Wrestling season preview: Scouting Cook and Lake County teams
It takes hard work, determination, physical and mental strength, and absolute dedication in order to compete at a high level in the sport of wrestling.
Austin Gomez and Cole Matulenko possess all these qualities, but the athletic gifts they both enjoy has allowed these young men from Libertyville to become successful three-sport athletes.
"We've (been) playing three sports for so long, it's just a normal way of life," echoed the Wildcats stars, who both qualified to the 3A state tournament a year ago, with Gomez (35-11) bringing home a third place medal at 170 pounds.
Gomez, who will play baseball and wrestle at Coe College (Iowa) is a safety on the Wildcats football team, while an outfielder and pitcher in the spring.
"My focus is always on the sport that I am currently (in) -- nothing else. And if there's time on that seventh day, maybe I'll spend a little time on the other sports I compete in," said Gomez, who, like his teammate, will pursue a degree in Kinesiology.
Matulenko (31-12), who has narrowed his choices to UW-Eau Claire and Whitewater, earned all-conference honors as a defensive end, and was a NSC champ in both shot and discus last spring.
"I ran cross country in middle school, but wasn't a big fan of the sport, so when I got to high school, my focus turned to the three sports that I love, with wrestling my No. 1 sport, and the one that I will compete in at college," said Matulenko.
Both have worked hard to fine tune the technical side of their game, as well as making themselves as fit as possible with each having the goal of standing atop the podium in Champaign in February.
Dale Eggerts' men advanced to the 3A dual-time state tournament a year ago, and will need to turn in another solid effort this season in order to hold off its long time rival Stevenson. The Patriots are led by superb three-time state qualifier and two-time state medal winner, Lorenzo Frezza (41-2), who will be in the hunt for a state title at 132 pounds.
Mundelein senior Bryce Durlacher (40-4) is fresh off a fifth place state medal and wanting more this year. Another senior, Scott Busse (32-4), is motivated to make a statement at 145 pounds.
"Scott broke his ankle at state, and might be a overlooked here at the start, but I believe he can be right there with the top guys at state," said Lake Zurich coach Jake Jobst.
Mark Jolcover, who starred at Stevenson, is the new man in charge at Grant, as is former three-time state champion, Trevor Jauch, now head coach at Wauconda. Each will be chasing Northern Lake County Conference (NLCC) favorite Antioch, which returns four state medal winners, all of which are capable of lifting championship trophies.
Wauconda won the 16-team invite at Vernon Hills last weekend with Lucas Galdine one of eight who collected individual titles.
"Once we get everyone healthy, and our lineup set, we should be very competitive," said Sequiots coach Wilbur Borrero, whose club claimed the 2A fourth place trophy at the dual-team state tournament a year ago.
The quintet of Gavin Hanrahan, Edgar Albino, Anthony Streib, Caleb Nobling and Ben Vazquez will provide plenty of bonus points and victories to validate their lofty status in the state polls, as will the dynamic trio of Anthony Alanis (48-5), Matty Jens (47-3, and Aaron Cramer (47-2), all of whom were 2A state runners-up for Grayslake Central coach Matt Joseph.
"We have some unfinished business at hand, so we'll work hard out of the gate, with the end goal always looking to peak at state," said Joseph.
When Will Baysingar came into the Mid-Suburban League (MSL) four years ago, it signaled the start of a rebirth of sorts in quality and depth. And with the continued influx of talent since the arrival of the Prospect star, the league is now back in the spotlight once again.
Hersey and Fremd were back and better than ever as each collected division titles, the Huskies later the MSL crown, and the Vikings a regional championship, while Baysingar and his teammates brought home its first 3A dual-team state trophy (fourth) in program history in late February.
If its team victory at the prestigious Moore-Pettyman last weekend is any indication, then it appears Hersey is ready, willing and able to compete for plenty of hardware this season.
"The guys have continued to put in the extra work during the offseason, making a commitment to themselves and each other, but we know it's a long, hard season, so we'll have to put the time in each day we come into the room," said Huskies coach Joe Rupslauk, who returns three state qualifiers and over 250 victories, while adding a handful of quality newcomers to his varsity roster.
Prospect has a veteran lineup which includes nine starters back from its state team, five of which are state ranked. Plus they have a pair of incoming club ready freshmen to add to the mix.
"This senior class has been very special to us since they arrived, and if we stay healthy, and keep grinding in the room, with the big picture in mind, we should be a very dangerous team this season,' said Knights coach Dan Keller.
MSL West champion Conant has plenty of sturdy veterans throughout its lineup, including two-time state champion and three-time state medalist, Ethan Stiles, who recently won a fifth place medal at Freestyle Nationals.
"We graduated nine but we have a great group ready to fill in, including three returning state qualifiers," said Cougars coach Andrew Guilde.
Division rival Fremd won its first regional title a year ago since 1996, and with several key figures back from that club, the Vikings will be one to watch this winter.
"We have nine returning starters, so we look to compete for another division and regional title, and make a serious postseason run in dual-team play," said Vikings coach Jeff Keske.
Keske will lean on third place state medalist Ethan Gosz, and the state ranked duo of Maddox Khalimsky, and Casey Bending
Over at Schaumburg, coach Mike LeVanti has the triple threat state qualifiers of Brady Phelps, Callen and Caden Kirchner to jump-start the Saxons attack.
