Most Exciting Wrestler Award
(originated in 1984)
During the late 70’s and early 80’s, Libertyville wrestlers wrestled a very slow pace and didn’t have great technique. Few wrestlers competed in Spring Wrestling, and just as few qualified for the Winter State Tournament. Going against more experienced wrestlers who outhustled us, we were no match. In 1984, Fred Long changed some of this. Fred was a senior and was in his first year of Varsity in 1984. He hadn’t been overpowering on the JV level but he did show a lot of guts. By his senior year, Fred had improved physically that he could start doing things offensively he had never been able to do, like hip tosses, carries, and whizzer kick counters. On top, he could crank some arm bars and turn guys. As he got some confidence, he got out on the mat and got to work right away. Points were flying and Fred was winning. And winning big! He probably set a record for the number of wins where both wrestlers were in double figures! An injury late in the season cost him a month of competition including the Conference Tournament. He got the okay for the Regionals. He came through a loaded 132 pound weight class and buried two seeded guys to reach the finals and qualify for Sectionals. His key win was a semifinal pin near the end of a 13-10 match against the second seed. His fast pace and exciting matches were very obvious to everyone who watched our team, including the younger wrestlers. We decided to make an award to the wrestler who is the biggest crowd-pleaser, to encourage other wrestlers to hustle on the mat and show good technique, and to bury guys. Not only is it pleasing to the crowds, it is a must in order to beat the top notch opponent, that kind of guy is trying to do the same thing to us.
2018 Most Exciting Wrestler - Danny Pucino
Sophomore Danny Pucino earned his second Most Exciting Award as he scored numerous points in taking 3rd place in the state at 132. His final record was 45-3. He had a team runnerup 19 pins along with 4 tech falls. He could score from everywhere, shots, throws, counters, tilts. He won the Out in :10 contest with 33, the next closest being 13. He won the First Takedown Contest with 39, the next closest being 27.
2017 Most Exciting Wrestler Award - Danny Pucino
2017 Freshmen Danny Pucino came into his first high school season gunning. He started his matches well, but finished them with an incredible pace. He won the team’s Pin/Extra Point Win Award with 9 pins, 9 tech falls, and 12 majors. He could shoot or throw. He finished the season with a 39-6 record winning the Glenbrook South Invite, the Lake County Invite, the Regionals, and the Sectionals. He went 2-2 in the State Tournament with two pins, missing All-State honors by one match.
2016 Most Exciting Wrestler Award - Alex Mitchell
Junior Alex Mitchell came into the season as our most experienced returning wrestling. He had won the 2015 Conference Tournament and qualified for Sectionals. He qualified for the Fargo National Freestyle Tournament and went 3-2. By the time the season began he was in shape and attacking from start to finish, including coming out on top in numerous 50-50 scrambles. He finished 36-5 winning 4 of our 5 tournament championships on the season, including the Sectional title. He went 2-2 in the State Tournament finishing one match from an All-State finish.
2015 Most Exciting Wrestler Award - Joey Gunther
Senior Joey Gunther earned his second All-State finish in taking 2nd in the state at 160 (after taking 6th in the state in 2014. He came out this season with a much faster pace and buried just about everyone. He did have a couple of close matches during the season including an 11-10 overtime decision over a Conant All-Stater where he came back from a 4 point deficit to send it overtime. He lost 3 times the previous year to a Marmion wrestler, including a consolation semifinal loss in the State Tournament. The two met again in the semifinals of the Harlem Invite with Joey scoring a late takedown to win 3-2. The two met again in the State Semifinals where Joey rode Carello out in the ultimate tiebreaker to advance to the finals.
2014 Most Exciting Wrestler - Steve Polakowski
Senior Steve Polakowski won his second straight “Most Exciting” award. He spent most of the season at 126 but came down to 120 for the State Series. And he picked up the pace even more this season as he went on to a 44-2 record, a Hoffman Estates title where he was named the tournament’s “Outstanding Wrestler”, a Dvorak Champion, Conference, Regional, Sectional Champion to earn his third trip to State, and a runner-up in the State. He won the Pin/Extra Point Win Chart by 10 points despite not being the pin leader. He scored numerous takedowns including 9 in the first period of the first match of the season. He had 8 takedowns in the Regional finals as he majored his Grant opponent.
