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By Rob Sherrill, WIN High School Columnist
Since its inception, USA Wrestling’s age-group national tournaments have provided plenty of dramatic matches and intriguing story lines. Most of them have involved Illinois teams.
Updating a recent tweet by Flo’s Willie Saylor, Illinois has now won 54 of the 86 team titles awarded by USA Wrestling in the Junior, Cadet and Schoolboy divisions since 2008. That is as we anticipate the Cadet and Junior Nationals later this month at Fargo, N.D.
Success at both the Duals and at Fargo in past years has produced more than their share of congratulatory gear worn proudly by Illinois teams.
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This year, the Cadet and Junior National Duals produced a story line that played out over two action-packed weeks in June: a riveting two-team race between Illinois and Minnesota.
The two states met in the finals of all four events, wrestling to a 2-2 split. Minnesota’s two wins were by two points each, starting with a 40-38 win over Illinois in the finals of the Cadet Greco-Roman Duals at York, Pa.
Back came Illinois, earning a Cadet Duals split with a 46-29 victory in the freestyle final. A 41-21 victory over Minnesota in the Junior Greco-Roman final the following week at Tulsa, Okla. put Illinois ahead in the team championship count, 2-1.
But Minnesota earned the split with yet another two-point victory, 33-31 to win the Junior freestyle duals crown. That final was typical of how little separated the two states. Minnesota took a 27-0 lead by winning the first eight matches, with Patrick McKee (120) and Jake Gliva (126) opening with wins over a pair of two-time state champions, Missouri recruit Dack Punke and Joey Melendez, respectively.
The final victory in that run was a wild 15-14 victory by Minnesota recruit Jake Allar over another state champion, Zac Braunagel, at 170. Illinois won six of the final seven, including a pin by Anthony Cassioppi (285) and four technical falls, but came up short.
A look at their pool results throughout the tournament showed there was virtually nothing to separate the two.
Comparing the average scores of Illinois and Minnesota prior to their four championship matches shows the two states finished in a virtual dead heat.
Average pool score
Event Illinois Minnesota
Cadet GR (6 duals) 54-22 53-22
Cadet FS (6 duals) 59-16 52-21
Junior GR (6 duals) 52-14 50-16
Junior FS (7 duals) 50-15 51-14
Both states also won all but two of their 25 pool matches by double digits. Illinois had a pair of close calls, winning 40-36 over Pennsylvania in Cadet Greco-Roman and 32-30 over Ohio in Junior freestyle. Minnesota’s closest match: a 36-33 win over Oklahoma in Junior Greco-Roman, along with a 40-32 Cadet freestyle win over Missouri.
Will the two states finish 1-2 four more times at Fargo? It wouldn’t be surprising.
Cadet Duals Fab Five
The Duals were also about individual achievements. A total of 20 wrestlers were undefeated in both styles in the Cadet Duals, and 20 more turned the trick in the Junior Duals. Here are five who shined in the Cadet Duals.
1. Chance Lamer, Oregon — One of two 88-pounders to complete an undefeated run through both styles, Lamer went 8-0 in each. He was unscored upon in his 16 matches, which included three pins and 10 technical falls and three forfeits.
2. Carson Manville, Minnesota — The 3A state champion as an eighth-grader at Shakopee posted 13 wins, all on the mat and none going the distance. Manville went 6-0 in Greco-Roman, winning all six matches by technical fall and allowing just two points. His 7-0 freestyle mark included a pin and six more technical falls.
3. Alex Mosconi, Indiana — Mosconi led all 20 Cadet unbeatens with 17 wins, going 8-0 in Greco-Roman and 9-0 in freestyle at 138. Only two of his 17 matches went the distance. He had a pin and six technical falls in Greco-Roman and two pins and six more technical falls in freestyle. Not bad for a wrestler who went on a major growth spurt after finishing seventh in state at 120 as a sophomore at Trafalgar Indian Creek.
4. Peter Christensen, Illinois — A 3A state qualifier as a sophomore at Lombard Montini, Christensen, who went 6-0 in each style at 195, joined Lamer as the only Cadet wrestlers who didn’t allow a point. Christensen had two pins and four technical falls in Greco-Roman, adding two more pins, three technical falls and a forfeit win in freestyle.
5. Tarik Sutkovec, Arizona — The 220-pound class was loaded with stars. Four were unbeaten in both styles, including two from Illinois. Sutkovec, a Division 3 state champion as a sophomore at Phoenix Thunderbird, went 8-0 in each style, allowing only three points. He had six technical falls in Greco-Roman, allowing just one point. In all, he had two pins, 10 technical falls and three forfeits.
Junior Duals Fab Five
1. Daton Fix, Oklahoma — Two members of our Junior Fab Five competed only in the freestyle tournament. One was Oklahoma State recruit Fix, who went 7-0 at 132 with two pins and five technical falls. Needless to say, he didn’t allow a point. But it wasn’t just his dominance, but whom he dominated. Fix pinned Brent Jones of Minnesota and scored technical falls over Zachary Sherman of New Jersey and Cameron Valdiviez of Missouri, all potential future college opponents.
2. Anthony Ulaszek, Colorado — Fix would be on anyone’s short list. Ulaszek, on the other hand, was the surprise of the Junior freestyle. Only fourth in the 4A state tournament at Greeley Central as a sophomore, Ulaszek was a perfect 9-for-9 at 145 — nine matches, nine falls. Among his victims: Pennsylvania champion Sammy Sasso and Illinoisan Fidel Mayora, both returning Fargo All-Americans.
3. Jack Jessen, Illinois — The only Junior wrestler to go unbeaten in both styles without allowing a point, Jessen may win a national title before he wins his first state title. He’s finished second twice and third once at Villa Park Willowbrook. None of Jessen’s 10 opponents went the distance. His 4-0 Greco-Roman record included a pin and three technical falls, and he added a pin and five technical falls in freestyle.
4. Brandon Metz, North Dakota — It’s no surprise that Metz, a two-time Greco-Roman champion at Fargo, was unscored upon in that style, with three pins and three technical falls. The North Dakota State recruit went 8-0 in each style, allowing just three points in freestyle.
5. Anthony Cassioppi, Illinois — Would a couple of Metz-Cassioppi finals in the FargoDome be dramatic? The state champion as a junior of Rockton Hononegah, Cassioppi went 7-0 in each style, allowing just two points and scoring three pins and eight technical falls. n