Marian Central co-coach Jordan Blanton looked at the bigger picture after his team’s strong performance at the Mid-States Tournament last week.
While Blanton was proud of the Hurricanes for finishing fourth as a team at the tournament held at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, but with only nine wrestlers he was more worried about having a full lineup of 14 wrestlers for the postseason.
“As impressive and as good as I feel about the fourth place with nine guys, I want 14. I want a full lineup” Blanton said. “When we’re at full strength, I think we’re the best team in the state in Class 1A. We can go with anybody.”
Three Marian wrestlers, Kaden Harman (126 pounds), Vance Williams (132) and Charlie Fitzgerald (145), won their weight classes at the tournament, which was filled with some of the best teams in the Midwest. Nick Davidson (138) and Ethan Struck (152) each placed second, and Max Astacio (160) finished third.
The Hurricanes only brought nine wrestlers to the tournament because of injuries and coaching decisions. Heavyweight Ray Hughes still is out after breaking his foot, and John Herff (220) is recovering after suffering back-to-back ACL injuries.
Blanton and co-coach Ryan Prater also decided to hold out some of their wrestlers and had them practice instead of competing at the tournament.
“These are the types of challenges that championship programs and good programs face,” Blanton said. “It’s on the coaching staff to make sure that we’re 14 deep ready to rock in the postseason.”
Blanton said Hughes should be ready to compete when the postseason starts in February, while the coaches will be cautious with Herff, who hopes to play college football.
Blanton and Prater must balance making sure their wrestlers are physically and mentally ready for the postseason while also ensuring their health for the late-season push.
“February is a short month, the postseason is going to be here and gone before we know it,” Blanton said. “So it’s enjoying the moment and doing everything that we can on a daily basis to prepare ourselves.”
McHenry figuring out postseason lineup
McHenry coach Dan Rohman was happy with his team’s third-place finish at the Mid-States Tournament but was happier with what the Warriors learned while competing against some of the Midwest’s best.
“It shows us some things that maybe we want to focus on in the second half of the season,” Rohman said. “You learn quite a bit.”
Chris Moore led the way with a first-place finish, while Pedro Jimenez finished second at 145. Ryan Hanson (106) took third, Lucas Van Diepen (126) placed fourth, Ruben Melgarejo (152) earned fifth, and Jesse Saavedra (285) and Andy Lara (220) each took sixth. Nine Warriors advanced to the second day of the tournament.
Rohman was impressed with Hanson and Norris moving down weights, which he said will be important for the Warriors to accomplish their goals of winning the Fox Valley Conference and a regional title.
“We’re a team you’re going to have to wrestle all six minutes with,” Rohman said. “Our guys didn’t quit at all and still had a lot of gas in the tank heading into the third period.”
The Warriors will look to control their weight as they figure out the best lineup to win conference and regional titles. Rohman knows Libertyville will give McHenry trouble in the regional round and he’s working on making sure the Warriors are ready.
“We’re focused on one at a time, but the end goal is still there, and we’re working toward making sure that we put ourselves in a position where we’re competing with them for a regional title,” Rohman said.
Huntley’s depth gains mat time
Huntley might’ve had a much stronger showing at the Red Schmitt Tournament in Granite City last week compared to last season, but coach B.J. Bertelsman was more encouraged with the experience the Red Raiders’ depth gained and how that could help them in the postseason.
“Just to get them more varsity mat time,” Bertelsman said. “That’s what’s important heading into February.”
Huntley finished 11th at the 27-team tournament and had seven top-10 finishers. Adam Pena’s fourth-place finish at 126 was the Red Raiders best, while Aiden Lira (120) finished seventh, Jake Niemasz (182) earned eighth, Zack Hornickel (113), Ben Wiley (220) and Markos Mihalopoulos (285) each placed ninth and Mauricio Quiroz (170) finished 10th.
The Red Raiders were without CJ Filipek at 195 after he suffered a season-ending elbow injury, while Alessio Pezzella was out at 152 with a dislocated clavicle. Bertelsman said they’ll get a clearer diagnosis on Pezzella soon.
In the meantime, Bertelsman has been impressed with the growth he’s seen from some of the wrestlers being placed into the lineup. The coach is proud that his schedule gives each wrestler at least 20 matches before regionals and hopes that helps the Red Raiders in February.
“Hopefully they are ready,” Bertelsman said. “We’re going to need everybody to win that regional.”
Richmond-Burton learns more at Berman
Coach Tony Nelson felt like he learned a lot about Richmond-Burton despite finishing the Berman Tournament without an event winner last week.
“I feel like we walked away knowing a little bit more about ourselves and knowing what we need to do to make this final push heading into regionals,” Tony Nelson said. “I think it’s a great tournament and the boys responded pretty well.”
Six R-B wrestlers earned top-five finishes, with Emmett Nelson leading the pack with second at 126. Brody Rudkin (145) finished fourth and Kyan Gunderson (106), Dane Sorensen (132) and Alex Reyna (182) each placed fifth.
Many of the Rockets weren’t at full strength as much of the team was recovering from different illnesses. Tony Nelson thought the tournament was a good simulation for his wrestlers to learn how to overcome adversity, something that can be helpful during the playoffs.
“You’re going to be put in tough spots,” Tony Nelson said. “If you’re going to lay down, that’s not a good response that’s going to win you a match.”
Tony Nelson thinks his team is in a good spot heading into the final month of the season, now it’s just making sure the Rockets are healthy in five weeks. The Rockets have a Kishwaukee River Conference title in their sights with a 2-0 record but there are bigger goals that they want to accomplish.
“Definitely a conference championship within our reach, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t focused on regional,” Tony Nelson said. “I want to get these guys are far advanced as we can.”
Postseason assignments announced
The postseason assignments for boys and girls wrestling are set.
For the boys, Harvard, Johnsburg, Marengo, Richmond-Burton and Marian will all compete in the Class 1A Richmond-Burton Regional. Oregon will host both the individual and team sectionals.
In Class 2A, Crystal Lake Central, Prairie Ridge, Woodstock and Woodstock North will compete in the Rockford East Regional while Burlington Central, Cary-Grove and Crystal Lake South will take part in the Burlington Central Regional. Individual winners will advance to the Rochelle Sectional while teams will advance to the Sycamore Dual Team Sectional.
In Class 3A, Jacobs, Hampshire and Huntley will compete in the Belvidere North Regional, Dundee-Crown competes in its regional while McHenry will take part in the Grant Regional. Individuals will advance to the Barrington Sectional and teams will advance to a team sectional in a location to be announced later.
The individual state tournament will take place in Champaign’s State Farm Center on Feb. 16-18 while the dual team state tournament will be at Bloomington Arena on Feb. 24-25.
For the girls, Jacobs, Dundee-Crown, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Prairie Ridge, Harvard, Huntley, McHenry, Richmond-Burton and Marian will all compete in the Schaumburg Sectional. The girls state tournament will be Feb. 24-25 at Bloomington Arena.