2013 Most Exciting Wrestler Award - Steve Polakowski
Junior Steve Polakowski was our 120 starter, his second year as a starter finishing with his second trip to the State Tournament. He has done a lot of wrestling in the past couple of off-season, wrestling an all-time high of 152 matches the previous off-season. He has developed quite an arsenal of offense, including an elbow pass off the Russian, an inside step single, and a reverse headlock that finished off a lot of his 14 pins. He is out to score every match. He can ride when he has to but he is getting several takedowns before he thinks about riding. He won the Conference, Regional, and Sectional Tournaments in finishing the season with a 40-5 record.
2012 Most Exciting Wrestler - Austin Pettinato
Junior Austin Pettinato was our 145 starter, his second year as a starter. His exciting style was defined by a pace that few high school wrestlers can go, picking up an even faster pace during crunch time in his matches. He ran circles around several of his opponents topped off by a wide array of offense, sweep singles, inside step singles, inside trips, carries, and headlocks when his opponents decided to go upstairs. He finished with a 32-10 record with Conference and Regional Championships.
2011 Most Exciting Wrestler - Luke Gaeth
Senior Luke Gaeth was our 130 starter, his second year as a starter. He won the award based on his intense competitive attitude and great conditioning. He developed a good inside step single leg and was a wicked leg rider. He finished 77-33 on his career. He was the team leader in pins with 16, winning the Pin/Extra Point Win Chart by 15 points. He finished with a 36-12 record and placed 2nd in the Sectionals to qualify for the State Tournament.
2010 Most Exciting Wrestler - Matt Bystol
Senior Matt won his third straight “Most Exciting” Wrestler. He went 130 for most of the duals, 125 for the major tournaments. He against finished with 68 Pin/Extra Point Win points with 17 pins to win that award for his third time. He finished with a 43-5 record and took 5th in the State, his second All-State finish. He used the same offense he did his junior year with an increased pace, and against tougher guys as he went up in weight from the previous year. Earning All Off-Season Commitment Team Outstanding Wrestler all 3 years of his high school off-seasons gave him a lot of offense and a way out of any attack his opponents put on him.
2009 Most Exciting Wrestler - Matt Bystol
Junior Matt Bystol won his second “Most Exciting” Wrestler award in a row. He went 119 most of the season which cut down on his pin total. He went down to 112 for the State Series. He finished with 68 Pin/Extra Point Win points with 17 pins to win this award for his second time. He finished with a 45-6 record and took 3rd in the State. He did it by getting right after the guy, getting a Russian tie, and doing many options off this including an inside trip and a headlock you knew would be coming eventually. He beat some top guys that were constantly on his legs. But with some excellent defense, Matt was able to hold off numerous attacks for the big wins.
2008 Most Exciting Wrestler - Matt Bystol
Sophomore Matt Bystol was in his first season as a varsity starter at 103. He quickly became a stalwart in our lineup. He was named one of our Outstanding Off-Season wrestlers after a very active off-season where he won the Cadet State Freestyle and Greco-Roman titles. This experience opened up avenues for numerous scoring techniques; shots, defense, and upperbody tosses. He went 43-7. He won the Conference and Regional titles. He took 3rd in the Sectionals to qualify for the State Tournament where he won his first match. He took 2nd in the Barrington, Dvorak, and Lake Park Tournaments. He won the Pin/Extra Point Win title with 74 points including 19 pins.
2007 Most Exciting Wrestler - Trey Ayala
Junior Trey Ayala was entering his 3rd season as a varsity starter. He was our biggest winner returning from the 2006 season. He was the Outstanding Wrestler the past off-season. He is explosive and quick. He could shoot, lift, and throw. He opened many matches with a crisp throwby takedown. He had the team’s #1 match of the season in the finals of Sectionals when he blew up a Dundee-Crown State Qualifier who had beaten him twice during the season. The final score was 9-3 and included two throws, both taking the D-C opponent to his back.
2006 Most Exciting Wrestler - Jon Henslee
Senior Jon Henslee hustled, hand fought, shot, rolled out, and tilted his way into numerous points and one of the top 130 pounders in the State. The pressure was on right from the opening whistle and never let up. Points came for him quickly. Yet he was very difficult to score on because of his scrambling ability. No matter how bleak things looked, Jon was never out of a match because you knew another scoring barrage was just around the corner. Jon won the Stagg, Lake Park, Conference, Regional, and Sectional Tournaments and finished in the final 12 at State. He was 40-4 on the season, 68-19 on his career.
