'Comfortable' trio of Saints wrestlers headed to state
FRANKLIN PARK – Wrestling sectionals traditionally produce a selfless cycle, as athletes who fall short of qualifying for the IHSA state tournament return to the mat room to help those teammates with Champaign dreams.
St. Charles East anticipates such camaraderie even though the three Saints bound for next weekend's Class 3A meet at the University of Illinois follow one another in the lineup and are frequent practice partners.
Senior Isaiah Vela headlined the haul as the 138-pound runner-up at Saturday's Leyden Sectional. Whatever way you sliced it, third-place finishers Jake Mende (145) and Keone Derain (152) weren't far behind.
"We all know each other really well," Derain said, "so it's just a comfortable thing being with people that we know."
Hey, can three wrestlers bunk in one Champaign hotel room?
Rest sounded good to the Chronicle-area's fourth state qualifier from the sectional. Geneva junior 182-pounder Mitch Bradberry placed second while navigating nagging tendinitis in both shoulders that has persisted through the years.
Bradberry often experiences shots of pain through his hands by the end of the first period once hand fighting with opponents triggers burning pangs. To that end, he outsmarted his body clock in his first two bouts, winning by first-period fall against Niles Notre Dame's Robert Hill and Willowbrook's Jake Kroger in a combined 1:45.
"It actually wasn't hurting at all, which I'd think was going to prepare for me for the final match," Bradberry said, "but Oak Park-River Forest is a great team and it didn't happen."
OPRF's Allen Stallings IV defeated Bradberry by fall in 3:12 in the title match.
Earlier in the finals, the Huskies' Isaiah White edged Vela for a 7-5 decision, capitalizing on a stalling call against the Saints' three-time state qualifier.
"It's always better to lose now, not where it actually counts downstate, but hopefully I see him again," Vela said. "I'll work on some stuff and hopefully come up with a victory."
Vela (39-4) and Bradberry (23-12) knew they were Champaign-bound before their Tri-Cities counterparts. Both Mende (33-8) and Derain (41-5) had to win consolation semifinals to advance to the third-place match and assure state berths.
Mende topped Gus Karapanos of Conant, 4-3, in that round before the senior improved his state seeding – and increased his postseason momentum – with a second-period fall against Rolling Meadows' Nick Delporte in the third-place match.
"Coming into senior year, this has been my goal, to qualify for state," Mende said. "It came down to that [Conant] match, and just knowing to never give up, just keep fighting, you know. That's what was going through my head."
Derain, a junior, personified that mindset and then some after pouncing on Larkin's Alejandro Duran for a 16-1 technical fall. Derain defeated Duran by major decision at regionals.
"This week, I wanted to make sure I won that match and I knew I won that match and everybody knew it," Derain said.
East missed out on two other potential qualifiers, as sophomore Anthony Rubino (113) and junior Ramon Lopez (160) both lost consolation semifinals.
If Rubino's 5-2 decision loss to Glenbard North's Austin Gomez was close, Lopez fell in a 2-1 decision to Glenbard West's Alex Morreale that proved airtight.
The match hinged on a point awarded to Morreale after a second-period unsportsmanlike conduct call against Lopez. With the athletes returning from of bounds after another active sequence on the edge, referees called Lopez for pushing Morreale, whose escape early in the third period provided the final margin.
"It was both ways," Saints coach Jason Potter said. "Were we at fault for pushing? Yes. But you cannot decide a match on that. The kid needs to wrestle the match. That's extremely disappointing.
"I just feel bad for Ramon."
Potter called Lopez "a big part of what we're going to do next year." Across town, the same – if not more, given his youth – goes for St. Charles North freshman Kolbe O'Brien at 106.
O'Brien went 2-2 at sectionals to finish a standout debut season at 35-8. His victories came by fall and major decision, respectively, while his losses both were against eventual state qualifiers, including one-loss freshman champion Jason Renteria of OPRF.