JT West ends regular season on high note
By Curt Herron
The success that Joliet West is enjoying in its return to competition following a long absence has generated great interest among former Tigers.
Coach Joey Benefiel has received congratulations from some ex-JT West athletes who are excited to see their old program back and doing well.
Among those was one from Curt Phelps, a 1978 state champ who competed on teams that placed second at state in 1977 and 1978 for coach Mike Cookas.
In his message, Phelps related that "at one time our gym was known as Death Valley. Teams knew we would crush them when they came into our house."
That note struck a chord with Benefiel after the Tigers wrapped up a perfect home season on Thursday with a nonconference win over Bloom Township.
One night after blanking Metea Valley 65-0, JT West pulled off the feat again, scoring 10 more points in a 75-0 victory over the Blazing Trojans.
Following the back-to-back shutouts, the first two of the new era for the Tigers, they closed out their home schedule with a perfect 6-0 record.
That featured wins over #12 Lockport and #16 Lincoln-Way East, helping JT West to finish in second place in the regular season league standings.
More importantly, the Tigers now own an overall 14-7 mark after going 10-1 since starting out the season with four wins in the first 10 duals.
A bonus for JT West on Thursday was the fact that it got to honor the six seniors who are in their program, five of whom started on the varsity.
The varsity seniors, Jamie Bandy, Devon Burton, Dan Hougas, Jeremy Mack and Greg Rucker, scored one-third of their team's points against Bloom.
Now that the regular season is done, the Tigers can focus on next weekend's SouthWest Suburban Conference meet and then the Lockport Regional.
"When I got the head coaching job, I began to get a feeling for the rich history that they had here," Benefiel said. "It's a hard act to follow.
"But there's a lot of talent in this school with great kids who are also athletic, so I kind of see how they were successful all of those years.
"The split will strengthen both schools since more kids will come out. I can see why so me kids didn't want to get on a bus each day to go to Central."
After Matt Robinson collected a forfeit in the opening match at 119, freshman Braedon Garcia gutted out a 10-5 overtime win over Tyshon Edmond.
Garcia led 5-2 before holding off an Edmond pin during the last minute of regulation. He responded with a takedown and a nearfall in overtime.
"It's pretty exciting to be on the varsity, but it's also a hard challenge but it makes you better," Garcia said.
"When you move up from the j-v, you really have to step up your game since these kids are a lot stronger and more talented.
"We're doing pretty good right now and ended the regular season with two shutouts. We're all like brothers, like a big family."
Another newcomer, Chad Benavidez, had a successful debut when he collected a fall in 5:18 at 130 to give the Tigers a 15-0 advantage.
Jim Spangler rolled to a 17-2 win by technical fall in 4:44 before Bandy captured a 5-3 victory over Alex Wiggs in the match at 140.
"Everyone is real solid in our lineup and even when someone is out, we have some j-v kids who've pulled through for us the past few days," Bandy said.
"Yesterday we won 65-0 and I felt that this team was actually better and we beat them 75-0. A lot of us have been on a good streak after a rough start.
"We're a really close team and we do a lot of stuff together. And it's nice to finally be repping our school in the first year as our own high school."
Mack got a forfeit win at 145 before Rucker used a late takedown to capture an 11-3 win over Fritz McHerron to give JT West a 33-0 lead.
At 160, Brandon Mroz broke open a tight match in the final period with Matt Jones by recording a fall in 5:35.
And then Hougas fell into an early 5-0 hole against Shijuan Rogers before turning the tables by getting a pin in 2:25.
In the match at 189, Matt Koran continued to roll along after he collected a pin in 2:58 over Derrick Richardson.
"We started the year off with some good competition and that has really been paying off in this stretch before conference and regionals," Koran said.
"I got off to a real rough start since I wasn't mentally and physically prepared. After five losses, it was time to start winning and now I'm doing well.
"We feed off our teammates' energy, as you saw in these shutouts. We're a total family that does things outside of school, just a big group of brothers."
Burton followed with a fall in 1:35 before Erasmo Delacruz made it 63-0 after collecting a pin in 1:11 at heavyweight.
Cory Winchell picked up a forfeit win at 103 and Jorge Ulloa ended things with a fall in 2:48 over Mitchell Wilbanks.
"This is the perfect time for us to peak with conference and regionals ahead," Ulloa said. "We're all working hard and pushing each other in practice.
"We always put our expectations high, no matter whether we go up against a team that's ranked or not. We still have to go out and wrestle our matches.
"It's great to see how far some of our teammates have come from the beginning of the year. We're a really big family and we connect on so many levels."