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Alex Mitchell Stands Up to the Pressure of State Wrestling

By Jon J. KerrPioneer Press ~ 2/22/16

Alex Mitchell made a promise to himself.

The Libertyville junior vowed not to be overwhelmed by the pressurized atmosphere of the Class 3A wrestling state tournament. He competed inside State Farm Arena in Champaign for the first time Feb. 18.

"I couldn't let the situation get to me," Mitchell said. "I had a job to do."

The 106-pounder's job was to win matches, and he did that two times. Mitchell beat Downers Grove North sophomore Nate Cummings 9-6 in the preliminary round Feb. 18. After being bumped to the consolation bracket Feb. 19, Mitchell defeated Evanston junior Christopher Rivera by an 11-2 major decision. He was eliminated when he was pinned by Providence freshman Jake Lindsey at the 5:11 mark of their wrestleback quarterfinal match Feb. 20.

Both of Mitchell's victories, as well as his two losses, provided teachable moments.

"He was one spot from a top 6 finish which would have earned him All-State," Libertyville coach Dale Eggert said.

Mitchell added: "I think it was a good experience. Now I know what I have to do next year and what not to do."

Mitchell wrestled at a high-energy pace and with tactical precision in his two victories. After falling behind against Cummings, Mitchell turned the tables and went on the attack to outscore his opponent.

Against Rivera, a physical wrestler, Mitchell utilized patience over aggression."I knew that [Rivera] wasn't technical," Mitchell said. "I knew if I worked more technical moves, I'd get more points."

The plan worked as Mitchell jumped out in front and cruised to an easy victory.

"It was a great match," Eggert said. "He blew that one open real quick."

Mitchell affirmed his wrestling identity at the state tournament, but he also left enlightened as to how he must evolve.

Mitchell wrestled from a deficit in three of his matches (one victory and two losses). The issue, according to Eggert, stems from Mitchell allowing deep shots into his legs. That happened in both of Mitchell's losses, to Lindsey in the wrestlebacks and a 5-2 decision to Bolingbrook freshman Dylan Burnoski in the championship quarterfinals.

"Guys on his legs too easy and he goes into scramble mode. His natural reaction is to drop his hips and climb around behind. The top guys in the state aren't going to let that happen.  It's an issue he knows he has to deal with," Eggert said. "If he were to do the season over and break that habit, he'd be on the podium. It makes all the difference in the world."

Mitchell added: "I kept letting them get into my legs and I shouldn't have.  Against Burnoski, I was focusing too much on what he was doing and not what I was doing. It's easier said than done."

Mitchell's desire to take his state experience and make the necessary changes will fuel his spring and summer workouts. He expects to return to the state tournament as a senior, and with more teammates in tow. Mitchell was the lone Wildcat to compete in the state tournament this year.

"There will probably be more guys next year," Mitchell said. "I know I will be a lot less nervous. I won't let the environment I'm in affect the way I wrestle. I know what I have to do."


Mitchell Heads to State

By Jon J. Kerr ~ Pioneer Press ~ 2/15/16

Observers of the Class 3A wrestling Barrington Sectional may have noticed something unusual — the bracket featured just a few Libertyville wrestlers.

In fact, there were only four in Barrington on Feb. 12 and 13. The number hasn't been that low in more than three decades.

"I think 1981 is the last time we had 4 or less Sectional Qualifiers. That's how long we have to go back," Libertyville coach Dale Eggert said.

Only one Wildcat will wrestle at the state tournament in Champaign starting Feb. 18. Junior Alex Mitchell won a sectional championship at 106 pounds, defeating Deerfield freshman Reece Heller 11-9 in the title bout. Mitchell, the North Suburban Conference tournament champion, will be making his first trip to Champaign.

"It feels good. It means I'm one step closer," Mitchell said.

Libertyville junior Jack Damenti fell one victory short of qualifying for state with a top-four finish. Damenti got though to the consolation semifinals at 152 pounds only to be pinned by Barrington sophomore Jake Meyer.

Mike Beck was eliminated in the consolation quarterfinals at 220 pounds, as was sophomore Charlie Schmidt at 285.

From 2013 to 2015, Libertyville sent 14 total wrestlers to the state tournament. That number was matched by just one period in Eggert's 29 seasons as coach (1989-1991). Sustaining that level of success was not realistic.

Eggert said the program is on solid footing with a strong freshman class, but he added that getting wrestlers started at a young age is essential to maintaining a winning program.

