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Shepard's Damari Reed takes on Minooka's Jake Hinders en route to the first of his four victories and the 152-pound championship at the Illini Classic. Photo by Jason Maholy

Shepard's Damari Reed takes on Minooka's Jake Hinders en route to the first of his four victories and the 152-pound championship at the Illini Classic. Photo by Jason Maholy

Marist wrestlers take Illini Classic crown; Shepard’s Damari Reed stays unbeaten

By Steve Millar
Correspondent

When Peter Marinopoulos was a freshman, he served as the Marist wrestling team’s manager when the RedHawks would travel to tournaments.

Two years later, he is finishing tournaments on top of the podium.

Marinopolous, ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 3A at 195 pounds by the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association, stayed undefeated by rolling to the 195-pound title Jan. 16 at the Illini Classic at Lincoln-Way Central. He beat Harvard’s Nathan Rosas, ranked No. 3 in 1A, by an 8-0 major decision in the finals to improve to 26-0.

“This felt really good,” Marinopoulos said. “It’s the first time in a while where I really came out and dominated everyone.

“It’s very surprising to still be undefeated. I’ve had some very tough matches. This is the first time I’ve been undefeated this long in a season. It’s nerve-wracking but I’m just going to go out there and let it fly every match.”

Marinopoulos was one of six champions for Marist. The RedHawks, ranked No. 5 in 3A, rolled to the team championship with 274.5 points, easily ahead of St. Charles East (219.5) and Lincoln-Way East (179.5).

Sandburg (104.5) was sixth in the 20-team field. Shepard (54) took 12th, Riverside-Brookfield (49) was 13th, St. Rita (40.5) finished 14th and Reavis (21) was 17th.

After another impressive performance, Marist’s wrestlers are starting to think big when it comes to the state series.

“I knew we’d be good, but I didn’t know we’d be this good,” Marist senior Tommy Boland said. “We’ve had four freshmen come in and fill the holes in our lineup.

“I think we’re capable of winning the state championship. I think we can win it as a team and have some individual champs and placers.”

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Marist’s Andrew Dado has Lincoln-Way West’s Cameron Knepper in trouble during their 152-pound match at the Illini Classic. Photo by Jason Maholy

Boland (26-4), ranked No. 5, won the 160-pound title with three pins before an 11-6 win over No. 7 Jared Gumila of Plainfield North in the finals.

One of the RedHawks’ freshmen is Ricky Ericksen (22-7), who won the 145-pound championship in dominant fashion with three pins and a technical fall.

He pinned Bloomington’s Jacob Barger in the finals.

“It feels pretty good,” Ericksen said. “I’m trying to get my name out there and get some respect. The year hasn’t been going as well as I planned it to, but I was feeling pretty good coming into this tournament and I showed it out there.”

Senior Ghee Rachal (21-2), ranked No. 2, won the 220-pound title with a 13-5 major decision over Bloomington’s Jack Weltha, who is No. 2 in 2A.

“I’ve just got to win state,” Rachal said. “It’s going to take hard work and fixing mistakes.”

Marist’s lineup has been made even stronger with the recent return of senior Owen Dunlap and junior Jacob Liberatore, who both won championships.

Dunlap (6-1) got a takedown with 20 seconds left in the match to edge Lincoln-Way Central’s Conor Smetana, 2-1, in the final at 138.

“I was just taking a little personal break,” Dunlap said of his absence earlier in the season. “With this team we’ve got, it’s really exciting to go out there and compete with them.”

Liberatore (9-0) beat St. Charles East’s Elijah Chiaro in the 170-pound championship.

“My practice partners are really pushing me,” Liberatore said. “I’ve bounced right back. A couple times there’s been a little struggle, but my teammates have helped me.”

Also placing for Marist were Michael Esteban (3rd, 113), Luke Liberatore (3rd, 182), George Marinopoulos (4th, 106), Will Denny (4th, 120), Matthew Cornfield (4th, 132), Andrew Dado (4th, 152) and Conor Phelan (5th, 182).

It was an exciting day for Marist coach Brendan Heffernan, who wrestled at the University of Illinois. Heffernan’s brother, Jim, and his college coach, Mark Johnson, were in attendance. Jim Heffernan recently retired after 12 seasons as the Illini’s head coach.