2005 Most Exciting Wrestler - Dave Paramski
2005 Senior Dave Paramski won his second straight Most Exciting Wrestler award. He again showed the great scrambling ability. He turned numerous guys, mostly by being the first Libertyville wrestling to patent the “Mousetrap”. But what was special about this season is the number of comeback wins he had against outstanding opponents, no more so than his Sectional Final pin against a returning All-Stater from Wheeling. Dave got down 5-0, got a 3rd period takedown to tie the match, then mousetrapped him over for a pin shortly thereafter. He went on to place 4th in State and finished with a 45-3 record, 80-22 for his career. He wrestled for Cornell College (IA) and qualified for the Division III Nationals.
2004 Most Exciting Wrestler - Dave Paramski
Although not one to give up as many points as several other Most Exciting Wrestler award winners, junior Dave Paramski got into numerous exciting scrambles and usually came out on top. He had a great lifting ability. He took no time to get a shot off each match. He could ride tough and had several “crab halfs” that pulled out some tight matches. One of these crab half sessions was in a match against Buffalo Grove where he was losing 5-0 with less than :30 to go. He hit two crab halfs, the first for a 3 pointer, the second for a pin with :05 left. He finished the season with a 32-10 record (after being 3-4 at one point). He won the Conference and placed 2nd in the Regionals.
2003 Most Exciting Wrestler - Evan Easterhouse
This award was started in 1984 after we watched Fred Long, a lanky and fearless go-getter. 20 years after we started this award, we saw the second coming of Long. Junior Evan Easterhouse was a shooter, could go upper body, and had all the crazy counters including a reliable spladle. He had several matches where both opponents scored in double figures. He finished 4th on the teams in pins despite being much lower in terms of record winning percentage. Evan had the top match of the season when he pulled out a 3rd period 5 point stepover counter to defeat Mundelein’s top wrestler 10-9. He took 3rd in the Conference and Regionals to qualify for Sectionals.
2002 Most Exciting Wrestler - Anthony Panico
The 2002 season was the most successful Libertyville Wrestling season ever for several reasons in addition to the winning. One of those ways was in terms of aggressiveness. We’ve never had a team “get after it” the way this team did. And no wrestler epitomized our aggressiveness as much as senior Anthony Panico. From the opening whistle, Anthony did nothing but attack. His style wasn’t complicated; Tap and Go! He would hit his shots relentlessly. They weren’t always set up. But he recovered quickly and got his guys up in “subs”. He was relentless on the bottom, fighting to his feet and scraping until he got away. On top, he developed a ball and chain leg half that pinned numerous opponents including both his opponents in winning his Regional championship. Despite taking several early season losses, and finishing the season with total of 15, he finished in the top 8 in the State at 135, one match shy of earning All-State honors. In most of his losses, at least once, he sent the more experienced opponent flying on one of his single legs in the air with backheel finishes. He was rarely shut out. The energy he expended was not only thrilling to watch, but motivated his teammates to pick up their pace and be more “exciting”.
2001 Most Exciting Wrestler - Dave Tajak
3 off-seasons in a row of steady lifting turned senior Dave Tajak into a strong and definitely quick wrestler. He had all the elements of an exciting wrestler; He could shoot from out, he could do some slick high crothes from underhooks, he had some very nice counters, and he could lift. Throughout the year, he gave some very good wrestlers tough bouts. His breakthrough match occurred in the Individual Sectional final where he knocked off a Grant wrestler who had taken 3rd in the State the year before. The win advanced Dave on to the State Tournament.
2000 Most Exciting Wrestler - Jeff Crahan
In terms of narrow escapes from hair-raising near takedowns, there have been few like senior Jeff Crahan. Unfortunately, many of those predicaments were the result of a distaste for a good stance and a fight for positioning. Nonetheless, it was exciting to watch and a source of frustration for opponents. Jeff could also score points in bunches on top, particularly with his arm bar stack. On the bottom he was just as tough with some incredibly creative escapes and reversals. Jeff wound up 26-11 and placed 4th in Sectionals, one spot from the State Tournament.
1999 Most Exciting Wrestler - Arnold Thorstad
Junior Arnold Thorstad completed a transformation from a cautious thinker as a sophomore who finished as an 18-16 wrestler, to a gunner as a junior who won the Conference, Regionals, and Sectionals. He came out each match on the attack. He kept it up throughout the match, tense times or blowouts. He took plenty of guys to their back, both from the top position with leg riding and drive rides and from the feet with far leg carries. If he was remotely close to a major or technical fall, he was going for it and the outstanding technique and pace would fly.
