Maine West's Gratz beats old friend on way to tourney title

Senior leads seven top-4 finishers for runner-up Warriors at Lake Park

By Dennis Mahoney
December 17, 2011 09:45 PM

Colin Gratz enjoyed a reunion with an old buddy Saturday at the Lake Park Ralph W. Krupke Classic wrestling tournament.

But even adding a dash of sentiment didn’t keep the Maine West senior from taking care of business.

Gratz captured the tournament title at 132 pounds and sparked the Warriors to their best finish at the prestigious invite, second with 154.5 points to champion Lockport’s 236.5 points in the 15-team field. Niles West also represented the Central Suburban League and took 10th with 72.5 points.

Seven other Maine West wrestlers contributed top-four finishes, including runner-up efforts from Jake Korbecki at 138 and Robbie Jones at 285. Thirds went to Rico Zayas at 145, Jordan Pessah at 152 and Max Hanak at 182, while Rogelio Rodriguez (220) and Ben Kindle (160) both placed fourth.

Gratz had no problems in the finale, where he dispatched Conant’s Nico Gottardo 16-1 with a technical fall in the third period. But to get to the finals, he knocked off a former football teammate from the Mount Prospect feeder ranks, Alex Mertes of Elk Grove, by a 2-1 margin in the semis.

Obviously they both stopped growing after their youth football careers ended.

“This is the first time we’ve ever wrestled against each other, so that was kinda cool,” Gratz said after improving to 18-1 overall on the season. “Our families know each other really well. We both took it seriously and there were no hard feelings after the match. I got a low single takedown on him in the first period and I was pretty much in control after that. For me it was straight business – I hate the other guy during the match, and after it’s over we’re friends.

“I felt like I was a little lackadaisical in my first two matches, but in the finals I was more on point. I felt a lot better on my feet.”

The title marked the first for Gratz in his varsity career after a number of second-place finishes, including last year’s Central Suburban League meet. The breakthrough might be directly traced to how seriously the Maine West veteran takes every practice and every match.

“I wrestled 60-plus matches this summer, so I feel bigger, stronger and way faster,” Gratz said. “Now when I get out there I don’t second-guess myself anymore. I just shoot when it’s there. I just try to go out and wrestle and take care of business.”

"Colin has made such a huge improvement with how he prepares himself mentally, and that’s making a big difference for him,” Maine West coach Lance Weber said. “His maturity has really grown, both on the mat and off the mat. There’s no doubt he’s practicing harder this year, and that’s why it’s all coming together for him this year.

“When he went up against his friend, I just told him to wrestle your style and worry about what you’re going to do, not what the other guy’s going to do. When you do that, things will work out. Otherwise, you won’t wrestle your best.”

Both Korbecki and Jones fell short in the finals. Korbecki’s bid for a second straight tournament title in as many weeks was cut short when he lost to Lockport’s Tony Rossi via a major decision, 12-0. Korbecki had opened with a 5-3 overtime triumph against Elliot Hilgert of St. Viator, then outscored Tim Ferguson of Schaumburg 3-1 in the semifinals.

Jones scored falls over his first two foes at the heaviest weight, but the Maine West senior only lasted 12 seconds before he was pinned by Addison Trail’s Danny Robles.

“I thought all of our guys stepped up and wrestled hard today,” Weber said. “There weren’t really any surprises. We had eight guys in the semifinals and I thought they were all capable of that. But we knew we’d have to work pretty hard to get a high place here. We didn’t expect it.

“In years past, we’ve been a better dual meet team than a tournament team, but now we’re doing well in both. Today all of these guys were ready to wrestle hard right away this morning at 9 o’clock, and that makes a big difference when you get it done like that in the first round.”

Niles West

Vaughn Monreal-Berner not only won the championship at 182 pounds for the Wolves, but he earned some family bragging rights, too.

“My dad won this tournament his senior year (competing for Maine West), and my brother placed here when he wrestled. But I’ve got bragging rights because I won as a junior,” Monreal-Berner said.

The Wolves’ standout only had to outlast a bracket that included a total of seven grapplers. He pinned Lockport’s Kevin Neylon in 2:26 in the semifinals, then scored another fall in 5:03 against Matt Stopka of Schaumburg to clinch the title.

“Last year I was one win away from making it to state, so that definitely motivated me,” Monreal-Berner said after raising his won-loss record to 17-3. “I think my improvement came from all the Greco and freestyle wrestling I did this summer. I almost made the Greco state team, but then I was injured. I think every wrestler needs to do what I did in the summer.

“With the change in the weight classes this year, I wondered at first where I’d end up (after winning the Central Suburban League title last year at 171). It just worked out this is closer to my natural weight, after I had to cut weight to make 171 last year.”

Niles West’s other finalist on Saturday was junior Tommy Williams, who lost a 4-0 overtime championship decision to Warren’s Israel Santiago at 126 pounds.