SYCAMORE – Had he not been injured in last year's sectionals, McHenry senior Luis Hernandez said he thinks he already would have a state meet under his belt. If Saturday's Sycamore Invitational was any indication, only an injury could keep the 220-pounder from heading to Champaign this season.
Hernandez won by fall in his first four matches of Saturday's tournament before beating Hononegah's Blake Zalapi, who is ranked in the top 21 in Class 3A by illinoismatmen.com, by a 9-0 major decision in the final, leading McHenry to a fourth-place finish out of 25 teams.
“He's night and day from last year. He was good last year, and had potential to get down state … but this year, he's really dominated everybody,” McHenry coach Will Gaddy said. “At the beginning of the year, he started to show a lot of potential in being able to wrestle like this, but he wasn't really smooth. Now, he's starting to wrestle, and he's doing his stuff on his feet.”
Hernandez's movements on the mat are more fluid than last year, Gaddy and Hernandez agreed, and his determination, spurred by last year's disappointing finish, has been heightened.
On Saturday, he led a contingent of eight McHenry wrestlers who finished in the top eight, and he has a deep postseason run on his mind as the Warriors head into the season's stretch run.
“I don't want to come up short again this year,” Hernandez said. “Every match, there was just something in my head, I was ready to go every match. I didn't look past anybody.”
McHenry was the highest finisher of the five McHenry County teams in the meet, bolstered by a third-place finish from 160-pounder Cam Pait and fourth-place finishes from 120-pounder Robby Duh and 113-pounder Britches Sikula.
“I thought our kids came out and wrestled aggressively,” Gaddy said. “I'm really pleased with the way everybody wrestled. We only had one wrestler not score points.”
Led by a second-place finish from 138-pounder Brandon Meyer, Huntley finished behind the Warriors in fifth. The unranked junior said his expectations were relatively low heading into the day, but his confidence has taken a boost after a high finish in a strong field.
“I didn't think I would've done as well as I did,” Meyer said. “I was seeing that if I can beat these kids that are on the state rankings, I could just keep going.”
Cary-Grove was led by fourth-place finishes from 170-pounder Josh Dermont and 152-pounder Matt Hughes to finish 13th, and Marengo finished 15th behind 182-pounder Matt Pandocchi's third-place performance. Cody Barnes finished third in the 220-pound division for 23rd place Woodstock North, and 182-pounder Anton Krocko finished fourth for Hampshire, which finished 24th.
Ricky Vigil finished third at 126-pounds and Dominic Swanson was fourth at 220 for Huntley, which made the biggest leap over the last year by any area team after finishing 14th in 2013. Coach BJ Bertelsman didn't have to go back a year to measure his team's vast improvement.
“We beat Jacobs on Thursday, but to us that was a loss,” Bertelsman said. “We responded well today. ... They came in here and wrestled tough. A lot of kids that sucked it up on Thursday did a great job today.”