Mental Toughness Award

2023 Mental Toughness Award:  

Cole Matulenko

   Cole not only earned the Mental Toughness Award in winning his state championship, he was one of our hardest practice wrestlers, our best weight lifter.  He never had a problem getting his practices started.  He dealt with some injuries that he fought through.  He began all of his matches aggressive, he never took matches off as his 30 pins out of 44 wins showed.





2022 Mental Toughness Award:

Matt Kubas

   Matt was our 152 pounder.  He won the Regionals to qualify for Sectionals.  At Sectionals he went 3-1 to qualify for the State Tournament.  But in winning his "blood round" match he badly damaged his knee that would keep him from competing in the state.  Nonetheless, an hour and a half after his Sectional "blood round" match he wrestled for third place and won 8-2, despite having a hard time walking.  


2021 Mental Toughness Award:

Josh Knudten

Josh finished his junior year with a 28-5 record with 14 pins at 170.  He was named to his second All-Conference team.  He won his second Regional title.  He earned his second trip to state.  Josh enters his senior year with a 61-21 record.  Josh has a non-stop style, putting pressure on his opponents right from the start, staying tough, and finishing tough, in a pace opponents don't want to go with.


2020 Mental Toughness Award:

Chase Baczek

   Chase finished his junior season with a 37-10 record.  He won the Regional title, finished 2nd at the Lake County Invite and Prospect Invite, 3rd at the Barrington Invite, 4th at the Harlem Invite.  He missed going downstate by one match, a 2-1 loss to the Zion-Benton wrestler that finished 3rd in state.  Chase had beaten the ZB wrestler three times during the season along with getting two wins over a Lake Forest state qualifier.  He was 2-0 in overtime matches.


2019 Mental Toughness Award:

Michael Gunther

Michael finished 3rd in the state.  He defeated a Batavia opponent in the quarterfinals and again in the 3rd place match, both matches going down to the wire.  He also beat a Marist wrestler that finished third in the previous year’s state.  He is a three time state qualifier, finishing his career with a 115-26 record.  He is currently wrestling for the University of Illinois.


Charlie Schmidt Mental Toughness Award

2018 Mental Toughness Award:
Charlie Schmidt

Senior Charlie Schmidt could always be counted on for a good practice and a solid match. He finished the season with a 35-6 record at 285, winning the County and Regional tournaments. He finished 3rd in the Sectionals to qualify for the state tournament. Of his 6 losses 4 were to the eventual and defending State Champion who pinned and teched his way through the season. Charlie would always set to battle the guy every time he was to meet him. He had 21 pins on the season, smelling blood every time he had a chance to finish guys off. An All-State football player, Charlie will be playing football for the Northwestern University football team next season.


2017 Mental Toughness Award Danny Pucino

2017 Mental Toughness Award:
Danny Pucino

Freshman Danny Pucino finished his first high school season at 39-6 winning 4 tournament titles, including the Regionals and Sectionals, and missing All-State honors by one match.  In addition to winning tough matches in pressure situations, he had some great comebacks, always putting on the heat in the 3rd period.  Many of his 9 tech falls came late in the match when he scored in bunches.




2016 Mental Toughness Award Jack Damenti

2016 Mental Toughness Award:
Jack Damenti

Junior Jack Damenti was our 152, a weight that seemed to be the toughest one week after week. No matter who Jack met, he went out to battle them and score. He finished 32-14 and placed 2nd in the Regionals to the eventual 4th place State finisher.  In the Sectional it appeared he had an impossible bracket.  After winning his first round match 3-1 with a takedown in the last :05, he met a Regional Champion from Grant. An incredible last second reversal earned Jack a trip to the semifinals. He lost twice to be denied a state tournament finish but an ultimate tiebreaker loss showed how close he was. He also beat a Zion-Benton opponent 4 times, an opponent that had beaten Jack 3 times the previous year.


2015 Mental Toughness Award Joey Gunther

2015 Mental Toughness Award:
Joey Gunther

Senior Joey Gunther won his first Mental Toughness Award in addition to 3 other awards including the Most Valuable Wrestler Award.  He was a very intense practice wrestler. He put the pressure on his opponents in matches right from the start.  He finished 2nd in the State going untouched until the State Semifinal where he won a 3-2 ultimate tiebreaker match by riding out his Marmion opponent. He finished the season with a 36-2 record.





