CHICAGO – John St. Clair has seen a lot of his wrestlers advance to the IHSA state tournament since he took over the Lemont program in 2003.
But he doesn’t remember any freshmen accomplishing that feat, that is until this past Saturday.
In his first high school campaign, Egan Berta punched his ticket to Champaign by winning the 126-pound title at the Class 2A De La Salle sectional. Classmate Jake Kirkman also qualified after placing fourth at 138.
That duo is joined at state by junior Jimmy Brennan, who won the title at 145.
Ryan Glynn fell one win short of qualifying at 120, as did Adam Strube at 132.
“I’m happy we got kids downstate,” St. Clair said. “But as a coach, I’m greedy, I’m never satisfied. That’s what we tell our kids, never be satisfied.”
Berta knocked off Mousa Jodeh of Oak Forest 14-2 in the final. The two had met four times previously this season with the freshman losing the last three matches coming in.
“Egan wrestled great all weekend long,” St. Clair said, “and in the final, he wrestled like he is capable of and took it to [Jodeh].”
Kirkman worked his way back through the wrestlebacks after falling 3-1 to eventual second-place finisher Jake Domke of Marian in the second round. He notched a 7-0 decision to qualify for state before losing 6-3 in the third-place match.
As for Brennan, who also went downstate as a freshman, the junior registered a pair of pins before defeating Michael Shanahan of St. Ignatius 7-6 in the final.
“He is on a hot streak,” the coach said. “He’s peaking at the right time. He beat a pretty good kid from Morgan Park in the semis, and that St. Ignatius kid has been ranked above Jimmy all year long.”
Now, the trio face the best of the best in the three-day state tourney, which began yesterday. And no matter what happens, the experience will be extremely valuable for the freshmen.
“Obviously it’s the best competition we are going to see,” St. Clair said, “besides maybe the Hinsdale Central tournament, which had Class 3A powerhouses.
“It’s going to be awesome for [Berta and Kirkland] to get that experience. Having to gut out some matches at the sectional, they will be able to feed off that for the next three years. And the experience of getting to wrestle at [state] is priceless.”