“It’s fun,” Brendan Heffernan said. “It’s nice to have Mark Johnson here every year and Jim was here for the first time, so it was great. My nephew (Mike Maloney) was wrestling for us, too. So, there’s a lot of fun stuff.”

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Sandburg heavyweight Kevin Zimmer returned to the mat last week for the first time since the Class 3A 220-pound state championship match in February 2020. Photo by Jason Maholy

Back on the Mat
Sandburg senior Kevin Zimmer made a grand return to tournament wrestling.

Zimmer, a state runner-up as a sophomore in 2020, on Jan. 13 wrestled his first high school match in nearly two years. The 2020-21 winter wrestling season was canceled and he did not compete in the spring. He tore the ACL in his right leg while playing quarterback for the Eagles’ football team during the spring 2021 season.

Zimmer (5-0) did not show any rust at the Illini Classic, defeating three of his four opponents by fall. He began the tournament by pinning Schaumburg’s Cesar Alvarez in 34 seconds, and ended it by pinning Lincoln-Way West’s Jake Ziemniarski in the heavyweight championship match.

“Definitely after this, I know that I’m back and ready to go,” Zimmer said. “I’m excited. I’m ready to go chase that state championship. That’s what I’ve been working so hard to come back for.”

Sandburg freshman Ryan Hinger (20-4), ranked No. 5, won the title at 113, beating Schaumburg’s Callen Kirchner by technical fall in the finals.

“It’s just hard work and dedication,” Hinger said. “It just comes down to how much you want it and how much time and effort you put into the sport.”

Also placing for Sandburg were Rocco Hayes (2nd, 106), Madden Parker (3rd, 106) and Yazan Arafeh (5th, 220).

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Jesse Herrera of Marist battles Caden Kirchner of Schaumburg during their 126-pound second-round match at the Illini Classic. Photo by Jason Maholy

Medal Wrap
Shepard senior Damari Reed, who won the IWCOA Class 3A state championship at 152 last season and is ranked No. 1 at 152, had to work to stay undefeated.

Reed (22-0) edged No. 5 Jack Marion, of Lincoln-Way East, 6-5 in the finals.

“It was a close match, but I had the match under control the whole time,” Reed said. “I’ll give it to (Marion), though. He was a tougher opponent compared to the other guys I’ve faced. I was glad I got a tough match this season.”

Dominic Chillman placed sixth at 170 for the Astros.

Riverside-Brookfield had two medalists. Brock Hoyd finished fourth at 170 and Mateo Costello placed sixth at 126.

Hoyd (21-4), a senior, had two pins to reach the semifinals before being pinned in two of his final three matches, including the third-place contest against Lincoln-Way East’s Ari Zaeske.

“It was nice to get some good competition,” Hoyd said. “In my semifinal match, I was up 2-0, got too high up top and got stuck. That’s a learning point.

“The wins are nice and it’s just about getting ready for regionals, sectionals and state. I’ve won the past two tournaments we went to and there was definitely more competition here. Seeing some top guys will get me ready.”

Liam Cote (182) and Daeshawn Jackson (heavyweight) had two wins each for Riverside-Brookfield.

St. Rita sophomore Sean Larkin closed out his tournament in exciting fashion, beating Lincoln-Way Central’s Caden Harvey 6-4 in overtime in the fifth-place match at 132.

Larkin (15-6) had a takedown with 15 seconds left in regulation to go up 4-2 but gave up a reversal at the buzzer. He bounced back for the overtime takedown to take the win.

“My coach told me to take the first shot and I’d have a higher chance of winning it,” Larkin said. “I took the first shot and missed it, drove him out of bounds. Then I went back in and took him down.

“I did really good (at the tournament). I could have done a little bit better. But I think my season is going really good and I’m excited to see regionals and sectionals, and hopefully make it down to state.”

St. Rita junior Jon Fulgencio (14-7) pinned Chillman to win the fifth-place match at 170.

The Mustangs’ Nino Protti (120) and Griffin Duffin (126) won two matches each.

Reavis had no medalists, but Zack Koschnitski (106), Vladimir Vasquez (113) and Nick Gomez (138) each picked up a pair of wins.

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St. Rita’s Sean Larkin works on Providence’s Kyle Lindsey during their 132-pound match at the Illini Classic. Photo by Jason Maholy

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