2014 Mental Toughness Award Steve Polakowski

2014 Mental Toughness Award:
Steve Polakowski

Senior Steve Polakowski won his first Mental Toughness Award in addition to his Most Exciting Wrestler Award. He won some big matches en route to his state runnerup finish including two overtime wins in winning the Harlem Tournament title, one against a two-time State runnerup in the semifinals, the other against the eventual 113 pound State Champ. In addition to his Harlem semifinal win, he beat the same Marist opponent in the state semifinals with a late takedown to win 5-3. He lost his state finals match in overtime to the defending two-time state champion. He finished 44-2.


2013 Mental Toughness Award Austin Pettinato

2013 Mental Toughness Award:
Austin Pettinato

Senior Austin Pettinato repeated as the Mental Toughness Award winner as he was our 145 pounder in his 3rd year as a varsity starter.  Chances are he won the honor based on a couple of Friday night home wins. The first was an overtime pin over the Mundelein wrestler that took 2nd in the Sectionals at 152. The other was an overtime win over the Lake Zurich wrestler that won the Sectionals at 152, coming back from a 6-2 first period deficit. He also beat the Lyons wrestler that eventually placed 6th at 152. He took 2nd in the Conference and the Regional, both to eventual All-Staters, then placed 4th in the Sectionals to qualify for State.


2012 Mental Toughness Award Austin Pettinato

2012 Mental Toughness Award:
Austin Pettinato

Junior Austin Pettinato went 32-10 on the season as our 145 pounder. He won the Conference and Regional titles. He wrestled at a very fast pace that got faster at crunch time. He had the ability to bring an intensity that allows him to push past guys late in close matches. But where he wrapped up his award was in the Regional finals.  We are in a close race with Grant for the title. Austin is in the finals against a McHenry guy. We think he has a good chance to win. But he loses the first takedown. He hits a standup and gets tripped severely spraining his ankle. After using all of his injury time, he gets back in the match. Clearly favoring his ankle, he eventually wins the match in overtime.


2011 Mental Toughness Award Luke Miller

2011 Mental Toughness Award:
Luke Miller

Senior Luke Miller capped off a great season with a 5th place finish in the STate tournament. Throughout the state series, he showed incredible cool.  He won the Regional title and took second in the Sectionals. In the state tournament, he needed to win 3 matches to wrap up All-State status.  His first two wins were one pointers. His third win was better than all the others as he won 5-2.  He won again for 5th place, 8-3.




2010 Mental Toughness Award Josh Ronne

2010 Mental Toughness Award:
Josh Ronne

Senior Josh Ronne had a great career and capped it off with a fantastic, mentally tough 4th place finish in the State Tournament. He couldn’t keep up with the very talented guys on his feet. So he figured out a way to slow those guys down and take the match to the mat where he was an excellent leg rider. Coming out of a very tough weight in the Sectionals, his final 3 matches to take 3rd were 1-0, 2-0, and 4-0 wins. His key win the the State to lock up an All-State finish was a 1-0 win in the consolation quarterfinals. His final career record was 106-37 with 23 pins, 13 coming as a senior.


2009 Mental Toughness Award Ryan Mertz

2009 Mental Toughness Award:
Ryan Mertz

Junior Ryan Mertz had done well in the underlevel but this was his first shot on the vasity mat. Despite weighing just 173, we needed him at 189.  Giving up the weight didn’t bother him as he  went 33-17, placing 2nd in the Conference, winning the Regional title, placing 4th at Barrington, and reaching the semifinals of the Sectionals. He got 9 pins including a Conference Tournament Semifinal pin over a Zion-Benton wrestler that had beaten him in the dual.  He won his Regional title coming back from a 6-1 deficit in the last minute over a Warren wrestler that no one from Libertyville had ever beaten.



2008 Mental Toughness Award Logan Miller

2008 Mental Toughness Award:
Logan Miller

Senior Logan Miller was a two time Sectional Qualifier at 171, finishing 4th in the Sectionals his senior year. He was applied constant pressure on his opponents, always getting the Russian and firing off elbow passes into singles. He finished 35-15, placing 2nd in the Conference and Regionals, going 73-47 on his career, quite a career for an athlete that didn’t give wrestling a thought until the last week of freshmen football practice.