"Part of the problem has been my philosophy of counting on our junior highs for our wrestlers to begin the sport. Our junior high wrestling teams do a great job. We have had plenty of wrestlers that began in junior high, or even starting freshman year, that have gone on to be state-caliber wrestlers," Eggert said. "But with so many other sports getting pre-junior high athletes started in their sport, then getting continuing offseason financial commitments out of them, it has cut down on the available athletes for the junior high wrestling teams."

The resulting lack of depth caught up to the Wildcats in 2015-16.

Eggert said Libertyville's varsity wrestlers would also benefit from more offseason work. He did say he was pleased with the in-season development of juniors Drew Onufer (120) and Ryan Cleary (170) and sophomores Will Bertaud (113) and Tyler Padilla (126), in addition to the returning Sectional Qualifiers (Mitchell, Damenti, Schmidt). Freshman Michael Gunther (126), younger brother of 2015 state runner-up Joey Gunther, was injured prior to the conference tournament and would have been a potential state qualifier if healthy.

"We went into a lot of meets this season not having a chance. But every year you have a chance to improve guys. And we got better," Eggert said. "No matter whether you are talented or not doesn't change how you coach. What are you doing right, what are you doing wrong, you come out of each weekend of meets trying to figure that out and get ready for the next week? It's nothing profound. We just don't have as many guys. But we have some building blocks."


Libertyville's Alex Mitchell Wins Individual NSC Title

By Jon J. Kerr ~ Pioneer Press ~ 1/30/16

Alex Mitchell had already finished wrestling. But his day was far from over.

The Libertyville sophomore was the first to win a North Suburban Conference championship at Wauconda on Saturday, Jan. 30. Competing at 106 pounds, Mitchell won the title with a 3-1 decision over Mundelein sophomore Dane Durlacher.

That gave the rambunctious Mitchell plenty of time to mingle with teammates, sprinkling in words of encouragement to 120-pound teammate Drew Onufer before his title bout. The sight of Mitchell bouncing around gymnasiums is a common one around the Libertyville program.

"He works his fanny off. Every day. He just goes and goes," Wildcats coach Dale Eggert said.

Mitchell's high-energy disposition is the same on and off the mat. He rode that enthusiasm to an NSC title a season ago as a freshman. This season, Mitchell has wrestled with a controlled zeal. That made him Libertyville's lone conference champion in 2015-16.

"He's always been very energetic and hustles, but it's more purposeful. His attacks are more purposeful," Eggert said. "He has less bad habits. It's a slow process. You don't snap your fingers in changing bad habits.  It takes a lot of effort and time."

Mitchell added: "I know what to do more now, a lot more positions. I have a lot better takedowns, a lot more points. Last year, I was intent on taking a 3-1 match. Now I want to score more points."

Three points was all Mitchell needed in the title match. He got the upper hand early, then defended against shot attempts when Durlacher forced the action.

"The key moment is if nobody is scoring, he's not scoring," Mitchell said. "I got the points I needed to get."

Libertyville managed a fifth-place team finish thanks to two runner-up and three third-place finishers. The Wildcats had a team score of 133.50, behind fourth-place Antioch (134), third-place Warren (149.50), runner-up Grant (169.50) and champion Stevenson (192.50).

Onufer dropped an 8-5 decision to Zion-Benton junior Khalil Johnson in the 120-pound title match. In the 145-pound championship match, senior Will Johnson lost an 11-1 major decision to Grant's Cole Berg. Libertyville's third-place winners were junior Jack Damenti (152), senior Mike Beck (220) and sophomore Charlie Schmidt (285).

Compared to recent seasons, this is not a star-studded team. Johnson, who finished fifth at conference season ago, said the Wildcats might be less experienced but are just as hungry.

"It's encouraging to see how hard they work in practice," Johnson said. "Mitchell and all of these younger guys really push the pace. You can see how bad they want it."

Libertyville will compete in the Deerfield Regional on Feb. 6. It's a stacked regional, with Stevenson (ranked No. 6 in Class 3A by illinoismatmen.com) and the host Warriors (No. 7) as favorites.

Eggert acknowledged that this year is a rebuilding one, but he didn't diminish expectations for some wrestlers in the state series.

"We have some weight classes with some extremely young guys. But we have a couple guys, a lot of them are ready to compete against the big boys and I think they are doing it," Eggert said. "I think we are doing as well as we can do.


