Pucino prevails to third-place finish

Five Wildcat wrestlers worked their way to the 2018 Illinois High School Association’s State Tournament on Feb. 15-17. One wrestler, the youngest of them all, came back to Libertyville with a title: sophomore Danny Pucino.

    Pucino’s first match on Saturday ended with a victory over Dontrell Johnson from Rockford East High School. He outscored Johnson 9-2 with four takedowns.

Winning that match allowed Pucino to advance, competing for third place against his next opponent, Patrick Nolan. Nolan, a junior from Carl Sandburg High School, was a returning All-State wrestler. Pucino beat Nolan 5-3 in the quarterfinals; however, Pucino knew the rematch would be competitive.

Pucino won the third-place title by a 7-3 decision, earning third place in the 3A 132-pound weight group and All-State recognition.

“He is the first sophomore that’s ever placed at Libertyville High School. If he gets it junior and senior year, he will be the first three-time All-Stater, obviously because we’ve never had a freshman either,” Mr. Eggert said. “I think he wants to win [state champion] at some point, and I think he’s got a good shot.”

If Pucino had won his semifinal round match the day before, he would have been competing for State Champion instead of third place.

I think he wants to win [state champion] at some point, and I think he’s got a good shot.

— Mr. Eggert

“Coming into the tournament, my main goal was to win the state title, bring one back to Libertyville for the first time in a decade or so,” he said. “I definitely had it on my mind, but after the semifinal was when I started to realize that I gotta come back and take third.”

Mr. Eggert acknowledged that Pucino didn’t have his best match in the semifinals, but added, “I thought he did really well. He certainly can wrestle with the best in the state,” he said.

Pucino, the youngest of the five LHS wrestlers to come downstate, started wrestling when he was 5 years old. When asked about his training regimen, Pucino said, “There’s not a day that I take off. I lift every day, I run every day, I bike every day. I eat right, and it’s all-year round.”

That dedication stems genetically and emotionally from his parents. His father was a NCAA All-American Division I athlete, but it was his mother that first got him started wrestling when he was 5.

Pucino also competes for his club team, Team Poeta, in the offseason and travels across the country and world for tournaments. Team Poeta is based out of Lake Forest.

The other LHS wrestler who competed on the tournament’s final day was Michael Gunther, a junior. He was eliminated in the quarterfinal round by his opponent, Niko Derain from Saint Charles East High School. Gunther led the match 4-2 going into the third period.

“I thought he was the better guy. It was painful because he was one match away from All-State,” said his coach, Mr. Dale Eggert. “I feel really bad that the match turned on him so quickly,” he added.

Gunther had a 35-second pin on Friday that put him one match away from All-State. Mr. Eggert expressed that Gunther was devastated by his loss, as All-State was his goal for the season.

Mr. Eggert added that all of the state-qualifying wrestlers from his team deserved to qualify and trained very hard during the season to make that happen.

For next season, Pucino wants to win an individual state championship. He also wishes to be more vocal towards the beginning of the season with his teammates, pushing them to work hard so they can win Regionals or Sectional titles together.