The Oak Park and River Forest wrestling team may be under new leadership this year, but basically things have remained unchanged.
Mike Powell has taken over head coaching duties from his former coach and mentor, Nial Collins, who retired at the end of last season. Powell, a 1994 graduate of OPRF and former State champ, had been an assistant coach on varsity under Collins for five years before accepting the head coaching position. He also starred at Indiana University, earning NCAA All-American honors.
"It's nice to be handling the responsibilities of the head coaching position," said Powell, who also teaches special education at OPRF. "I hope to preserve the great quality of wrestling this program has developed over the years."
Powell has a full lineup of wrestlers with experience this season. Every wrestler is back from winning the regional as a team last year. Last season's State qualifier Jamar Johnson returns at the heavyweight division. Johnson's 31-9 record last year earned him All-conference honors.
Also back is Blake Dressel. The 215-pound Dressel is a two-time State qualifier and was one match away from placing at State last year.
Others expected to again make a significant impact this season are Jason Argomonti (189-pound weight class), Mike Smith (171), Myles Leggette (160), Joe Galaz (140), Steve Batista (135), Joe Minnis (130), sophomore Brad Bolen (119), Mike Donovan, two-time regional champ Chuck Hinriksson (152), and Mike Donovan (112), who earned All-conference honors last year.
Robert Demaree and Ben Johnson, Powell said, are battling it out for the 125-pound slot.
Powell said he's looking forward to his team competing in the 32-team Dundee-Crown tournament for the first time this year.
"All the top teams will be there," he said. "It will elevate our level of competition."
Fenwick, St. Rita, Providence, Montini and Carl Sandburg are among some of the notable teams competing at the tournament.
Powell added he hopes to build on last year's late-season success when the Huskies upset Fenwick in the team regional.
"We'll be in the same regional again, I'm sure," said Powell, who was, as of this writing, still conversing with Fenwick head coach Jerry Ruffino over whether or not OPRF and Fenwick would compete against one another in the Village Cup this season. The subject seemed to be up in the air. "One important thing to note is, despite the fact we are fierce competitors, the teams hang out together in the off-season, and they work out together. It's a great rivalry."
Ryan VanHorst, a volunteer the last few years on OPRF's varsity level, has been promoted to assistant coach.
The Huskies hit the mat today at home against St. Patrick (6 p.m.).