Photo by John DiDonna: Ben Kovalick
by Mike Slodki
STERLING—You’d have to go back to 1994 to revisit the last time Kaneland High School wrestling had more than three State qualifiers.
Back then, the older set of the current crew would be wrestling in their cribs.
A year after Kyle Davidson and Jimmy Boyle earned State berths, Kaneland sends 106-pounder Stephen Gust, 126-pound Esai Ponce, 138-pounder Dan Goress and 220-pounder Ben Kovalick to the IHSA Individual State tournament in Champaign, Ill., at Assembly Hall.
A senior, Kovalick waded through a tough sectional group in Sterling on Thursday and Friday at the home of the Golden Warriors. Kovalick (35-5) disposed of Peoria Richwoods’ Keith King in three minutes, 16 seconds, then pinned Freeport’s Malique Johnson in 5:21 before edging Marmion’s Alex Fritz in a 2-1 affair. East Peoria’s Lucas Joseph win the 220-pound group with a 15-6 major decision.
“As a team, we’ve really been focusing on these last three weeks and it’s paid off,” Kovalick said, “All across the board there were some really talented guys in that weight class, but I got the draw that I wanted and I thought this year was definitely the year.”
Kovalick takes on Niles Notre Dame’s Ryan Walsk (28-9) in the first round.
Gust’s (27-7) sectional began with a 7-3 loss to Anthony Bosco of Marmion, but continued with a 5-3 win over Rock Island’s Tyler DeHaven, and then the junior took care of East Moline’s Jeronnie Steward in an 8-1 decision. Gust then got past Washington’s Austin Wileman, 2-0, before losing to Sterling’s Isaac Anderson in the third-place match, 7-2.
“We just came out and sent as many as we could downstate,” Gust said. “After Friday, I was pretty discouraged and I didn’t know what was to come on the second day and I just thought, ‘Let’s wrestle.’”
Gust takes on Montini Catholic’s Tommy Pawelski in the opening bout in Champaign.
In the 138-pound category, Goress (32-4) pinned Peoria Notre Dame’s Scott Bousek in 4:34 and beat Yorkville rival Brennan Sharp by 17-9 major decision before losing the final to Marmion’s Angelo Silvestro 9-5.
“I felt confident I could get it done and get in the finals,” the junior Goress said. “Last year, I made the mistake of overlooking opponents I had beaten before. This year I wasn’t making that mistake, everyone’s 0-0.”
Goress takes on Lemont’s Bobby Bromberek in the first round.
Ponce (39-5) dealt with the crowded sectional by beating Peoria’s Pedro Garcia in 3:33 and beat first-round bye recipient Chase Wiggins of Rock Island, 7-0. Ponce then lost to eventual champ George Fisher of Marmion 5-1, before advancing via injury default over Belvidere North’s Erik Nord.
“In the past, I knew I lost to kids I know I shouldn’t have,” Ponce. “That’s been one of my goals, to wrestle my best this season.”
Ponce has Lemont’s Jake Latanski in the first round in Champaign.
“It was a good match last time, but I lost, and I’m going to go out there and just wrestle the best I can, and I feel I’ve improved a lot since the beginning of my season.”
The 2A festivities begin at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16, with preliminary matches.