BATAVIA – Isaiah Vela chastised himself for going to his back on Saturday afternoon, a rarity ranking up there with losses for the now- 29-1 St. Charles East junior wrestler.
Vela's 132-pound Upstate Eight Conference title bout may have ended with a 9-7 victory, but he needed a late flurry against Waubonsie Valley's Jimmy Davis to get it.
The second-guessing lasted for a moment before Vela realized there were several other Saints waiting to take the championship mats. His teammates were there for him, and he owed it to them to offer the same support. There were plenty of plaudits to go around for East, which crowned three individual champs en route to comfortably claiming the unofficial team title.
"Our team is really good this year," Vela said. "I expect big things out of them, and anything we can take, we'll get, you know."
Fueled by a tournament-best three champions in Ryan Rubino (113), Ramon Lopez (152) and Vela, East tallied 230 team points to finish well-ahead of would-be runner-up Neuqua Valley (154).
Thirteen Saints finished in the top six, a blend of the usual suspects and some athletes eyeing a late-season surge. Junior Jake Mende entered the tournament with six matches under his belt this winter. He left it with a third-place medal at 138, fitting right in with the rest of the UEC River regular-season dual champions.
"We've been doing really good lately and wrestling really hard and practices have been harder," said Rubino, a senior who won his third straight conference title. "It keeps everything going."
Host Batavia boasted two champs, as unbeaten Joel Shump (34-0 at 126) joined fellow senior Jon Wagner (160) atop the podium. Geneva senior Brad Martens repeated as conference champ with a title at 120.
Wes Pasholk earned St. Charles North's top finish with a runner-up effort at 220. The top seed in his weight class entering the tournament, Pasholk lost an 8-2 decision in his first career bout against Anthony Touchstone of Waubonsie Valley.
"Tough kid. Real tough kid," Pasholk said. "I came in and thought I was going to be a little bit closer, but I went to my back and that really hurt me. … I just couldn't take him down."
A number of championship bouts were rematches from earlier this season. Rubino, whose freshman brother, Anthony, was second at 106, created much more distance between himself and Elgin's Zachary McCullough this time, scoring a fall after an initial narrow decision.
About a month after topping East's Brad Kearbey, 4-1, in a regular-season dual, Wagner won, 6-1.
Martens defeated his opponent, Neuqua Valley's Justin Killacky, 6-0, in a tournament last week. Saturday's result went 7-2 in Martens' favor.
"I was up, 7-0, until the very end when I slipped off, so I did a little better this week," Martens said. "I got more takedowns, then two pins in the matches before him, so I think I wrestled well this tournament."
Shump hasn't had cause to describe his season any differently.
He notched falls in each of his three matches and will look to cap a perfect regular season when the Bulldogs host Kaneland in a nonconference dual next week.
After missing last season's conference tournament and state series with a broken hand, Shump exhibited his drive once again in the finals, pinning South Elgin's Cory Pych in 5:14.
"He went for a throw right away, and I've always been good at throws," Shump said. "I went up, 5-0, and from there on, he was trying to kind score big moves. I just stayed smart."
Several coaches and fans approached Vela and Saints coach Jason Potter during the awards ceremony to call the 132-pound title bout the most entertaining match of the tournament.
Vela eventually escaped trouble with an escape-takedown-near fall combo that provided the final margin with about 30 seconds remaining. He controlled the match from there, and later said he had learned his lesson going forward toward next month's state series.
Potter made sure of that.
"There's going to be matches down the road that we're going to have to come back, and he shows that he can do that," Potter said.
Vela shouldn't be the only Saint with staying power, something he eventually realized Saturday.
St. Charles East Champions: Ryan Rubino (113), Isaiah Vela (132), Ramon Lopez (152) Runners-up: Anthony Rubino (106), Brad Kearbey (160)
Batavia Champions: Joel Shump (126), Jon Wagner (160) Runners-up: Mickey Watson (195), Mitchell Krusz (285)
Geneva Champion: Brad Martens (120) Runner-up: Jake Boser (182)
St. Charles North Runner-up: Wes Pasholk (220)