class 2A all season according to Illinois Matmen. He’ll try to win a state championship after placing fourth at last season’s championships.

The road to an undefeated season won’t be easy. He could potentially take on Lemont’s Alex Pasquale (30-3) in the semifinals before a hypothetical battle of undefeated wrestlers in the championship with Centennial’s Jack Barnhart (40-0).

Burburija won’t look ahead and will try to stick with his plan of being level-headed that he’s used all season. While finishing the season undefeated would be nice, winning a state title has always been the goal.

“Obviously, it’s great to have no losses, but I think the main goal is that state title,” Burburija said. “I’m coming for it.”

Will there be more than one area state champion?

While the spotlight might be on Burburija’s quest for an undefeated season, there are plenty of area wrestlers with strong chances of winning a state title.

The McHenry County area last had multiple IHSA state champions in 2020 when Marian Central’s Dylan Connell and Huntley’s David Ferrante each won. Three Marian wrestlers won state titles at the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association state tournament in 2021 that served as a championship since there was no IHSA event because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marian senior Anthony Alanis (113) will try to repeat as a state champion after winning the Class 2A 106 title with Grayslake Central last season. Marian juniors Brayden Teunissen and Vance Williams (132) and Richmond-Burton junior Emmett Nelson (144) will each try to win after finishing runner-up last year.

“Obviously, it’s great to have no losses, but I think the main goal is that state title. I’m coming for it.”

—  Andy Burburija, Crystal Lake South senior

Crystal Lake Central junior Cayden Parks (190) and Marian junior Andrew Alvarado (138) and senior Max Astacio (165) will compete after placing last year while Marian freshman Jimmy Mastny (157) is 24-1 and the top-ranked wrestler at his weight class.

Marian co-coach Jordan Blanton has been impressed with the way his top wrestlers have handled the top rankings all season. He said they’re ready to shine under the bright lights.

“Those guys had unbelievable seasons, have been competing well all year long,” Blanton said. “Their goal this entire time has been to win the state championship, nothing less.”

How many championships can Marian win?

The Hurricanes have the potential to become the first local team to have multiple IHSA state champions in the same year since 2015. Central’s Andrew Marsden and Romeo McKnight each won a title that season.

Alanis, Teunissen, Williams, Mastny and Astacio each won sectional titles at the Class 1A Byron Sectional on Saturday and each has been ranked in the top three of their respective weight classes most of the season season. Alanis, Williams, Mastny and Astacio are all ranked No. 1 in the state while Teunissen is No. 3 in the latest rankings.

Blanton said having the leadership of Alanis and others has been good for the five top-ranked wrestlers and the rest of the Hurricanes. They’ve learned from each other’s experiences and have tried to build off of each others’ success.

“You’re lucky as a coach if you have one guy or girl like that,” Blanton said. “To have five on one team at one time is very special.”

Marian Central’s Jimmy Mastny faces off with Joliet Catholic’s Luke Hamiti in the tri-meet at Joliet Catholic on Thursday, Jan. 18th, 2024 in Joliet.

Which returning qualifier can make a jump?

McHenry County will have six wrestlers returning to the state meet who hadn’t placed in previous trips.

R-B senior Brody Rudkin (150) and Prairie Ridge junior Jake Lowitzki (113) both went 1-2 in Champaign last season, while Harvard senior Riley Vest (285) and McHenry senior Pedro Jimenez both went 0-2 last year.

Huntley senior Markos Mihalopoulos (285) and PR junior Mikey Meade (126) return to state after qualifying in 2022 and going 0-2 that year.

Vest was motivated to get back to the state tournament after taking fourth at the Class 2A Sycamore Sectional on Saturday. He’s worked a year to build off of the momentum he had last season.

“I went down there last year and didn’t do so hot,” Vest said. “I’m looking to get on that podium this year.”

Who can make a good first impression?

Sixteen area wrestlers will make their debut hoping to make a good first impression.

Johnsburg freshman Eric Bush (106), R-B senior Isaac Jones (157), Marian sophomores Austin Hagevold (106) and Dan French (190), Burlington Central junior Johan Chavez (165), Cary-Grove sophomore Hunter Lenz (113) and juniors Noah Pechotta (150) and Lucas Burton (285), Crystal Lake Central senior Alessio Pezzella (150) and junior Tommy McNeil (215), South senior Caden Casimino (175), PR junior Mikey Meade (126) and seniors Xander York (157) and John Fallaw (215), Woodstock North senior Kaden Combs (175) and Huntley freshman Radic Dvorak (157) will all make their debuts.

Bush, Hagevold, York, Combs, Casimino, McNeil, Fallaw and Burton are all ranked in the top-10 in their respective weights while Combs, McNeil and Fallaw are each in the top-five.

After waiting to get his chance at state, Combs is ready for his moment.

“It means a lot,” Combs said. “It shows the amount of progress I’ve been able to make the last couple of years.”