Jack Lage and Nikolai Careaga took different roads in the wrestling postseason.
But the Helias teammates ended in the same spot — sectional champions.
Lage and Careaga were two of five Crusaders to claim individual titles, while five other Helias wrestlers advanced to state Saturday in the Class 2 sectional tournament at Rackers Fieldhouse.
"All of these kids have put in so much, they work and work and work," Helias coach Weston Keleher said. "I think everybody in the gym today could see that. We're doing something right."
For Lage, the postseason has been a series of wins by fall at 120 pounds. Two weeks ago, the junior won all three of his district tournament matches by pins, with only one match going longer than a minute.
After a first-round bye Saturday, Lage won his semifinal match by second-period fall before defeating Ricardo Juarez of Mexico 11-0 in the title match.
"It made me wrestle a full match and push the pace, which is always good," Lage said. "It's always good to wrestle a full match to see where you are physically and what you need to work on in the wrestling room.
"It's always fun to wrestle a full match against a good opponent."
Lage, who defeated Juarez by fall to win the district title, led 2-0 after one period and scored a reversal and set of back points to lead 7-0 going to the third period.
"Juarez is tough," Keleher said. "He puts it out there every match, he's a tough kid."
Lage, who was third at 120 in Class 3 last year is now 31-0 and ranked No. 1 in his weight class.
"Rankings don't mean much, I haven't looked at what I've been ranked all year long because I don't care," he said. "All I want to do is go out and have fun."
He said he doesn't feel any extra pressure by being undefeated.
"Wins and losses don't mean anything," Lage said. "When you go into the postseason, everybody is 0-0 and you have to wrestle your match."
It's been a different story the past couple of weeks for Careaga as the senior opened the district tournament with a loss.
"I wasn't feeling too well, not COVID, but I was sick as a dog and my mind just wasn't ready," Careaga said. "I was super sleepy."
Losing that match was quite the wake-up call.
"I knew if I wanted to go to state, I had to get out of districts," Careaga said. "Since then, I've stepped it up. Practices have been great the past two weeks."
Careaga bounced back to take third at districts to advance to the sectional. On Saturday, he won his first two matches by fall before taking a 3-2 decision against Austin Skaggs of Southern Boone to win the title.
After a scoreless first period, Careaga got an escape and a takedown to take a 3-0 lead entering the third period. It was just a matter of getting through those final two minutes.
"Nothing stupid, don't do anything stupid," Careaga, a state qualifier at 152 last year, said. "No big moves, just be at a controlled pace."
Skaggs got a reversal to cut it to one point with about :45 remaining, but Careaga (31-6) was able to hold on for the victory.
"He righted some wrongs," Keleher said. "He knew he put himself in a bad position right off the bat at districts, but he went out and fixed it to be sectional champ."
Also winning sectional titles for the Crusaders were:
Gage Lock (29-9) at 106. The junior opened with a win by technical fall before taking a 6-1 decision in the semifinals. Lock then defeated Easton DeMilia of Blair Oaks 3-2 in the title match.
Lock led 2-1 after one period against DeMilia. After a scoreless second period, Lock got an escape midway through the third to make it 3-1. DeMilia then was awarded a penalty point about :15 later to wrap up the scoring.
Lock had lost 10-8 to DeMilia in the district tournament title match.
Carter Prenger (29-8) at 113. After a first-round bye, Prenger won by a first-period fall in the semifinal before winning by fall in 1:42 against Aidan Bollinger of Blair Oaks for the title.
Prenger defeated Bollinger by fall for the district title as well.
Wyatt Forck (30-11) at 145. Forck won all three of his matches by fall Saturday, including the title bout in 4:35 against Nick Welch of Blair Oaks.
Three Crusaders — Jacob Schrimpf at 132, Carson Hayes at 138 and Alex Tesreau at 160 — finished second in the sectional.
Schrimpf (32-7) advanced to the title match with a pair of victories by fall. He then lost by fall to Sam Hrabovsky of Fulton to take second.
Hayes (30-10), who was fourth at districts, won by fall and by a 4-3 decision to get to the title match Saturday. He lost by fall to Owen Uhls of Fulton to finish second.
Tesreau (27-10) won two matches by fall to advance to the title match against Eli Batiste of Blair Oaks. Tesreau trailed 4-1 after one period and dropped a 6-4 decision.
Taking third for the Crusaders to advance to state were Tanner Nappier at 195 and Michael Sanner at 285.
Nappier (24-15) went 2-1 on Saturday, including a win by fall in 3:45 against JaDontae Ray of Fulton in the third-place match.
Sanner (12-16), also was 2-1 in the sectional. He advanced with a 2-1 victory against Jayden Wilson of St. Charles.
"He's done a lot of good stuff the past 21/2 years to get where he is today," Keleher said. "Everything is looking up for him."
Looking at the brackets, Keleher believed the Crusaders could advance 10 of its 12 sectional qualifiers to state.
"But I wanted all 12," he said.
Finishing fourth and failing to advance for Helias were Lincoln Mertens at 170 and Blake Luebbering at 182.
"I feel for those two that didn't make it through," Keleher said.
Keleher believes the 10 qualifiers can do some damage at the state tournament.
"It's all about winning matches, that's how you score points," Keleher said. "We're going to go up there trying to win matches."
But that will have to wait. Due to COVID-19 protocols, the Class 2 state tournament will be held Thursday, March 11, at the Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence.
"I'm happy we have more time to practice and get better for the state tournament," Lage said.
But the 12-day break may be more difficult for some others.
"I don't cut a lot of weight, but some of my buddies do and it's killing them," Careaga said. "I kind of wish it was closer for them, but the recovery time is nice."
The time away isn't much of a concern for Keleher.
"I don't care, just tell us the date and we'll go wrestle," he said. "If we have the same 10 days of preparation we've had the last 10 days, we'll be just fine."
Helias finished third in the Class 3 state tournament last year.