Growing up as youth wrestlers meant one thing every December to Christian Brunner and Travis Piotrowski: cheering on big names at the Midlands Championships at Northwestern University.
“I grew up going to that tournament,” said Brunner, a Dundee-Crown graduate who is a senior at Purdue. “I was one of those little kids running around at the tournament 10 years ago.”
Today, those youth wrestlers now have all eyes on athletes such as Brunner and Piotrowski, a Prairie Ridge graduate who is a senior at Illinois.
Piotrowski said he signed more than a dozen autographs Saturday and Sunday at the tournament, which now calls the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates home, and took plenty of photos with young athletes.
“I was in their shoes,” he said. “They want to be where I’m at.”
This year, the two-day tournament featuring some of the nation’s top wrestlers turned into a major highlight as both athletes posted career-best finishes.
Brunner went 5-0 to win the 197-pound weight class. Seeded third entering the event, he knocked off second-seeded Pat Brucki of Princeton, 4-3, in the semifinals before a 7-3 victory against No. 5 seed Jay Aiello of Virginia for the title.
“I just wrestled hard and didn’t change anything I was doing, from the first-round match to the final,” Brunner said.
That approach has proved to be a positive this season for Brunner (15-2), who is ranked second nationally by InterMat.
“This year, it’s just consistency,” Brunner said. “I know what it takes to win these big matches. That’s going out every match and wrestling hard and wrestling the same.”
Piotrowski’s third-place finish at 133 pounds was the best of his Illini career and included a 5-1 record, a 5-3 victory against No. 5 seed Noah Gonser of Campbell and a third-place bout win by the same score over third-seeded Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern.
Piotrowski (13-2), who entered the event as the No. 4 seed, is ranked sixth nationally this week by InterMat, while Rivera is No. 7 and Gonser is No. 11.
“It was a very big confidence booster, and I’m very excited to keep going through the season and competing against these types of guys,” said Piotrowski, a three-time NCAA qualifier. “This is my last shot at being an All-American. What I want more than anything is to succeed. The fact that I’m able to compete against top-ranked guys and beat them … it gets me excited.”
Piotrowski, who moved up this season from the 125-pound class, said the change has provided a major boost.
“I’m not cutting nearly as much weight anymore,” he said. “I’m healthy. I’m hydrated. I feel so much stronger when I’m out there.”
Winning at Midlands is often a good barometer for success. The event, like the NCAA Championships, is a multiday grind for the athletes.
“Everybody is banged up that second day,” Brunner said. “You can worry about being sore on New Year’s.”
Piotrowski said the bumps and bruises, along with concerns about making weight, make Midlands a major mental challenge.
“[You have to be] in the right mindset to overcome your soreness,” he said. “You have to tell yourself, ‘I’m ready to go.’”
Evans takes over new job: Cary-Grove grad Dan Evans’ team is 5-6 in his first season as the head men’s basketball coach at NCAA Division II University of North Georgia in Dahlonega.
Evans took over the Nighthawks’ program this season after a successful six-year stint at D-II Ohio Dominican, where his teams won 76 games and posted a 37-12 mark over the past two seasons.
His 76 wins made Evans the third-winningest coach in Ohio Dominican history.
At UNG, Evans becomes only the fourth head coach in the history of the program, which began in 1971-72. The Nighthawks, who play in the Peach Belt Conference, have had only one winning season in the past four years.
Pischke powers Lewis: Marian Central grad Adam Pischke is the second-leading scorer this season for D-II Lewis University’s men’s basketball team, which has won six games in a row after an 0-3 start.
Pischke, a senior guard for the Flyers, is scoring 12.9 points a game and leads Lewis with 4.6 assists a game. He also is contributing 3.4 rebounds a game and has the Flyers' second-most steals (12). His scoring, rebounding and assist averages are career highs.
In a 79-77 victory Nov. 23 against then-No. 19 Ferris State, Pischke provided the winning points on a layup with 2 seconds remaining in the game. During the Flyers’ six-game winning streak, Pischke is averaging 13.3 points a game.
Aurora’s Dycus honored: Woodstock North grad Casey Dycus, a junior safety for D-III Aurora University’s football team, won two postseason honors last month.
Dycus earned first-team All-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference recognition, along with second-team honors on the D3Football.com All-North Regional squads.
While helping the Spartans (9-2) to the D-III playoffs and the NACC championship, Dycus posted a team-best 75 tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.