2007 Mental Toughness Award Justin Martin

2007 Mental Toughness Award:
Justin Martin

Senior Justin Martin added a Mental Toughness Award to go along with his Team Commitment Award. As mentioned in the Team Commitment section, Justin was the hardest worker on the team over the course of the season. He got to work right away and pushed hard the entire practice which set a great example for the younger wrestlers. To no one’s surprise, his match conditioning reflected the hard work he put in during practice as he blasted back from behind late to win several matches. He had some nagging injuries throughout the season. After dinging one of his injuries during practices, Justin would sit out maybe 3 seconds before getting back to work where many other wrestlers would take the rest of practice off.


2006 Mental Toughness Award Jon Henslee

2006 Mental Toughness Award:
Jon Henslee

Jon Henslee won his second straight Mental Toughness Award in his senior year. Nothing much was different from the year ago except he was probably more mentally tough. He was always the first guy to get going at the start of practice. He usually stayed later for more goes after practice. In matches, he ground down numerous top notch opponents with his relentless attack. On several occasions he went up from his usual 130/135 spot to take on an opponents’ 140 pound veteran and came away with wins, including a major win at 140 in the Team Sectional Semifinals against a State Qualifier in a match that meant the difference in our team’s win over Wheeling. He had injuries like every one else. But he didn’t let it get in the way of his practice time or meet intensity. He competed in college at North Iowa Community College where he qualified for the Junior College Nationals. He went on to Grandview College where he earned NAIA All-American honors placing 4th at 141.


2005 Mental Toughness Award Jon Henslee

2005 Mental Toughness Award:
Jon Henslee

Junior Jon Henslee was one of those wind-em-up-and-go, no excuses type guys. From the start of the match to the end, he was attacking. He gave up more points than he probably cared to. But when the going got tough, he was completely on top of his opponent with pressure. He mostly likely wrapped up his Mental Toughness Award in the Dual Team Sectional Finals against Grant. He had hurt his knee during the week of the Individual Sectionals that completely shut down what he could do. He tried to wrestle anyway and almost won, going down 11-10. But 11 days later, we needed him to perform in the key match against Grant desite the fact that he still wasn’t walking well. He responded with a 4-2 win up a weight against a Sectional Qualifier that allowed us to knock off Grant and reach the State’s “Elite Eight”. Jon finished 28-15, winning Lake Park, taking 2nd at Stagg, placing 4th in the Conference, 2nd at Regionals.


2004 Mental Toughness Award Bobby Callen

2004 Mental Toughness Award:
Bobby Callen

Senior Bobby Callen came out for wrestling for the first time as a freshman, getting interested in wrestling only after getting cut from the freshmen basketball team. He had some success as a freshmen. In that off-season Bobby got totally committed to wrestling, wrestling in over 60 matches. He was a varsity starter the rest of his career finishing 30-7 as a sophomore, 30-9 as a sophomore, and 42-4 as a senior (102-20 on his career).  He was a 3 time Conference and Regional Champion. He qualified for the State Tournament twice, finishing 3rd in the State his senior year. He perhaps wrapped up his Mental Toughness Award by his State Tournament performance. Although he lost 3 matches during the regular season, he dominated everyone but one guy in his State Tournament Series including a 15-0 Technical Fall in the 3rd place match. His only loss was in the Semifinals to Gomez (Glenbard North), a two-time State Champion, 4 time All-Stater, and the 2nd best wrestler in the Illinois 2004 senior class (behind Poeta of Highland Park, the 152 pound State Champion).  And Bobby woke up the Assembly Hall in the match by taking Gomez down solidly twice in the first period. The match was close until Gomez pulled away with a late takedown and back points in the 3rd period.


2003 Mental Toughness Award Matt Ivantic

2003 Mental Toughness Award:
Matt Ivantic

Senior Matt Ivantic would eventually earn his 4th varsity letter this season. But this was the first season he got a full time varsity starting spot. And he had to give up some weight to get it as he went 130. He actually dropped down to 119 one week we needed him there. He went 4-0. This was quite a pull but he did it to perfection and gassed out each of his opponents, each an eventual Sectional Qualifier, in getting his wins. He was a tireless worker in practice, always positive despite having to go against some real tough wrestlers around his weight. He battled injuries throughout the year but would do anything to stay in the lineup. He eventually finished 17-11 and placed 2nd in the Regionals to qualify for Sectionals.


