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HIGH SCHOOL PREVIEW (part 1) FOR DECEMBER 7: Illinois powers Montini, Glenbard North to battle at Ironman

Montini, Glenbard North going a long way to square off at Ironman Invitational
by W.I.N. High School Editor Rob Sherrill

Two weeks into the Illinois high school wrestling season, it's clear
that Lombard Montini High was made for the rigors of one of the
nation's most brutal enrollment divisions: Illinois Class AA.

The Broncos took a few hits in last year's state tournament against the likes of Orland Park Carl Sandburg High, Carol Stream Glenbard North High, Chicago St. Rita High, New Lenox Providence High, Chicago Marist High and some of the state's other Monsters of the Midway.

Had official team scores been kept, however, the Broncos would have passed the century mark in points and finished a respectable third behind Carl Sandburg and St. Rita; ironically, the two teams that squared off in the dual-team state championship match a week later.

Northwestern recruit Mike Benefiel didn't have any trouble adding a AA state championship to the pair he won when Montini was still in Class A. But Benefiel is up two weight classes this year, to 171 - and that means he'll have to win his fourth state championship in what could be the most anticipated match of the finals. That's because Cadet and Junior National freestyle All-American Jordan Blanton of Richmond-Burton High is taking the same path toward a possible four state titles. Blanton posted two unbeaten seasons in Class A, but Richmond-Burton has made the jump to AA this year - and you know what that means.

No Illinois wrestler has ever completed his high school career unbeaten. Only one ever finished his career without a loss: current Indiana assistant coach Mike Mena, who was unbeaten with a tie in his career at Sterling Newman High. At 71-0 going into this season, Blanton still has a shot. And he's not backing off the chance for a shot at Benefiel.

"I'm very, very excited that I'll be competing in AA this year," Blanton told the Crystal Lake (Ill.) Northwest Herald. "I've wanted this since my freshman year. There will be more competition. There will be harder matches. Yeah, it might be tougher to keep the (unbeaten)streak alive, but in my mind (moving to Class AA) is a gift." Nothing wrong with that attitude.

It's also become apparent that Montini and Glenbard North are threatening to distance themselves from the rest of the AA field. Both were 7-0 at the end of last week's matches. Ranked No. 7 and No. 10 by W.I.N., respectively, the two teams, located just 10 miles apart in the heart of DuPage County, will face each other twice this season. The first time will be two states and over 400 miles away, in this
weekend's Ironman Invitational at Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Walsh Jesuit High. They'll travel almost the same distance for their second meeting to Rochester, Minn. for The Clash National Duals later this month.

Ironically, both were snowed out of duals against also-unbeaten opponents last Friday - Montini against Geneva High and Glenbard North against fast-starting West Aurora High.

Last year, they met in the finals of a loaded sectional that included the state's No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 10 teams as ranked by The Illinois Best Weekly. Glenbard North prevailed 26-23 in what was considered a mild upset. As a result, four-time defending A champion Montini uncharacteristically wasn't a part of the state festivities.

That won't happen this year. Last year, only one DuPage County school - Naperville North High - hosted a sectional. This year, two will - Downers Grove North High also will be a host - which means the two schools will likely be going in different directions.

With all due respect to past Mentor meat-grinders, WPIAL and District 11 tournaments, last year's Naperville North sectional may have been the toughest state qualifying tournament in recent American high school wrestling annals. Two weight classes - 135 and 275 - contained five of the state's top 10 wrestlers, and the sectional also contained 25 wrestlers ranked in the top six (30 per cent) and 44 of the top 12 (26 per cent). That's out of eight sectionals total.

It's going to be quite a year.

White, Ward commit: St. Rita stars Albert White (157) and Jerome Ward (184-197) have made verbal commitments to Illinois, according to Marist's John Schoen (197), the state runner-up at 189 a year ago, has elected to join Benefiel at Northwestern.

- Part II of this weekend's preview will come tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 8).
Untitled Document
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