Wrestling: Resurgent Naperville Central beats Maine West

Story Image Naperville Central's Stephen Splan wraps up Maine West's Jeremy Bowman in their 126-pound match Tuesday in the Class 3A Team Dual Sectional at West Aurora.
Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Story Image

Updated: February 21, 2012 11:19PM



Naperville Central didn’t just pull off an upset in Tuesday’s West Aurora 3A Team Sectional.

A 40-24 win over Maine West (20-4) earns the team a berth in the state tournament, where it will face Barrington at 9 a.m. at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington. Barrington punched its ticket to state with a 29-18 win over Grant in the Wheeling Sectional.

This is the second state appearance for Naperville Central — 2009 being the first. The Redhawks (11-10) added another feather to their collective cap in what has been one of the biggest in-season turnarounds in Illinois high school wrestling history. They began the year 1-9. Naperville Central also is the first Illinois wrestling team to post double-digit losses and still make it down to state.

“We kept telling them that they were good,” coach Rob Porter said. “Despite our record, we’re like, ‘You’re good. You’re good wrestlers.’ And we never stopped telling them they were good.”

They sure were good Tuesday night in Aurora.

Luke Roth, Ryan Berg, Derek Wilke, Mitch Lee, Steven Splan, Ben Williamson, Kirk Cherep, Tom Mitrenga and Kyle Klass all earned individual wins. Making the team, and individual, wins ever more impressive was the fact they came against not only a talented Maine West squad but an experienced one.

“They were starting 13 seniors out of 14 (kids),” Porter said. “That’s unbelievable.”

Arguably the biggest win of the night was the one that clinched a Redhawks win and a trip down to state. Senior and 160-pounder Tom Mitrenga pinned Eric Vogal at the 1:03 mark to send Naperville Central and its fans into exaltation.

Roth started the night off right at 182 pounds with a 14-5 win and Berg followed suit with a 13-4 victory to stake the team to an early 8-0 lead. Maine West went up 10-8 briefly but the Redhawks appeared determined not to let the Warriors’ slim lead hold up for long.

Wilke, Lee, Splan, Williamson and Cherep strung together a five-match winning streak to put Naperville Central comfortably ahead at 30-10.

Wilke earned a 12-4 win at 106, Lee won 8-2 at 113 and Splan’s pin of Jeremey Bowman at 1:02 in the 120 match made it 21-10, then Williamson pinned Shavin Ellickal at 1:45 in the 126 match. Cherep capped the spurt with a hard-fought 4-3 overtime win at 132.

Lee, a junior, faced opponent Adeel Afshar at the Glenbard North Individual Sectional and beat him 6-1 then.

“I knew he would probably be a little better against me than last time, able to defend some of my stuff,” Lee said. “But I just worked on changing what I was doing so I could kind of confuse him. Change it up a little, take him down.”

Following Mitrenga’s pin, Klass put the finishing touches on the victory with a 12-4 victory against Steve Carlson in the 170-pound weight class.

Qualifying for state still seems surreal to some. “It’s absolutely unbelievable,” Berg said. “All our guys are super excited right now but now we’re finally pulling together and it shows.”

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