2002 Mental Toughness Award Mike Lopez

2002 Mental Toughness Award:
Mike Lopez

Mike Lopez earned the Mental Toughness award for the second straight year. He always came to practice  ready to work. He was willing to take on anyone, even going up two weight classes to meet an eventual State Qualifier once. This was the first year Mike didn’t cut a huge amount of weight. But after doing it the 3 previous years, his teammates knew he would do it with no complaints if that is what the team needed. Mike had his 4th straight varsity winning season. He finished the season with a 37-9 record, winning the Conference, Regional, Sectional, and finishing one match from placing in the State Tournament.  He owned two wins over a Stevenson wrestler who eventually placed 6th in State. For his career Mike was a 4 time Regional Champion and Sectional Qualifier, a three time State Qualifier, a 4 time All-Conference wrestler winning 3 Conference titles with one 2nd place, a 4 time Lyons Tournament Champion, a 2 time Stagg Tournament Champion, and an owner of a 120-31 career varsity record.  Mike wrestled four years for Luther College, earning two Division III All-American honors, winning the National title in 2006.


2001 Mental Toughness Award Mike Lopez

2001 Mental Toughness Award:
Mike Lopez

Junior Mike Lopez was a near miss for this award his freshman and sophomore years. In addition to being one of our most successful wrestlers after qualifying for the State Tournament that past two years, each of his 3 years he pulled more weight than anyone. He did this each season to turn a weight class where we were very thin to making it one of our best. Each year, he would have done fine up a weight but it would have kept a tough wrestler out of a spot. Throw in the fact that Mike advanced to the finals of Sectionals with one point wins over tough opponents, one a returning State Qualifier, and the fact that Mike advanced to the quarterfinals of the State at 119, finishing 33-7, and Mike wrapped up this award.

2000 Mental Toughness Award John Peplinski

2000 Mental Toughness Award:
John Peplinski

Few wrestlers have ever practiced as hard day in and day out as senior John Peplinski. He never missed a practice (or a meet). It didn’t matter whether the practice was in the morning or the afternoon, hard day or easy day, John was at his maximum effort. He was our starting 171 pounder but he went up to 189 when we needed him. He had some weight to pull to get to 171. But he did it without complaint and you could hardly tell he was losing any weight. He had been 1999 “Mental Toughness” Award winner Peter Stevens’s workout partner the year before. John brought the same kind of intensity to the practice room that Peter did. He finished 26-16 and qualified for Sectionals in his first year as a full time varsity starter.


1999 Mental Toughness Award Peter Stevens

1999 Mental Toughness Award:
Peter Stevens

One of the criteria for this award .  .  .  is the wrestler ready to start a workout no matter the time of day or how he feels. Peter Stevens was always ready for a workout and never lost intensity during it. Also the winner of the Team Commitment Award, Peter cut a large amount of weight but you could hardly tell, he never mentioned it or used it as an excuse to let up in practice. In matches, he put on a good pace and then picked it up at the end.  If he lost, no matter what the score was early, you knew it would be close late because was going to stay after you. As one teammate remarked; “Once you start wrestling the guy, he becomes a robot.” Peter finished 33-9, winning the Stagg and Conference Tournaments (both for the second straight year), being our only placewinner in the Dvorak Tournament, and losing out in the toughest weight of the Sectionals to a returning State Qualifier who then lost in the semifinals.


1998 Mental Toughness Award Jeff Horvat

1998 Mental Toughness Award:
Jeff Horvat

Jeff Horvat was in his first year of Varsity. He never wrestled before his freshmen year and only got 6 matches that year. But by his sophomore year, he realized that if you hustle on the mats, are mentally and physically tough, you can give anyone a match. He had a good record on JV both his sophomore and junior years while winning 3 varsity matches as a junior. As a senior, coming off an All-Conference Football season as a linebacker, Jeff was going to start somewhere. 145 was his best weight. But early in the season, we needed him to cut to 140 for a meet. He did that, then settled in a 145 for a couple of weeks. But then it appeared we needed Jeff at 152. He willingly went up to 152 and battled everyone he met there despite being undersized. He eventually finished 21-14 and placed 4th in the Conference and Regional. Jeff never took breaks in matches or practices, he battled everyone. Anyone who wrestled him knew they would be in for a battle.  He was in shape, he was strong, and he never quit not matter what the situation on the mat. He had a great fireman’s carry. He would battle for inside position until he got what he needed to hit it. Jeff was an inspiration to our team members and that’s what this award is about.


