Brown becomes Evanston's first state place winner in over 20 years
By Seth Schwartz | Special to Illinois Matmen
Saturday night at Assembly Hall, just after 10 p.m., with much of the crowd already out the door, Evanston heavyweight Jeff Brown was standing at the center of the mat with his hand raised after a 3-1 decision over Hinsdale Central’s Jeff Allen.
The beauty of the state tournament is it allows every school the possibility for an individual champion. While the powerhouse programs seem to produce state champions every few years, each winner brings a wealth of emotions and memories shared by coaches, wrestler and friends that last a lifetime.
The moment is savored especially the first time.
George Patterson (126, 1981), Hockey Andrews (105, 1982) and Shannyn Gillespie (119, 1989) took titles under Evanston coach Elias George, but the Kits hadn’t had a placer since.
Brown was considered to have a shot, but Hinsdale Central’s Jack Allen was the favorite.
He beat Minooka’s Cody Jones 3-1 in the first round, Conant’s Nate Benedetti 4-2 in overtime and then Sandburg’s Chris Lopez 3-2 in the semifinal. Making it a habit to get a takedown late in the third period, Brown got two at the buzzer.
Apprenticing behind the Wilson twins, John and Joe, his first two years gave Brown valuable experience. He was knocked out in the first round of the sectional last year.
At 6-2, 275 pounds, Brown has great hips and a knack for getting the one takedown he needs.
“Jeff stays in good position and is able to make the necessary adjustments in the match,” said Evanston coach Rudy Salinas. “He’s very coachable, wrestles a smart match and stays within himself. He’s gotten better throughout the season and peaked at the right time.”
“Our athletic director [Chris Livatino] told me the last heavyweight champion for Evanston [Bob Pickens 1961, who played for the Bears from 1967-69 and was sixth in Greco-Roman in the 1964 Olympics] went to the NFL. I think we’ll see Jeff there, too.”
A proper mental state was the difference according to Brown.
“Last year I was like a deer in headlights,” he said. “Coach told me before the season, ‘We think you can be a champion, but you’re going to have to work for it.’
“Coach gave me a good game plan to work with. I have long arms and that helped me control and wear down smaller guys. I never thought about State until conference.”
In the final, Brown calculated his move perfectly.
“I could hear their coach [Jim Zajicek] yelling, ‘You gotta go, you gotta go!’ Allen shot a double, I stuffed his head, hooked the ankle and went around [for two].”
Livatino treated everyone for dinner at Alexander’s Steak House. Brown then went with friends Marx Succes, Andy Gillman and Mark Ingram to Jake Rhode’s dorm room to cap the evening. He made it back to bed at 4 a.m.
Less than an hour before Max Schneider took the mat and beat Hersey’s Demetrious Mitchell, coach Mark Miedona, a Lane Tech 1997 graduate, made a statement to Salinas, his former coach and mentor.
“I told Rudy it would be nice if we both walked out of here with state champions,” he said.
“I couldn’t have scripted something like this,” said Salinas, who graduated Lane in 1987 and began coaching the Indians in 1989 as an assistant to Jeff Newmark. He became head coach in 1994 and guided Lane to fourth place at state in 2000. Salinas took over Evanston in 2004. “I feel like someone is going to call and ask me if I want to go to Disneyland.”
The bar was raised at Lane with Newmark in 1984 and has remained intact as the Indians have taken 18 of the last 23 city titles.
“Rudy was a great motivator and leader,” said Miedona. “Most of the technique we use is what I learned from him. He’s the type of coach you never wanted to let down. He kept the tradition going. There’s always been a lot of pride in our program. We had 50 alums who made the trip downstate to support us.
“Watching the video of previous champions, who were great wrestlers and being in the grand march [last year] was overwhelming. You realize just how special it is. Hell, our last champion [William Sturtevant, 1946] was more than 60 years ago.
“I think the crowd wants to see a new kid win it. It’s exciting; it’s good for the state of wrestling. This was the perfect way to end the season.”
Memorable Weekend for Deerfield
When a wrestler begins to reach his potential, one of the remarks often heard from coaches is: “He’s a senior!”
After countless hours of sweat on the mat, many athletes hope to end their careers as a placer or if possible the ultimate prize – a state championship. But the brutal competition in Class 3A leaves no margin for error.
A number of seniors concluded their career on a high note.
Deerfield’s Josh Katz (125) rode out Lockport’s Jameson Oster for the third period and appeared to be in position for a decision. But Oster got out with 13 seconds left and reversed Katz to win 4-3. Battling back, Katz held off Providence’s Tom Ambrose 4-3, got by Libertyville’s Matt Bystol 3-2, but lost to Downers Grove North’s Jimmy Nehls 1-0 for third place. Katz set a school record with 139 career wins and 43 victories this season. He was 0-2 in his two previous trips to Assembly Hall.
“It feels great,” said Deerfield coach Marc Pechter, who took over the program in 2002 and got a big helping hand from assistant, Aaron Cohen, who came aboard in 2003. “Josh and Jeremy [Fahler] have been great leaders for our program. Josh raised it to another level this year. He wanted it and he put in a lot of work.”
Proving he belonged with the best, Fahler (171) advanced to the semifinal with a 9-2 decision over Schaumburg’s Danny Malik. After losing to St. Rita’s Jahwon Akui, Fahler came back and beat Buffalo Grove’s Jamey Zabrin 11-4 for fifth place.
It was a watershed moment for the Deerfield program which hadn’t had a placer since Todd Cohen in 1983.
Breaking down the brackets, most figure Stevenson junior Dan Sabatello wouldn’t end up at the top of 119.
“Everyone was telling me how tough [Sandburg’s Colin] Holler was,” said Sabatello. “After I beat him [9-0] my confidence went really high. I was focused all week [before state]. Whatever happened during the season didn’t mean anything now. I just wanted to wrestle my style and be as aggressive as possible.”
Facing Providence’s Eddie Klimara in the final, Sabatello turned the tide of the match in the second period riding him out and getting two for a 3-2 decision to become the schools first state champion.
“I knew my gas tank was better and I just turned it up [in the third period]; I knew he couldn’t keep my pace. I just kept battling him. I kept moving my feet, kept him off my legs and just wrestling tough.
“Since age six, when I started wrestling, being a state champ has been a dream of mine.”
Brother Rice’s program was stuck in neutral before veteran coach Bill Weick took over seven years ago. He brought in Ken Bringe and Jan Murzyn and the Crusaders began to take shape. This year Ron Oglesby and Mike Panazzo joined the staff.
Two years ago, Malik Taylor was the schools first placer. Mike Avelar (135), Luke Nelson (140) and Taylor (152) all took third marking the first time they’ve had a trio of placers.
“It was a great effort by everyone involved,” said Murzyn. “The school has given us plenty of support. A lot of Rice graduates helped out. We’ve just been grinding it out and good things have happened.”
There have been three state champions in school history for Willowbrook: Heavyweight Matt Roth 2001, Mike Behnke (215) 2001 and heavyweight 2002 and Steve Congenie (152). All three went undefeated.
One of the wrestlers from our local h.s. had the priveledge of wrestling the state champ from Evanston earlier in the season...though our kid lost to him, he lasted into the third round and as a sophomore, was pretty happy with his performance.
This kid is a total champion in every sense of the word, polite, determined, respectful. His coach was the same way and asked the sophomore to practice a new move with Brown when they were at another tournament together.
We rooted for Brown and were thrilled with his success downstate. All the best to him and the wrestling program at Evanston.