1998 Most Exciting Wrestler - Dan Cysewski
Senior Dan Cysewski was our second repeat winner of this award. He had the same kind of season as the year before. He took an undefeated record to the State Tournament and finished 4th in the State, 42-2, at 140. He was even faster, more intense, and more exciting than his junior year. This season, he was burying top notch guys with his pace, including a near miss All-Stater from Maine West who was happy with not losing by a technical fall. Dan had wins over the wrestlers that eventually finished 1st and 2nd at his weight. For the second straight year, he was named the tournaments’ “Outstanding Wrestler” in each of the 3 invitationals we competed in. He wrestled for a year at Indiana University before serving in Iraq with the Marines.
1997 Most Exciting Wrestler - Dan Cysewski
By now, a wrestler isn’t going to win unless he comes out hustling right away and proceeds to bury guys. Junior Dan Cysewski certainly did that. He had the Libertyville Wrestling package; carries, far leg singles, and crossgrains. The new move he brought to our program is the constant snapping guys to their knees, covering their head in a front headlock and running it for a float or inside cradle. He was also real tough on top, especially with the Mills half as well some steady arm bars. Like all the other “Most Exciting Wrestler” winners, he doesn’t stay down on the bottom long. Dan went on to go 38-1 and placing 3rd in the State as a junior at 140.
1996 Most Exciting Wrestler - Ryan Pearson
Senior Ryan Pearson had been a varsity starter late in his freshman year and all of his sophomore year. But he decided not to wrestle his junior year. He had a change of heart his senior year and every time he got on the mat he seemed to relish getting another opportunity. He was another non-stop wrestler. He had great movement on his feet, constantly looking for carries and singles. He pretty much developed the “rapid shot” concept on the feet as a way of opening things up and getting stall calls on opponents. He didn’t turn many guys but hustled-rode guys that made for some exciting action. He lost in the Sectionals at 119 to two wrestlers that eventually earned All-State honors.
1995 Most Exciting Wrestler - Tony Carlson
More of the same – senior Tony Carlsen won again. This year he was tougher, quicker, stronger, and more exciting. He missed placing in State by a match. His most exciting matches included a 10-8 Stagg Tournament Semifinal win over the wrestler who had won the tournament’s OW award the year before. He also set a State Tournament for the quickest Technical Fall at 130 pounds. He scored his Technical Fall in 2:10 in the preliminary round of State. Tony wrestled two years for the College of Lake County and qualified for the Junior College Nationals.
1994 Most Exciting Wrestler - Tony Carlsen
Junior Tony Carlsen was a junior 130 in 1994. He finished 2nd in the Most Exciting Wrestler award voting as a sophomore, and even received votes as a freshman. Tony was non-stop, the ultimate crowd pleaser. Tony’s plan was to hit firemans and single, one after another. If he didn’t get something, he would hit the “Tony twist”, a move designed to get someone out on a missed shot. But because he hit it so hard, he would catch guys off guard and scramble into points. He was almost unrideable on the bottom. And he would crank arm bars mercilessly on top. He finished 4th in the Sectionals for the second straight year at the end of this season.
1993 Most Exciting Wrestler - Bob Paulson
Junior Bob Paulson was in his junior year and like LaBarbera, he didn’t start wrestling until his freshmen year. Although he had some explosiveness, he was very tall and not that fluid on his feet. What made him exciting was how he would lock up tight with guys, or just dive for legs and come up, then force his opponents to do things his way. With excellent balance he always seemed to come up on top in scrambles. On top, he could turn guys; with tilts, cradles, and scramble stepovers. He eventually won his first match in the State Tournament at 145. He played baseball for the University of Illinois-Chicago.
1992 Most Exciting Wrestler - Dan LaBarbera
Senior Dan LaBarbera was one of just 5 seniors on this team. His first year of wrestling was his Freshman year. But two seasons of Freestyle got him real comfortable on his feet. His shots were decent, particularly a crossgrain. But what made him so impressive was his scrambling ability, he could flurry with the best of them. On top, he didn’t turn much. But he would get about 3 or 4 lifts a period if he was going to ride a guy out. He finished up as a State Qualifier at 145.
