CHAMPAIGN--West Aurora's Nicholas Drendel was looking to climb the mountaintop.
Instead, the West Aurora senior was left despairingly short of achieving his ultimate goal: an individual wrestling state championship.
One year after a heart-wrenching state finals defeat in the 112-pound division of the Class 3A, Drendel returned to the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall with a spotless record.
In the Saturday morning semifinals at 125 pounds, he more than met his match. Fellow unbeaten Eddie Klimara of Providence Catholic denied Drendel a return trip to the championship mat with a 7-2 triumph.
“I prefer not to talk about (the Klimara) match,” Drendel said after winning twice in the wrestlebacks to claim third place. “It’s already done and over with.”
In his second match of the day, Drendel faced DeKalb sophomore Doug Johnson, whom he vanquished for the Downers Grove North sectional championship. Drendel was equally dominant in their second meeting, icing his major-decision victory with three back points at the buzzer.
The uncommitted senior then completed his individual West Aurora wrestling career with a 3-0 victory in the third-place match over Rockton Hononegah senior Colin Dodd.
“I’m proud of the way I wrestled this year,” said Drendel, who ended up with a sparkling 42-1 record. “(Forty wins) was one of my goals coming into the season. I knew I was going to have to ride (Dodd) hard on top.”
Drendel has a strong desire to attend Northern Michigan University. Of the four West Aurora wrestlers to make the state cut, he was the lone competitor to place.
Miguel Venecia, a two-time qualifier at 130 pounds, had his Champaign experience cut short with a 3-2 overtime defeat in the consolation quarterfinals.
“Miguel was not content just to be here,” West Aurora coach Mike DiNovo said. “Nineteen (that is, 119 pounds), 25 and 30 are some of the deepest weight classes down here historically. (Venecia) is going to keep going.”
Brandon Walz, the Blackhawks’ senior 103-pounder, was knocked out of the tournament on Friday night with his second defeat.
Greg Jacquez, who qualified as a freshman for Aurora Central Catholic before transferring to West Aurora, had his junior campaign end with a one-and-done Friday.
At the state tournament, wrestlers who drop first-round matches are only allowed a second chance if their foe wins his next match. But the season is far from over for the Blackhawks.
By virtue of its championship of the Naperville Central Regional, West Auarora received a bid to the Hinsdale South team sectional on Tuesday.
A victory over Neuqua Valley (14-12), which the Blackhawks (21-3) defeated handily in the teams’ regular-season dual, brings a first-ever trip to the Elite Eight in Bloomington next Saturday.