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Providence's Vince Ambrose and Mount Carmel's David Denne square off in the 220-pound final Saturday at Brother Rice. | John Booz~For Sun-Times Media

David Denne's dream of being a four-time Catholic League wrestling champ disappeared last year.

And Mount Carmel's chances of putting up a good dual-meet record were gone by mid-December.

But Denne and the Caravan showed their resiliency on Saturday, storming back in the finals to add more title hardware to their collection. Denne's hard-fought 3-1 decision over Providence's Vince Ambrose in the 220-pound championship put a capper on the Caravan's 246-223 victory over runner-up St. Rita at Brother Rice for its third consecutive league title.

All that kept Denne from joining the elite list of four-time Catholic League winners was a 6-5 overtime loss to Bishop McNamara's Channing Dolliger in last year's 220 final. The Mount Carmel star, who won the Lawless Award as the league's top senior wrestler, won at 189 as a freshman and at 215 as a sophomore.

Last year's loss was on his mind all week, Denne said. "But when I got here I wanted to focus more on my [Saturday] matches," he added. "Last year, I don't feel it went the way it should have. But you know, it happened."

So did Mount Carmel's 2-7 start, which cost the Caravan a spot in the Illinois Best Weekly state rankings. But Denne and some other members of the Caravan's Class 8A football champs weren't around for most of those losses. Now Mount Carmel's at full strength, Denne's in full-on wrestling mode and the team is living up to its early promise.

"Cheesehead [tournament, earlier this month] was where I started to feel like I've really gained my wrestling shape," said Denne, who is 24-6. "Every single match I've wrestled since then ... I've never been tired."

Saturday's win was vindication for the Caravan, according to coach John Kading. "The bottom line is so many people doubted the Caravan," he said. "'We're not a strong team, we're not what we once were.'

"Our goal is to peak for these events."

Kading gave his wrestlers some incentive, too. After the Cheesehead, he promised the Caravan he'd wrestle in next year's Midlands tournament — for the first time since 2001 — if they won conference and regional titles. Now Mount Carmel is halfway there.

Also winning titles for the Caravan were freshman Jake Tucker (30-7) at 120, Rodrigo Garay (22-8) at 126, tourney Outstanding Wrestler Bryce Brill (33-0) at 145, Notay Jackson (20-1) at 152, Jack Hightower (8-2) at 170 and Jimmy Mickens (23-7) at 182.

Jackson and Brill were among of four repeat champs from last year, along with Providence's Ronald Triche (28-1) at 113 and St. Rita's Ben Threloff (19-8) at 195.

Triche beat St. Rita's Tino Ortiz 8-1 in the final after winning their earlier meeting 9-7. "I really didn't like [that] win so I had to come out here and beat him by more this time," Triche said. "This time, I stayed smart. I got sloppy last time I faced him."

The other unbeaten champ besides Brill was Brother Rice freshman Rudy Yates (33-0), a 3-0 winner over St. Rita freshman Jake Silzer. "He's a really tough kid," Yates said. "I was just making sure [to give up] no cheap points."

St. Rita had two champs: Mike O'Connor (27-8) at 138 and Threloff.

Yates, Paul Balich (30-2) at 132 and Nuntrae Jackson (23-1) at 160 won titles for Brother Rice, whose third-place finish was its best since 1979. The Crusaders had 128.5 points, 30 more than fourth-place Providence. Also taking first was Gordon Tech 285-pounder Justin Alonzo (22-4).

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