Wrestler saves his best finish for last

Ivanisevic falls to defending state champ, gymnast competes in first state appearance

After placing fifth at IHSA state meet his sophomore and junior years, Hinsdale Central senior Marko Ivanisevic ended his high school wrestling career one spot away from the top of the podium.

"I think he did great," coach Jason Hayes. "I think he did an awesome job, an amazing performance. The state tournament is a very tough tournament, and he wrestled a good tournament."

Ivanisevic had hoped to earn a state title.

"Obviously, it didn't end the way I wanted it to, but it was amazing," the heavyweight said.

After beating three other opponents, he lost to three-time state champion Dillon Johnson of Joliet Catholic in the finals of the 285-pound weight class.

"We had a game plan for him. I didn't really stick to it - couldn't really get it off and just did not end the way I wanted to," Ivanisevic said.

He said he tried to stay in the moment from the time he arrived at the Class 3A individual tournament at the State Farm Center in Champaign.

"When we got to the state tournament, I didn't even look at the bracket," he said. "I said to myself, 'One match at a time' and 'Try to get to the finals.' "

He opened by pinning his opponent in 2:55.

"It's always that first-round jitters. It's usually kind of tough, because you're wrestling in a big arena. I went out there and stuck to the game plan," Ivanisevic said.

He and his next opponent, Wyatt Schmitt of Joliet West, had each beaten each other once.

"I came out in double overtime. It was a very big match," he said. "It meant I was going to the semis and I would be a state placer, which is a really big accomplishment to be a state placer for our school for three years."

Hayes said that match illustrates just how tough competition at state is.

"He had to ride the guy out to win. He had an impressive win there," Hayes said.

Ivanisevic left that quarterfinals match determined to get another victory.

"I just can't go another year without being in the finals," he remembers saying to himself. "I'm going to go out there and wrestle my best and just compete."

Next up was Jonathan Rulo of Belleville East in the semis.

"He was undefeated and Marko beat him 5-2," Hayes said.

Hayes credited the work Ivanisevic did in the off-season, including competing in the US Open wrestling tournament for 16 and under in Las Vegas, for his improved performance at state.

"He did the whole Fargo freestyle Greco circuit. He got probably 50, 60 matches in the off-season, which is huge," Hayes said. "He did a lot of wrestling in the off-season, which helped propel him into the state finals."

Central's program also offered strong preparation, Hayes said.

"We basically run a college program at the high school level. We run a fall program, we run season, we run a spring program and we also run a summer program," he related. "It's pretty much year-round, and Marko has been part of all of that."

The coach said he's very proud of Ivanisevic.

"He's probably one of the most decorated wrestlers to come through Hinsdale Central wrestling," Hayes said. "Marko is up there since the early 1950s as one of the top-five all time best wrestlers to come through Hinsdale Central."

Ivanisevic, who will wrestle next year at the University of Illinois, said he enjoyed all four years competing for Central.

"It was crazy that I went from not placing at the freshman state tournament and going all the way to my senior year and taking second at the state tournament," he said. "I'm going to think about that for a long time and hopefully keep on making strides where I can become the best wrestler I can be.

"It was just the best experience ever," he added. "It was just something that is going to live in my head for the rest of my life."

Hamelka 22nd on vault

Hazel Hamelka had been hoping to qualify for state since her freshman year in gymnastics. The senior found out at the sectional meet Feb. 5 at Hinsdale Central that her dream had come true.

"I was so happy and I was so shocked when I placed at sectionals," the senior said. "It was such a fun day. It was so amazing."

Hamelka competed in vault, tying for 22nd with a 9.2 in the preliminary round at the IHSA state meet Feb. 16-17 at Palatine High School.

"I had watched it the past couple of years, and I knew not to have high expectations with how I'm going to place, so I kind of just wanted to go in with a fresh mindset - 'It's a fun day, you made it to state, so enjoy,' " she said.

And enjoy it she did, going out to lunch with her coaches and the teammate who accompanied her and seeing friends from other schools at the meet. After a two-week break from doing floor exercise, her back was feeling much better than it had.

"Toward the end of the season, I was pretty good," she said.

Hamelka said she'll always remember the moment after she landed her vault.

"The whole experience competing, it's crazy to hear everyone, you hear people cheering you on and there are so many people all around, friends, family," she said. "When I went and hit my vault, that was such a cool experience."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean