Although The Chicago Catholic League is perennially one of the most challenging wrestling conferences in the state, Fenwick looks forward to mixing it up against such elite competition.
Before the Friars dive into their gauntlet of CCL matches, however, the team has been occupied with other tournaments and dual matches. At the Hinsdale South Tournament on Saturday, Fenwick placed five wrestlers. Earlier this season, the Friars finished 15th out of 24 teams at the Conant Invitational and also lost their season opener to Glenbard West in a nonconference dual meet match.
Coming off a fifth-place finish in conference last season, head coach Chris Ruffino believes the Friars' stiff competition within the CCL will only benefit his team come state tournament time.
"When we dual these teams, they're the most important matches and competitions that we have," Ruffino said. "Because the Chicago Catholic League is such a high level of wrestling, it's very tough. When we dual these teams head-to-head, it really means something. If we perform well in those matches, we know we can go anywhere in the state and perform well."
The top returner for Fenwick is senior Mike Kozyra, an all-state wrestler who placed fourth at the state tournament last season. Pontiac's Alex Friedman defeated Kozyra by fall at 5:13 of their third-place state match last season. Kozyra finished 40-8 for the year. He'll look to continue his personal success on the mat this winter, while also leading the Friars to a state title.
"Winning all of my matches and winning state would be the best situation," he said. "My other main goal is to get another all-state title."
Senior captain Emerson Harris (138), junior Chris Hawthorne (285), senior Ryan Sanchez (132), senior Jim Wise (160), Ben Uphues (152) and sophomore Al Aguilar are also key returners for the well-stocked Friars this season. Harris is very talented wrestler who earned all-Chicago Catholic League honors last season, while Hawthorne is a returning regional qualifier. Uphues and Emerson, who both garnered impressive fourth-place fnishes at the Hinsdale South Tournament, have viable chances to qualify for state this season.
Fenwick also has a promising newcomer in 106-pounder Don Daily. He didn't wrestle before high school, but the talented sophomore is capable of making an immediate impact.
Senior Danny Freitag, who took sixth place at Conant this year, is injured and likely out for the season. He tore his ACL for a second time during the sectional of his sophomore season, and he missed last season altogether.
Make no mistake though, Kozyra sets the tone for the Friars with his quiet but effective style of leadership.
"I'm not much of a vocal guy," Kozyra said. "I just try to lead by example. When we run stairs every day before practice I run really hard. That motivates the others to run equally as hard and not slack off."
Aside from the ultimate goal of winning a state title, Kozyra feels that another top-five finish in the CCL is a realistic aspiration for Fenwick.
"We kind of started off slow, but we're getting better," Kozyra said. "We definitely have to get all of our top guys healthy. If we have our full lineup we should be right there."
Fenwick hosts CCL foes St. Patrick, St. Ignatius and St. Laurence in a quad on Friday (5 p.m.). On Saturday, the Friars hit the road to participate in the Prospect Tournament, which begins at 8 a.m.