When Lyons Township senior Jaime Jones was a member of the sophomore football team, lower-level coaches Mark King and Patrick O’Neil saw more than a talented player.
Also members of the LT wrestling coaching staff, King and O’Neil believed they had discovered a potential wrestler.
“They basically recruited him right onto the wrestling mat after football,” LT varsity wrestling coach Griff Powell said. “He’s a good athlete with a good work ethic, and they brought him into our program.”
These days, Jones not only is headed to the Class 3A individual state meet for the second year in a row. He is on track to earn all-state honors with a top-six finish.
Jones earned a repeat berth Saturday by finishing second at 182 pounds at the 3A DeLaSalle Sectional in Chicago. The state meet is Friday and Saturday at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Jones (26-8) won his first two sectional matches before being pinned in the final in 1:40 by Oak Park-River Forest senior Sammy Brooks (34-1), the state’s top-ranked wrestler at that weight class by IllinoisMatmen.com.
Top-four sectional finishers qualify for state. In 2011 at 189 pounds, Jones (26-17) was fourth at sectionals and 0-2 at state as the Lions’ only underclassman among seven state qualifiers.
This season, he is the Lions’ lone state representative after being the only one among their eight sectional qualifiers who had previously advanced.
“This is only his third year wrestling and two out of three qualifying for state, that’s a very big accomplishment. The biggest thing is he has a chance to be on the (all-state awards) stand,” Powell said.
“He’s put himself in a position to place. He’s got matches that he can win. I think he’ll be a little more comfortable wrestling on the Assembly Hall floor. He was a little nervous his first time being down (last year). He’s ready to go. He’s wrestling really well and smart.”
After opening with a pin, Jones showed his smarts in a hard-fought 2-0 semifinal victory over Proviso West junior Jameer Thurman (25-4), who took third and had beaten Brooks by injury default in their regional final.
Needing overtime to beat Thurman during the regular season, Jones scored the lone points Saturday on a second-period reversal. The wrestlers held neutral the entire third period.
Other key close matches didn’t go the Lions’ way. Senior Carter Beebe (29=13 at 120) and junior Justin Fuller (24-16 at 195) both lost in the consolation semifinals – one victory from qualifying for state by reaching the third-place match.
Fuller lost a controversial 10-8 overtime decision against Sandburg junior Bill Gore (37-7). Beebe lost 5-2 to Lane Tech junior Johnny McCarthy (34-8) after the match was scoreless entering the third period. Gore and McCarthy both finished fourth.
LT senior Adam Rodgers (24-10 record at 285), juniors Jack Bates (26-17 at 145) and Eric Rende (18-15 at 170) and sophomore A.J. Villarreal (33-11 at 126) finished 1-2 at sectionals, losing in the quarterfinals and coming two consolation-bracket victories from a state berth. Senior Jack Pearson (22-21 at 160) was 0-2.
After a pin in the quarterfinals, Fuller lost 12-6 in the semifinals to Marist junior Josh Pruitt (23-9), the eventual champion.
Against Gore, Fuller began a wild third period with a 4-3 lead. Fuller went ahead 8-7 on an escape with 44 seconds left and was riding Gore when the wrestlers went out of bounds as Gore was on the verge of an escape. After the two mat referees conferred, Gore was given credit for the escape to tie the match and send it to sudden-death overtime.
Gore won in overtime the match for a takedown as the wrestlers were headed out of bounds and after a brief discussion among the referees. Moments earlier, Fuller was on the verge of a takedown, but the wrestlers were ruled out of bounds.
“Justin did just about everything right in that match. That was a very questionable call at the end of the third period. I think the call could have gone either way,” Powell said. “Both were very close calls, but Justin put himself to qualify for state and was so close in the semifinals and consolation semifinal. It was just a huge improvement to the end of the year. Justin realizes with a little work in the offseason, he not only will be qualifying for placing in the state meet next year.”
Beebe won his opening match 8-2 and lost 17-6 in the semifinals to Sandburg junior and champion Sebastian Pique (36-3), the 2011 state champion at 112.
Beebe and McCarthy started the third period at neutral, and McCarthy earned a takedown and three-point near-fall in the first 30 seconds. Beebe was never in danger the rest of the period but couldn’t escape until his reversal in the final 10 seconds.
Beebe and Pearson had reached sectionals for the first time after finishing fourth at regionals the previous two years, one place from advancing to sectionals.
“I really believe Carter is one of the best kids in the state at his weight. He’s not going to get a chance in Champaign to prove it, but he’s beaten a lot of good guys,” Powell said. “(Beebe) has done everything we’ve asked him to. The guy really bought into the program and got a lot better.”
Sectional brackets are based on regional results. As the Lions’ three regional champions, Jones, Beebe and Fuller received first-round byes in the 12-wrestler brackets with their opening matches being the quarterfinals.
“We had some juniors and sophomores in there (at sectionals) so it was good,” Powell said. “We’ll have about half of our lineup back, and we’ve got a bunch of younger kids who got some experience and not just at the varsity level. That’s what it’s all about, learning from the experience you have and hopefully we’ll improve next year.”
LT girls gymnastics
The Lions Township girls gymnastics team is back competing as a team at the state meet Friday and Saturday at Palatine High School.
Friday’s action begins at 5:05 p.m. with team competition, individual finals for all-around and individual preliminaries for the four events. State qualifiers among the 10 best preliminary scores advance to the event finals at 5:45 p.m. Saturday.
The Lions earned one of the eight team berths by winning the Hinsdale Central Sectional Feb. 6 with 144.05 points after a season-best 144.345 to win regionals Feb. 3.
LT has accomplished this by going with five all-arounders – freshman sectional champion Kelsy Kurfirst, seniors Kalen Iffert and Ali Stuck, junior Maren Craig and freshman Kelly Ryser. This is the first state competition for all five gymnasts.
After a one-year absence, the Lions are making their fifth straight state appearance as a team in the past six seasons.
Carmel (151.75 sectional score) is heavily favored to win its third straight team title. Also part of the sectional field are Prairie Ridge co-op (147.25), Fremd (146.975), Stevenson (146.875), Glenbard North (145.95), New Trier (145.95) and Lake Forest (145.375).
Kurfirst qualified individually for state in all-around and all four events. At sectionals, Kurfirst won all-around (37.90), uneven parallel bars (9.55) and floor exercise (9.575), tied for first on vault (9.725) and tied for fourth on balance beam (9.05) with a fall, an automatic .5 deduction.
Based on all results from the four sectionals, Kurfirst shared the sixth highest all-around score and shared the third highest vault score and had the sixth highest score on uneven bars and floor.
Top-five individual finishers earn all-state medals. Gymnasts on qualifying teams who reach Saturday’s event finals also can improve their team score by the amount that they improve their preliminary score.
LT boys swimming and diving
The Lyons Township boys swimming and diving team will try for state berths at the Fenwick Sectional Saturday in Oak Park. Diving is at 9 a.m. and swimming begins at 1 p.m.
Sectional champions automatically advance to the state meet as well as entries that achieve the state-qualifying standards at the meet. Divers among the 32 highest remaining scores also advance to state.
Senior Danny McGuinness and junior Joe Shannon are LT’s returning state qualifiers from 2011. McGuinness advanced individually in the 100-yard freestyle and in the 200 free relay and the 200 medley relay along with Shannon.
The sectional field includes rival Oak Park-River Forest, the host Friars, Argo, Curie, Elmwood Park, Fenton, Hubbard, Kennedy, Leyden, Little Village, Morton, Proviso West, Reavis and Riverside-Brookfield.