CHAMPAIGN – As the final seconds ticked down, Harvard’s Nik Jimenez – from atop his opponent – lifted his head toward his coaches and winked.
Jimenez, a sophomore, will wrestle for a state championship Saturday night.
“I had to show them that I was happy to be in the finals and that it was a huge success of mine,” Jimenez said of his wink.
Jimenez is one of five McHenry County wrestlers who will vie for state championships Saturday night at State Farm Center in Champaign.
In Class 1A, Jimenez (47-0) will compete for the 126-pound state title. A Harvard wrestler has not won a state title since 2013. Johnsburg’s Justin Peake (26-2) won his 1A semifinal at 182 and will try to become the Skyhawks’ first wrestling state champion.
Peake is the third Johnsburg wrestler to reach a state title match, and the first since Jerad Karlen reached a Class AA championship match in 2000. Karlen is now a Skyhawks assistant coach.
“It would mean so much, just changing the wrestling program forever,” Peake said. “I still need one more.”
Peake finished third at 182 last year.
In Class 2A, Marian Central’s Elon Rodriguez (42-2) and Dylan Connell (43-0) won their semifinal matches, at 120 and 170, respectively, and will go for titles Saturday. Connell, a junior, is trying to win his third in a row. He’s no stranger to the grand march and championship Saturday.
“Stay calm,” Connell said. “That’s the biggest thing. If I stay calm, keep my composure, I’ll go out there and I’ll win.”
Connell will face Grayslake Central’s Joey Jens in the title match. Connell beat Jens for the sectional title last week by a 7-1 decision.
Rodriguez won a fifth-place medal last year at 113. Asked what the state title match will be like, Rodriguez’s eyes widened.
“Ah, I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t wait though. My teammate, Dylan Connell, he said it’s so fun.”
Huntley’s David Ferrante (45-2) won his 170-pound Class 3A state semifinal match by technical fall. The senior is going for back-to-back state titles.
“I was just trying to keep my composure before the match,” Ferrante said. “I know it’s a big match, but try to treat it like any other match and just push the pace early.”
Ferrante will have a rematch with Barrington’s Luke Rasmussen in the state championship. Rasmussen beat Ferrante, 4-3, in the sectional semifinals last week.
Nine other local wrestlers saw their dreams of a state championship dashed. Each is guaranteed to earn a medal in the consolation bracket.
It was a tough night for Crystal Lake South, which lost three semifinals in Class 2A. Christian Olsen, the defending champion at 113, lost his semifinal, 4-3, to Freeport’s Markel Baker. The Gators’ Peyton Timmons (145) and Shane Moran (152) also lost semifinals.
“It’s the first year I placed,” said Timmons, a senior and a three-time state qualifier. “Just keep working. I’m not upset. It stings a little bit, but I’m ready to get after it [Saturday].”
Though Rodriguez and Connell advanced, Marian’s Scott Burke (126), Daniel Valeria (132), Bryce Shelton (138) and Niko Lopez (182) lost semifinals in 2A.
Crystal Lake Central’s Caden Ernd (160) and Prairie Ridge’s Kyle Koelblinger (195) also lost semifinals in Class 2A.
Local state semifinal matches
170: David Ferrante (Huntley) tech. fall Antonio Torres (Waubonsie Valley), 17-1.
113: Markel Baker (Freeport) def. Christian Olsen (Crystal Lake South), 4-3.
120: Elon Rodriguez (Marian Central) def. Carter Hall (Champaign Central), 3-1.
126: Joey Cape (Washington) def. Scott Burke (Marian Central), 6-0.
132: Brody Norman (Washington) def. Daniel Valeria (Marian Central), 4-1.
138: Ryan Gardner (Bloomington) def. Bryce Shelton (Marian Central), 4-2.
145: Kyle Schickel (Lemont) def. Peyton Timmons (Crystal Lake South), 3-2.
152: Dean Hamiti (Joliet Catholic) tech. fall Shane Moran (Crystal Lake South), 24-8.
160: Zeke Waltz (Jerseyville) def. Caden Ernd (Crystal Lake Central), 3-2.
170: Dylan Connell (Marian Central) def. Luke Daly (Carbondale), 7-0.
182: Arnold Edwards (Cahokia) def. Niko Lopez (Marian Central), 5-4.
195: Cody Goodman (Deerfield) p. Kyle Koelblinger (Prairie Ridge), 3:35.
126: Nik Jimenez (Harvard) def. Caleb Magruder (Bishop McNamara), 7-3.
182: Justin Peake (Johnsburg) def. Mason Clem (Sacred Heart-Griffin), 4-2.