"The top dogs Conant, Fremd, Hersey and Prospect have separated themselves from the rest of us, but, if our newcomers produce, and we can stay healthy, we should be able to compete on most nights," said LeVanti.
Hoffman Estates returns five sectional qualifiers, three of which lost in the blood round, while over at Palatine, coach Javier Rivera will look to a strong sophomore class to build around. He also will pay close attention to senior Jasmine Hernandez, who represented Team Illinois team duals before competing in the girls Junior Nationals.
Longtime assistant Ken Hoving takes over at Barrington, with state qualifier Jon Fier (160) and Ayden Salley (182) his two best, with George Beres and Joe Puzzo now at Buffalo Grove and Rolling Meadows, respectively.
"Our numbers have exploded this year, so we'll look to continue to grow as each goes by during the season," said Beres, who has sectional qualifier David Rodriguez (126) as well as state medal winner Julianna Conroy, who leads a growing girls program.
"We had a great summer camp, and the guys are working hard, so the goal will be to compete in the conference, and to get better everyday," said Puzzo, who was head coach at Buffalo Grove a year ago before taking a teaching position at Meadows.
Wheeling returns five sectional qualifiers, one of which, Patrick Tinsley (138), advanced to the 2A state tournament.
Elk Grove will continue to build off an amazing season last year led by frosh-soph state champion Grant Madl (120) and a trio of frosh-soph state qualifiers to boost Dan Vargas' lineup.
"We lost some guys who elected to concentrate on football so we'll look to a strong group of underclassmen who have plenty of varsity experience to step up and make their mark this season," said Vargas.
Class 3A state power Marist, and reigning 2A state champion Joliet Catholic Academy will do the heavy lifting -- first in the East Suburban Catholic Conference (ESCC) then in the postseason -- making Carmel Catholic and St. Viator among the rest in the league fighting for a top-three finish.
The Corsairs are young, with two sectional qualifiers back: brothers Matt and Patrick Lucansky. The Lions welcome new coach, former Conant and Marquette star, Mike Schneider.
"We'll look to build a new culture, with a new coaching staff," said Schneider, who with an influx of new faces from its football program, will build around captain John Whelan (152) who was a sectional qualifier a year ago.
Deerfield has been the dominant force in the Central Suburban League (CSL) North for such a long time, and last year, inspired by eventual 2A state champion Ben Shvartsman (46-0), the Warriors finished second overall at the 2A dual-team state tournament.
Jesse Wolters' men at Vernon Hills appear to be up to the challenge ahead with a young roster, and his state ranked heavyweight, Max Accettura.
"We will be super young, with half of our lineup underclassmen, but we have two really strong seniors, Max, and Kevin Halley (195) leading the way for us," said Wolter.
Maine South was a regional champion last season, but the CSL South appears to be up for grabs with Glenbrook North and South, plus New Trier, continuing its ascent.
RETURNING STATE MEDAL WINNERS
(records are through individual state tournament)
Anthony Alanis, Grayslake Central, Jr, 48-5, 2A state runner-up, Edgar Albino, Antioch, So, 41-2, 2A 3rd place, Will Baysingar, Prospect, Sr, 51-2, 3A state runner-up, Aaron Cramer, Grayslake Central, Sr, 47-2, 2A state runner-up, Bryce Durlacher, Mundelein, Sr, 40-4, 3A 5th place, Lorenzo Frezza, Stevenson, Sr, 41-2, 3A 3rd place, Austin Gomez, Libertyville, Sr, 35-11, 3A 3rd place, Evan Gosz, Fremd, So, 42-4, 3A 3rd place, Matty Jens, Grayslake Central, Jr, 42-3, 2A state runner-up, Caleb Nobling, Antioch, Sr, 39-7, 2A 3rd place, Brady Phelps, Schaumburg, So, 30-6, 3A 6th place, Ethan Stiles, Conant, Sr, 30-1, 3A state champion.
RETURNING STATE QUALIFIERS
(records are through individual state tournament)
Casey Bending, Fremd, Sr, 38-14, Scott Busse, Lake Zurich, Sr, 33-6, Alejandro Cordova, Round Lake, Jr, 36-16, Esteban Delgado, Hersey, Jr, 34-19, Lucas Galdine, Wauconda, Jr, 22-6, Gavin Hanrahan, Antioch, So, 35-9, Aaron Hernandez, Hersey, Sr, 36-20, AJ Hernandez, Conant, Sr, 24-13, Caden Kirchner, Schaumburg, Sr, 32-10, Callen Kirchner, Schaumburg, So, 30-10, Maddox Khalimsky (Fremd, Sr, 32-9), Cole Matulenko, Libertyville, Sr, 31-12, Joel Muehlenbeck, Prospect, Sr, 41-10, Connor Munn, Prospect, Jr, 30-13, Damien Puma, Prospect, Sr, 32-12, Oleg Simakov, Hersey, Sr, 37-15, Harley Stary, Conant, Jr, 20-19, Anthony Streib, Antioch, Sr, 37-11, Patrick Tinsley, Wheeling, Jr, 21-9, Ben Vazquez, Antioch, So, 35-8, Tyler Weidman, Grayslake Central, Jr, 35-17.