1991 Most Exciting Wrestler - Brett Fahrner
Lester’s classmate Brett Fahrner was real slick. And he wrestled a real fast pace, shooting at guys over and over until he got something. He had quite an arsenal on his feet he got from a lot of Freestyle and Greco-Roman experience; carries, crossgrains, far leg singles - even a headlock or arm spin if it was there. He won his first match in State at 140.
1990 Most Exciting Wrestler - Mike Lester
Junior Mike Lester had had a great sophomore season (33-6, 4th in the Sectionals). He picked up where he left off his junior season. He wasn’t overly slick, he basically had one shot. But he went right after guys and forced them to do things his way. And he was rough! He got a lot of easy takedowns because of his pace. He placed 4th in State losing two very close matches.
1989 Most Exciting Wrestler - Dennis Berktold
Senior Dennis Berktold was in his first season of varsity, his 4th of wrestling. He was never very good on his feet. But he had a great cradle (actually anything from the crossface position including a butcher) and he always showed a lot of guts. It wasn’t a for sure that he would be a starter when the season opened up. But when he and his teammate challenger for the 135 pound position got to competition against other teams, it was obvious Dennis could compete with the top notch guys because of his tenacity. He had a strong season going, placing in each of the Invitationals. But just after Christmas, Dennis broke his hand in a practice and was out through the Regionals. We got him back for the Team Sectionals. With very little mat time in, Dennis wrestled 3 matches (2 in the Team Sectionals, 1 in the Team State). Dennis got two pins and a tie (back then, tie matches stayed as ties scoring 2 points for each team). His pin came in the Team State where he was down 6-2 with time running out on him in the 3rd period. He hooked up an inside cradle and eventually got the pin. In his tie, Dennis was down 10-2 entering the 3rd period when he chose top. He got his crossface on the guy and turned him twice for 3 points making it 10-8. He hooked up a cradle with time running out and got a 3 count when time ran out to tie it up.
1988 Most Exciting Wrestler - Brian Paramski
Senior Brian Paramski had been a State Qualifier the year before, his junior year. After being a Baseball player for his first two years of high school, he put in his first year of Freestyle/Greco the off-season after his junior season. It made a big difference. He was throwing guys all over the place his senior year. He could shoot well, and did when he had too. But fans were looking for a spectacular throw every time out. They usually got one, his best being an inside trip from an over and under position. He would up taking 4th in the State. His key match was a 24-13 State Quarterfinal win where he scored 11 takedowns over a mat wrestler with a sneaky granby from DeKalb, a granby that never got a chance to be shown in this match. He wrestled one year for Illinois State University.
1987 Most Exciting Wrestler - Kevin Finch
Junior Kevin Finch was a junior 138 pounder this season. He was one of the slickest takedown wrestlers we have ever had. He had some junior high experience at Hawthorn. And he put in a lot of Freestyle time the previous spring. He didn’t just take guys down; he made them look silly with his ducks and high crotches. He was a good rider who could turn guys equally well with two on one hip tips as well as Mills halfs. He turned that move into a team high in pins.
1986 Most Exciting Wrestler - Jim Siefken
Another member of the 1984 sophomore class that turned around our program was Senior Jim Siefken. Jim was a 132 pounder. He didn’t have any wrestling experience coming into his freshman season. But by the time he got 2 spring seasons of Freestyle and Greco-Roman experience behind him, he was non-stop on his feet. He could hit fireman’s carries and near arm-far legs non stop. If he settled for a single leg, he could finish that too. He had a high percentage of Technical Falls (back then, TF’s were worth 6 points like a pin) for the number of wins he had. He was one of the first Libertyville wrestlers to let opponents escape for the purpose of building up leads with more takedowns. He wrestled two years for Northern State University in South Dakota.
1985 Most Exciting Wrestler - Wade Winters
The 1984 team was a senior dominated team that had some success (2nd in the Conference, 2nd in the Regionals). But after they graduated, there wasn’t much experience returning. With just one senior starter, this team took their lumps. But a couple of junior wrestlers were getting real interested in wrestling, in proper technique, and in hustling. One of them was Junior Wade Winters, a 105 pounder. He believed in getting after guys. His takedowns were basic. But he was intense in all positions on the mat. He could ride like a animal, especially in sticking in Mills halfs, driving and whipping his opponents until they turned. Perhaps his award was wrapped up in the 1st round of the Sectionals where he buried a Wheeling opponent, 12-2, that had beaten him early in the season.