1997 Mental Toughness Award Sam Valenti

1997 Mental Toughness Award:
Sam Valenti

Sam Valenti was a quick but lanky wrestler. He could shoot or drill guys with upperbody throws. Because of his aggressiveness, he would get it back as well from his opponents. It never bothered him and only made him that much more aggressive. He began the season at 135 but to fit everyone in the lineup, he got down to 130 the second week of the season and he kept it there the whole season. He eventually finished one match shy of reaching All-State honors. Then for the Team Sectionals, he cut down to 125, again to make our team tougher.


1996 Mental Toughness Award Dan Cysewski

1996 Mental Toughness Award
Dan Cysewski

Sophomore Dan Cysewski finished the year with a 36-5 record. He won the Conference, Regional, and Sectional titles, his second year to Sectionals, his first to State. He defeated an Antioch wrestler in the Conference and Sectional finals that had beaten him earlier in the season. He was at 125 for the second straight year which took a good pull for him to get there and keep it.




1995 Mental Toughness Award Brian Laughlin

1995 Mental Toughness Award:
Brian Laughlin

Brian Laughlin was a junior 189 pounder and in his first year of varsity. He did have a good season going and placed 2nd in the Sectionals to earn a spot in the State Tournament. That wasn’t a real surprise, if all went well we figured he might get that. But no one could have predicted what would happen at State. Brian won 3 straight battles on the first day to reach the semifinals and wrap up an All-State finish including a 6-3 win over the #3 ranked guy in the State. He eventually finished in 3rd after knocking off the #4 ranked guy in the State for 3rd place. Brian wrestled a very open and rough style that made upsets of nervous favored wrestlers possible.


1994 Mental Toughness Award Bob Paulson

1994 Mental Toughness Award:
Bob Paulson

Bob Paulson wrestled very rough. But because he was tall and thin, he took his share of licks too. That never stopped him, he could take whatever his opponents could throw at him and give it right back. Our Football team went to the semifinals of the State Playoffs that year and Bob was an offensive starter on that team. But our showdown with Antioch was on Thursday of the first Monday he got back to practice. With 3 days of practice, he beat an Antioch veteran. In the Conference Tournament, he handily defeated the defending Conference Champion from Warren in another rough match to win the 145 pound championship. He finished his career with 3 trips to the Sectionals, 2 Conference titles, and one trip to state.


1993 Mental Toughness Award Dave Camitta

1993 Mental Toughness Award:
Dave Camitta

Senior Dave Camitta had developed a habit early of Mental Toughness. He began wrestling in 8th grade and never got a starting match at Hawthorn. He had elbow surgery at the start of his freshman season and never got a match. His sophomore year he was around #5 on the sophomore depth chart at 130 and 135. But he got matches because he was always there. He made a goal of beating each of the 4 wrestlers ahead of him before the season ended. The other wrestlers, whose attitudes were questionable, laughed at him for saying this. Then, as the season unfolded, he beat each guy one by one. They weren’t pretty matches, Dave wasn’t as physically talented as those guys. But because he wouldn’t go away, and because he was always in shape, he eventually would get these guys. He got the Varsity 130 spot his junior year and got himself to Sectionals. His senior year, Dave was a starter at 135 the entire season. He battled everyone he met. He lost a 1 pointer in the Sectionals Semifinals and another close one for 3rd place that left him one spot shy of State, a long way from the #5 guy on the sophomore depth chart two years before that.


1992 Mental Toughness Award Neil Calanca

1992 Mental Toughness Award:
Neil Calanca

We began this award after the 1992 season based on what Senior Neil Calanca showed up during his career. He came out for wrestling for the first time his freshman year and willed himself to a winning record despite not having a huge amount of athletic skills. He lost his sophomore year due to a broken hand in the first week of competition. His junior year he filled in wherever we needed him, anywhere from 152 as far down as 130 for the conference where he placed third. Because he had gone in so many weight classes he was ineligible for the Regionals. He went 152 his senior year, finishing 31-10. He won the Conference title, took second in the Regionals. He took 4th in Sectionals, one spot shy of going downstate. He beat wrestlers much more skilled than he because of his grit and conditioning.