Don’t bother setting the alarm, nobody’s sleeping on Marist.
The RedHawks are garnering national recognition as one of the top teams in the country, and their lineup features a pair of Big-10 recruits in Purdue-bound Peter Andreotti and Mario Leveille.
In all, Marist returns seven state qualifiers including two-time state runner-up Mark Duda, state-placer David Kasper and Alex Benoit, a junior with two state medals whom coach Brendan Heffernan said should be in title contention at 182 pounds.
“This could be our best outcome yet,” Benoit said. “I don’t want to say this is our best team, because I’m not sure what we can do yet, but our work ethic’s improved a lot. I had football players tell me (during Marist’s playoff run) that they couldn’t wait to get back on the mat.”
One of the recent returners was Andreotti, an all-conference running back on Marist’s state semifinal team. Andreotti placed fifth in Class 3A at 160 pounds last season. He expects to wrestle that weight again.
“Obviously I want to be a state champ, but I have other goals,” Andreotti said. “I want to stay in better shape and not take any injury time. If I’m in shape, I think that will ultimately lead to a state championship.”
Heffernan noted Andreotti and Leveille are “thrilled” to be going to Purdue together, and added that Leveille has been one of the most improved this offseason.
“I worked everyday over the summer on my technique and my strength,” Leveille said.
Marist has long been one of the Southland’s top powers, and the RedHawks have had a glut of success at the Class 3A individual state tournament — apparent by six state-placers last season.
But they’ve also been ousted from the team competition by rival Sandburg the past two seasons via razor-thin regional defeats. Sandburg, meanwhile, advanced to win back-to-back state titles after downing Marist by 12.5 points in 2012 and six points in 2013.
“I feel like last year we were looking ahead too much,” Leveille said. “We kept thinking about regionals and state, and now we’re back to taking it one week at a time.”
With such talent returning, it’s easy to forget Marist must replace Tom Howell, the 220-pound state champion, state-placer Matt Sears and qualifier Ethan Benoit. All three of which were key cogs in Marist’s 26-6 record.
Heffernan said to watch out for juniors Nick Gasbarro and Jakada Hull, and senior Mike Mullaney, who improved substantially in the offseason.
“People have been calling us young for a few years now, and that’s not really the case anymore,” Heffernan said. “We’re going to have a lot of leaders and a lot of maturity. Hopefully that’s evident with their poise on the mat.”
Marist travels to Harlem Dec. 27-28 for the Al Dvorak Wrestling Invitational — one of the preeminent tourneys in Illinois — where it placed third last season in the 33-team field behind St. Edward, the three-time reining state champ from Ohio, and Illinois Class 2A champ Montini.
A week later it travels to Minnesota for the Clash, a dual-team tournament designed to find the best program in the country.
“Being ranked nationally is good publicity for the program,” said Heffernan, a former wrestler at Illinois. “But we’ve mentioned to the guys that by being ranked, they have to take that as a responsibility with way they train and their attitude toward the sport and competition. I think they should go out expecting to win regardless of the competition. And we wrestle some tough schools.”
Marist: Nationally ranked and poised for a lengthy postseason run, watch out for seniors Mark Duda, Mario Leveille and Peter Andreotti.
Lockport: Stanford-bound Brian Rossi spearheads one of the top programs in the state. The Porters return 11 of 14 starters, including regional champ Dan Radcliffe.
Sandburg: The two-time reigning state titleholder lost three individual state champions to graduation, but expect the Eagles to reload rather than rebuild around state medalist John Pellegrino.
St. Rita: State-placer Jake Silzer leads a talented roster guided by coach Dan Manzella. Nine starters return including 30-match winners in Mike Falco, Tyre Lee and Colt Kielbasa
Mount Carmel: Northwestern-bound Bryce Brill is as good as it gets. Caravan might need a few weeks to hit full stride as wrestlers return from the state finalist football team.
Lincoln-Way Central: Fourth in state last season, the Knights return state-placer Bryce Gorman and state qualifiers Joey Nelson and Ian Meagher.
Lincoln-Way West: Coach Brian Glynn has turned West into one of the top programs in Class 2A. Four-state medalists return including football standout Javier Montalvo.
Oak Forest: Reigning South Suburban champs feature young talent around state titleholder Danny Swan. Watch out for junior Alan Durham.
Returning State Finalists:
Bryce Brill, Sr., Mount Carmel: Northwestern recruit is considered among nation’s elite. Looks for his third state championship.
Kris Williams, Jr., Thornton: Two-time state champion has quickness and power in spades.
Rudy Yates, Soph., Brother Rice: Reigning 106-pound Class 3A champ has yet to lose a high school match.
Danny Swan, Soph., Oak Forest: Tenacious 106-pound champ pulled off a stunner in beating Rich Central’s Nkosi Moody for the Class 2A state title.
Mark Duda, Sr., Marist: Stellar athlete was the 113-pound state runner-up in 2012 and 2013, falling to Williams last year.