By Jason Maholy
This is Sammy Hayes’ “revenge year.”
That’s how the Sandburg 106-pound sophomore described his mentality throughout this season, during which he was determined to make it to the state tournament after falling just short in 2019. That driving force has propelled Hayes to a 38-1 record and regional and sectional championships, the latter which he secured – and along with it a berth in the state tourney – via an 8-1 decision over freshman Cody Tavoso in the title match at the Class 3A Hinsdale Central Sectional on Feb. 15
“I’m staying confident, having fun and enjoying what I do,” Hayes said. “I’m improving every day and surrounding myself with people that I love. All summer training, putting the work in, and I’m just excited to see what I can do in Champaign.”
Hayes was one of six Eagles to advance to the state tournament, to be held Thursday, Feb. 20 to Saturday, Feb. 22 at University of Illinois’ State Farm Arena. Also going are junior Tyler Milani (fourth at 126), who took fourth in Hinsdale; junior Zach Bateman (fourth at 160); junior James Hart (second at 182); Kevin Zimmer (first at 220); and Mike Bosco (first at 285).
Bosco (40-0) escaped the sectional with his undefeated record intact, but he needed double overtime to beat Mount Carmel’s Jalen Grant 8-5 in arguably the best title match of the afternoon.
Hayes and his teammates have their sights set on bringing home some hardware.
“We’re all looking forward to it,” he said. “We set our goals higher this year. Last year we were looking for (state) qualifiers; this year we’re looking for state champions.”
Also heading to state is Marist sophomore Owen Dunlap, who placed fourth at 120 pounds at Hinsdale Central. Dunlap (36-10) was a state qualifier at 106 pounds in 2019, and he admittedly didn’t expect to find himself in the “blood round” – the colloquialism for the win-or-go-home consolation bracket semifinals – at sectionals.
But that is where was after getting pinned by Bolingbrook freshman Luis Bazan in the championship bracket semifinals. Dunlap won a hard-fought 6-4 decision over Downers Grove South’s Jimmy Nugent to get into the third-place match and earn his second trip to state.
“I felt pretty good,” Dunlap said when his day was finished. “I thought I should have been in the finals, but I bounced back and made it out (of sectionals). Just get the job done and get down to state, that’s all I was thinking about.
“I feel like I’m in a good place and confident that I can get on the podium next week. I’m just focused on state now.”
Six RedHawks qualified for state, the others being junior Mateen Taylor (26-10), who placed second at 138; sophomore Tommy Boland (36-17), who took third at 152; junior Bobby Gaylord (29-10), who was third at 170; sophomore Ghee Rachal (40-5), who placed second at 195; and senior Tom Munoz (26-12), who took fourth at 285.
Oak Lawn senior Anthony Bitner placed fourth at 145 to qualify for his second consecutive state tournament.
Class 2A Hinsdale South Sectional
Advancing to the Class 2A state tournament was Brother Rice freshman Chuck Connelly, who placed fourth at 120 at the Hinsdale South Sectional in Darien. Connelly (16-9) defeated St. Laurence sophomore Damen Michich by fall in 3:54 in the consolation semifinals to punch his ticket to Champaign.
Connelly has been grappling since he was in kindergarten and is a two-time grade school state qualifier, but he failed to make it as an eighth-grader. Getting to Champaign as a freshman is just one of the lofty goals he has set for himself.
“I have bigger goals, but that was really a big thing I wanted to do,” he said. “Before the (blood-round) match I knew I wasn’t going to lose. I really wanted it. I was really proud and a little relived. It feels good to finish the match… I’m tired.”
Other Crusaders who will grapple at state are sophomore Nate Chirrillo, who placed third at 138; sophomore Tom Bennett, who took third at 152; and senior Tom Crane, who finished fourth at 160.
Four St. Laurence wrestlers qualified for the state tournament, including senior Mike Archer, who is making his third consecutive trip to Champaign. Archer placed third at 132, but had to outlast Riverside-Brookfield sophomore Brock Hoyd, 6-1, to get into the third-place match.
“I just knew that I was going to make it back down there,” he said after defeating Hoyd. “I was telling myself I had to win this match – no matter what, I had to win. And I did.”
Evergreen Park senior Edwin Opoku was one of three Mustangs to make it to state. Opoku took second at 132 to qualify for his first state tourney.
“I started the year pretty rough,” Opoku said. “My coaches, they just told me I had to work hard, that I need this, that this is my last year, so I kept that in my mind every single time I wrestled. I just kept repeating what my coaches said to me.”
The Mustangs will also be represented by junior Davion Johnson (third at 106) and sophomore James Williams (fourth at 182).
Richards senior Rocco Palumbo placed second at 152 to punch his ticket to a third consecutive state tournament. Richards competed in Class 2A his sophomore season and was bumped up to 3A in 2019.
Notably absent from the Hinsdale South Sectional was Palumbo’s sister, Mia. The junior 106-pounder was 21-2 this season and won the Richards Regional title the prior Saturday, but chose to bypass the sectional and a potential berth in her second state tournament because of medical issues, according to her mother, Jeanette.
Mia Palumbo is a girls wrestling national champion and the only female to ever win an IHSA state tournament match – and she in fact won twice during her first visit in 2017. She did not wrestle last season while recovering from hip surgery.