CHAMPAIGN – Unfazed by a jump from Class 2A to 3A and another daunting schedule that takes their team across the midwest, Marmion wrestlers Johnny Jimenez and George Fisher encountered one more potential roadblock Friday.
Both St. Charles athletes will compete for state titles at the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall tonight, but that’s well-traveled ground for Jimenez (120 pounds) and Fisher (132).
What isn’t so familiar is the match order. In a bid to avoid sparse crowds for the heavier finals bouts, the IHSA opted for a random draw. Finals will begin at 170 instead of 106, ostensibly lengthening the Cadets’ wait.
Jimenez (47-2) and Fisher (46-4) collectively shrugged off the change, much as they have most opponents during stellar seasons.
“To be honest, I’m there. I don’t care what weight they’re starting at,” said Fisher, a Michigan-bound senior. “I’m going to be out there, and whoever’s wrestling me, they have to wrestle me. Doesn’t matter if I’m the first match or the last match.”
Kaneland senior Dan Goress, 40-3 at 145 pounds, will get the latest mat call among Chronicle-area finalists.
Competing in 2A, Goress wasn’t particularly bothered by the move, either. It simply gives him more time to visualize what he long has aspired to: the state finals.
“It’s every kid’s dream,” Goress said. “I got mine by pure hard work. Nothing but hard work. Every day, I went into the room wanting to be a state champion.”
A handful of area athletes remain alive in wrestlebacks, and stand either two or three victories shy of taking third place. Marmion senior heavyweight Alex Fritz is in the former category after losing his championship semifinal to Neuqua Valley’s Andrew Geers on Friday night.
Another St. Charles product, Fritz is bidding for his first trip to the podium in his fourth state berth.
Counterpart Zach Theis of Kaneland is three wins away from third place in 2A. Marmion’s Anthony Bosco (106), Jake Field (126) and Cody Snodgrass (195) are in 3A wrestlebacks, along with St. Charles East’s Isaiah Vela (132).
Jimenez, a junior aiming for his third state title in as many high school seasons, had the smoothest semifinal, scoring a 6-0 decision against Jon Marmolejo of Glenbard North.
Per usual, he credits the Cadets’ challenging regular season, both in the mat room and out.
“The state tournament is not even the hardest tournament we’ve been to,” Jimenez said. “If you’ve seen our schedule, we’re out in Ohio, the Ironman. Cheesehead. Dvorak. It’s such a tough schedule that we’ve been ready for it.”
Vela was the lone athlete to advance to Saturday among St. Charles East’s four state qualifiers, and will face Johnny Gosinski of Glenbard North in a wrestleback quarterfinal.
After missing much of his sophomore season due to injury, Vela is aiming to improve upon his 2011 debut, when he placed fourth at 119.
Vela reached Friday’s championship quarterfinal with a second-period fall in Thursday’s prelims, but was unable to get much leverage against Fisher, who pulled away for a 3-0 decision after a scoreless first period.
Vela followed with a 6-2 victory against Barrington’s Kevin Conrad to remain in the consolation bracket.
“Having to wrestle back at state, it feels like it’s been awhile,” Vela said. “But I’m just ready to wrestle [today] and hopefully fight back for third. I’m just excited for [today].”
Vela’s cheering section will include teammates Ryan Rubino (106), Keone Derain (145) and Brad Kearbey (160), who were eliminated Friday. Like Kaneland senior 132-pounder Esai Ponce in 2A, Kearbey followed the most passive path out of the tournament, falling victim to the “follow the leader” rule when the opponent who defeated him in prelims lost in the quarterfinals.
In another tight bout between East and Marmion, Rubino absorbed a 6-4 overtime decision against Bosco, who scored late in the overtime just as Rubino had moved into position to get behind Bosco, a St. Charles resident.
Derain, a sophomore and the youngest of the Saints’ state contingent – Kearbey and Rubino are seniors – fell, 1-0, to Justin Maslow of Hinsdale South, closing the gap from a match earlier this winter.
“When it gets down to this point of the season, every guy you’re going to wrestle is tough, but we definitely took our share of tough losses in the last two days,” East coach Jason Potter said. “It’s rough, you know, it is what it is. We’re going to try to move on past it. Especially Rubino’s. He really wrestled well.”
Elsewhere in 3A, seniors Brad Martens (Geneva, 120) and Wes Pasholk (St. Charles North, 220) suffered elimination upon losing their opening wrestleback matches after preliminary defeats.
Pasholk lost, 3-1, in overtime against Luke Roth of Naperville Central, who edged Pasholk, 2-1, earlier this season on a stalling call.
“It was just exciting. An exciting experience. I thought I was in it, but he’s a tough kid, so props to him,” Pasholk said. “He beat me fair and square. … He’s a tough kid, good wrestler. I hope he goes far.”
For every wrestler still in the draw, the wait will be over by tonight. It might take longer than some athletes expected, but at this point in the season, preparation influences matches more than protocol.
“I always know when to start the warm-up, you know,” Jimenez said. “I’ll sit down, kind of clear my mind, then get ready mentally. Once it gets about three, four, five weights away, I’ll start to get my work in.”