CSL North notebook: Despite improvement, Demons still feel disrespected
Niles West's Isaac Reinemann (left) and Maine East's Jesus Villegas battle Saturday in their 132-pound match at the CSL wrestling tournament in Skokie. Reinemann finished first in the weight class. | David Banks~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 11:54AM
SKOKIE — Maine East finished sixth out of 12 teams at the CSL tournament, even though 160-pounder Ahmed Al-Rifaei was its only wrestler to make a championship final.
The Blue Demons’ 106-point performance at the conference meet is another sign of the program’s improvement — Maine East finished ninth (54 points) last season and dead last (nine points) in 2011 — yet its wrestlers still feel disrespected.
“I feel like they probably think that we suck and stuff, probably because of football and that we don’t win a lot of games in football or a lot of wrestling meets,” said Al-Rifaei, a junior who finished second Saturday. “This year, it’s changed around. But I think that’s how they look at us.”
When Niles North senior Dan Fricano returned to the sport he gave up last year to focus on his schoolwork and football, he set simple, attainable goals. He wanted to get his cardio back, improve his technique and finish above .500 on the wrestling mat. He has since blown away his expectations.
Fricano, who wrestled at 195 pounds despite weighing in at 181 pounds, won the CSL tournament with a 3-2 decision over Deerfield senior Jim Kirby. His record is currently 24-5 and Fricano has adjusted his goals.
“I’m pretty surprised with how I’m doing,” said Fricano, adding that the season was already three weeks old when he came out for wrestling. “I’m going to keep working hard and maybe make it to state.”
Longtime Glenbrook North coach Mark Rebora, who’s been with the team for more than two decades and is in his last season, was recognized by the conference before the championship finals.
Seniors Michael Maksimovic and Logan Weintraub provided the highlights in Rebora’s last conference tournament by each taking third place at Niles West.
After losing by a 6-5 decision in the semis to Deerfield junior Colton Emmerich, the eventual champion at 170 pounds, Maksimovic (23-8) beat New Trier senior Jack Nolan in the third-place match with a 15-6 decision.
Weintraub (23-7) battled back from a loss in the quarters to win three times in the consolation round to finish third at 182 pounds.
Do the math
To explain Deerfield heavyweight J.J. Nawrot’s development, one must first do the math.
“My coach says, ‘Every five offseason matches is one regular season win,’ ” said Nawrot, explaining how he has improved from a 22-15 wrestler as a junior to 30-4 after winning his second-straight CSL tournament title Saturday.
Nawrot added: “I went to the (University of Illinois camp) with the team, and got some offseason matches; probably got 30 or 40 offseason matches, and I really think that built experience and kept the ball rolling into this season. It’s one big track: from last season, to the offseason, to this season.”
Nawrot and Deerfield coach Marc Pechter both agree that a vital point in Nawrot’s career was last year’s CSL tournament when the then-junior won his first CSL title. It provided the heavyweight with confidence, he said, as well as an increased desire to improve in the offseason.
“The difference (this year) is he’s probably the smartest wrestler on the team,” Pechter said. “With strategy on the mat, he’s by far the smartest. He knows how to wrestle and how to win close matches, and he knows how to wrestle heavyweight.
“He’s enjoying being a leader on the team and being really, really great at what he does.”
Highland Park only had two wrestlers place in the top six in their weight classes en route to an 11th-place finish at the CSL tournament Saturday, but those two wrestlers had something in common.
Juniors Dom Ciancio and Brandon Garcia-Galvan both wore facemasks at various points during the meet. Ciancio pinned Niles West’s Nick Yonan at 1:22 to win the 145-pound title. The junior took his facemask off in delight right before the referee raised his arm to signify his victory.
About two hours before Ciancio’s triumph, Garcia-Galvan took off his facemask in disgust. The junior lost his bout against New Trier sophomore Luke Iida by pin in the consolation semifinals, then didn’t wear the mask in his 3-2 victory over Maine West’s Kevin Mendoza for fifth place at 138 pounds.
Garcia-Galvan wore the mask last year after breaking his nose as a freshman. He has alternated between wearing it and not wearing it this year because he considers it a nuisance, but he is prone to nosebleeds. Knowing his nose is a point of weakness, wrestlers like Mendoza have targeted it.
“A lot of them are going for my face, especially (Mendoza),” Garcia-Galvan said. “I felt like it was bothering me too much. ... I took it off, so it was something he could use as my weakness.”