Libertyville's Young Squad Finishes 9th out of 27 at Barrington

By John Bumbales ~ Daily Herald Correspondent ~ 11/28/15

Marmion was the class of the 27-team field at the 25th Moore/Prettyman Wrestling Invitational Saturday with 265.5 points while Lyons was a distant second with 211.5 points.

Libertyville's young squad had a solid ninth-place finish with 111.5 points followed by NSC counterparts Grant (103 points) in 12th, and Lake Zurich (77 points) in 15th. Grayslake North tied for 17th place with Plainfield Central.

Libertyville was led by third-place finishes from junior Alex Mitchell at 106 and freshman Michael Gunther at 120. The Wildcats also got a fifth from junior Drew Onufer at 126, a seventh from sophomore Tyler Padilla at 138, and a seventh from junior Jack Damenti at 152.

"The five guys that placed went 5-0 in the last round.  They really shined," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert. "It was a really beneficial tournament for us.  We'll get a lot of mileage out of this."


Stevenson beats Libertyville in a Lake Division matchup

By John Bumbales ~ Daily Herald Correspondent ~ 12/10/15

The Stevenson wrestling team has gotten into the habit of falling behind early in some of its dual meets this season.

But the No. 10-ranked Patriots have also proven that they can bounce back with a vengeance against their opponents.

That was the case again Thursday night at Libertyville as Stevenson (8-0, 2-0) fell behind the Wildcats by a 15-6 score after six matches in this North Suburban Conference showdown.

Once again, the upper weights proved to be a huge difference-maker for the Patriots though as they rolled off 30 unanswered points en route to a 36-19 NSC Lake Division victory over Libertyville (2-4, 1-2).

Starting at 120 pounds, freshman Michael Gunther got the Wildcats going with a 4-0 decision over senior Alec Nolan.

Libertyville 126-pounder Drew Onufer followed up that win with an 11-5 decision over Michael Karp and the Wildcats had a quick 6-0 advantage.

Junior Brandon Zisman got the Patriots on the board with a 3-0 decision over Mike Hogan at 132 before teammate Eric Carter's 4-1 decision over Tyler Padilla at 138 deadlocked the score at 6-6.

Libertyville kept the pressure on Stevenson with senior Will Johnson posting a 2-0 decision over Ben Ponto in a real defensive struggle at 145.

Then a pin by Libertyville 152-pounder Jack Damenti put the Pats in a 15-6 hole.

But momentum was about to shift to the Patriots' side as No. 2-ranked 152-pounder Dylan Geick (12-0) moved up a weight class and recorded a technical fall at 160 to cut the lead to 15-11.

At 170, junior Robert Pavlovics followed Geick with a 16-2 major decision to knot the score at 15-15.

Bonus points were the order of the day in the next two bouts as 182-pounder Nikita Nepomnyashchiy pinned his opponent in 5:26 before 195-pound teammate Michael Kordek pinned his man in just 24 seconds to suddenly give Stevenson a 27-15 lead with four matches remaining.

The remainder of the meet was much more competitive, but the Patriots kept their winning ways going when 220-pounder Mac Chanprung posted a 9-5 decision over Konnor Lindsey in a wild back-and-forth battle.

At 285, Stevenson's Nick Grujanac pulled away from Charlie Schmidt with a 5-1 decision to clinch the team victory with a 33-15 lead at that point. At 103, teammate Tommy Frezza added a 6-3 decision over Libertyville's Brandon Murphy to cap the 30-point run and give the visitors a 36-15 lead.

Ninth-ranked 103-pounder Alex Mitchell moved up a weight class and posted an 11-3 major decision over Stevenson's Matthew Zimring to account for the final score.

"They're ranked No. 10 in the state right now and they certainly lived up to that tonight," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert. "Obviously Will Johnson beating Ponto, a very seasoned veteran, was a big win for us. And Gunther knocking off a returning starter was very noteworthy."

This marked the second straight season that Stevenson has defeated the Wildcats in a dual meet after never beating perennial power Libertyville before.

"We knew tonight was going to be a competitive dual and coach Dale Eggert's teams will always be well prepared," said Stevenson coach Shane Cook. "But with some shifts in our lineup, we were able to get bonus points at four weights."


Full Lineup Benefits Libertyville's Rivalry Win Over Lake Zurich

By John Bumbales ~ Daily Herald Correspondent ~ 12/18/15

An old rivalry was renewed when visiting Libertyville met Lake Zurich in North Suburban Conference wrestling action Friday night.

Starting the Lake Division dual meet at 138 pounds, the Bears hung tough with the Wildcats for the first nine matches, trailing 25-13.

