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Prep wrestling insider: St. Charles East remains focused

St. Charles East’s Jose Flores (left) and Batavia’s Connor McKeehan wrestle Saturday at the Upstate Eight Conference meet at Elgin High School. McKeehan won the title at 220 pounds.
St. Charles East’s Jose Flores (left) and Batavia’s Connor McKeehan wrestle Saturday at the Upstate Eight Conference meet at Elgin High School. McKeehan won the title at 220 pounds.

Apart from changing the venue, there’s isn’t much to transforming last weekend’s Upstate Eight Conference tournament at Elgin into the Feb. 8 IHSA Class 3A South Elgin Regional.

“You take a few teams out and you add Glenbard North,” St. Charles East coach Jason Potter said.

Considering the Saints won the UEC crown for the second straight season and won’t see runner-up Neuqua Valley among the field, pencil the Panthers in as East’s biggest obstacle to a coveted team regional title.

Glenbard North enters the state series with a streak of 13 straight regional titles, but the Saints aren’t backing down.

Why should they when nearly half the lineup – Anthony Rubino (113 pounds), Ryan Valesh (132), Isaiah Vela (138), Jake Mende (145), Keone Derain (152) and Ramon Lopez (160) – repeated their long-term focus after winning individual conference championships?

“Having six champs at one tournament, that’s great and that feels good,” Potter said, “but I’m more proud of the fact that they pushed themselves, they worked through positions and they kept trying to score with the mentality that winning this is fantastic, but winning it in a couple weeks is more important.”

Friday’s senior night dual against DeKalb – which recently placed third at the Northern Illinois Big 12 meet – marks East’s final competition before regionals. Athletes are looking forward to re-charging their batteries after that.

“Whenever you’re out competing, you always feel a little tired,” Mende said. “But staying fit in the room, running on cold days, whatever it may be, just putting in the extra work really helps.”

Confident Diddell boosts Knights

Kaneland coach Monty Jahns called the Knights’ sixth-place finish at Saturday’s Northern Illinois Big 12 meet at Sterling “respectable,” adding it about was the position the group anticipated for itself.

“We probably have a better dual team than a tournament team,” Jahns said. “Last year, it was the opposite. At some place, we’ll find the happy medium and have both.”

Senior 285-pounder Justin Diddell delivered Kaneland’s lone individual title. Diddell, 32-7 entering Friday’s road dual against Batavia, earned falls in each of his three bouts as he continues to move effectively from the bottom.

“You get 285 pounds of Justin on there and it’s tough to get him off of you,” Jahns said.

He appreciates it, everyone

Batavia senior Connor McKeehan beamed about a landmark Saturday at the UEC meet that saw him win an individual title at 220 and earn Ed Washington Sportsmanship Award honors.

Among the people McKeehan would have thanked had there been such a platform: chief practice partner Noah Frazier, a junior who was runner-up at 195.

“Noah wrestles very similar to the way that I do, in that we will just sit there and duke it out and duke it out and duke it out and hand fight for positions,” McKeehan said. “And we will wait very patiently for an opportunity to do something. It makes it very difficult for both him and I.”

Those encounters are quite the contrast to what transpired when McKeehan met Mickey Watson, a 2013 Batavia graduate now playing rugby at Missouri.

“We would literally, legitimately battle. It was like a street fight,” McKeehan said. “We beat the [crud] out of each other, and it was great for me last year. I attribute much of my success last year and my sophomore year to the ability that that kid has.”

– Kevin Druley,


St. Charles East

What happened: East repeated as Upstate Eight Conference champion on Saturday, scoring 224 team points to defeat runner-up Neuqua Valley (195) and the rest of the 14-team field.


What happened: The Bulldogs’ 10 top-five finishes at the UEC tournament were tops among the entire field, propelling Batavia to take fourth in the team standings.


Geneva’s younger wrestlers are rounding into form. Among the highlights was freshman Jordan Soto, who improved to 21-14 with a seventh-place finish at 138 pounds. Santos defeated St. Charles North sophomore Jake Chantos – a nemesis from earlier in the tournament and in their IKWF days – in his final bout.


Which conference comes out ahead in a mini Upstate Eight-Northern Illinois Big 12 challenge. On Friday, St. Charles East hosts DeKalb and Batavia entertains Kaneland as teams tune up for regionals on February 8. Both sets of schools were conference rivals at one time.


Watch out for Batavia’s big guys. And the rest of the team.

Nate Kearney (182), Noah Frazier (195), Connor McKeehan (220) and Dylan Uzumecki (285) finished no worse than third place at the UEC tournament, with McKeehan winning an individual title.

That run helped close out a solid tournament for the program, which has matured very quickly this winter. We’ll see how that translates in the state series.

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