But with three Lake Zurich forfeits in the final four bouts, Libertyville (3-4, 2-2) was able to come away with a comfortable 46-16 victory over the Bears (6-4, 3-1).

Junior Tyler Padilla got the Wildcats going with a pin at 138 before senior teammate Will Johnson captured a 3-1 decision over Derrick Juarez in a hard-fought battle at 145.

Libertyville junior Jack Damenti followed up that performance with a 13-4 major decision over Nick Dimaggio at 152 and the Wildcats had staked themselves to an early 13-0 advantage.

Despite four forfeits overall, Lake Zurich was sharp early on as 160-pound sophomore Josh Goldberg posted a narrow 4-3 decision over Brian Vickers to cut the lead to 13-3.

Then senior Pete Baldaccini pinned his opponent with 13 seconds left in the third period, and the Bears suddenly only trailed 13-9.

But Libertyville was up to the challenge as 182-pounder Pete Delismon recorded a 4-0 shutout against Nate Bass to boost the lead back to 16-9. Junior Adam Koziol's forfeit victory at 195 extended that lead to 22-9.

"I thought Johnson had a hard-fought good match, and there was a nice pin by Padilla at 138," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert. "Despite there being a lot of forfeits I thought we had a good win. They (Lake Zurich) had a lot of good guys not in the lineup, sitting on the bench."

Junior Josh Dyer (11-3) kept Lake Zurich within striking range as his 12-2 major decision over Mike Beck at 220 pulled the Bears to within 22-13.

But then Libertyville 285-pounder Charlie Schmidt came through with a key 7-1 decision over Eric Brown and the Wildcats led 25-13 with five matches remaining.

Libertyville got forfeit wins by Brandon Murphy at 106 and Alex Mitchell at 113 to officially clinch the team win with a 37-13 lead at that point.

"I thought that our experienced wrestlers did well tonight, we have a very young team and we only have one senior in the lineup," said Lake Zurich coach Dan Strickler. "Libertyville is a very disciplined team -- they have a gameplan and they follow it."

Libertyville junior Drew Onufer posted a 6-4 decision over Maxx Wayne in a very competitive bout at 120. That was followed by a forfeit win by Libertyville's Jackson Chartier at 126.

Lake Zurich junior Nick Swanson closed out the meet with a 7-3 decision over Mike Hogan at 132 to account for the final score.

"I thought I did pretty well, I got a lot of takedowns on him (Dimaggio)," said Damenti following the meet. "I like where we are right now, and we've been pretty competitive. In the dual meets we lost, we just lost to a better team, but I do like the way the meets have gone this year."

The Bears have been forfeiting 106 and 113 most of the season due to inexperience. But Friday they were also missing Billy Busse at 195, and Ben Baca at 126. 2015 sectional qualifier Joey Stutzman has been out the entire season for Lake Zurich due to an injury dating back to the football season.

The Wildcats were without 120-pound injured freshman standout Michael Gunther, who should return to action soon.


Libertyville's Mitchell Wins at 106 Palatine Invite Title

By John Bumbales ~ Daily Herald Correspondent ~ 12/30/15

With six first-place finishers, top-ranked Sandburg was the class of the huge 33-team field Wednesday afternoon at the 61st Annual Berman Holiday Wrestling Classic in Palatine.

The Eagles rolled to the championship with 313 points while Lyons Township was a distant second with 194.

Warren was the top finishing Lake County area squad with a 12th-place score of 91 points as the Blue Devils were able to get five wrestlers into the final round.

Mundelein had a solid showing with a 15th-place score of 71 points while Libertyville (67.5 points) and 106-pound champion Alex Mitchell (19-1) were not far behind the Mustangs in 18th place. Lakes wound up with two individuals in the final round.

Libertyville was without the services of freshman standout Michael Gunther (120/126), but Mitchell, a junior, continued to shine for the Wildcats by winning this very prestigious tourney.  Mitchell put the finishing touches on his great performance by capturing a 7-2 decision over Glenbard East junior Nick Donovan for the 106-pound crown.

Libertyville coach Dale Eggert's young team also got an eighth-place finish from 126-pound junior Drew Onufer, who dropped a tough 5-3 decision to Oswego's Blake Huffmon.

"I had my ups and downs, but it feels pretty good to win this tournament and now I know what I'm capable of doing," said Mitchell. "I want to get a medal at state, and I want to keep doing what I'm doing right now and wrestle well."