The Oak Park and River Forest wrestling team will enter the IHSA dual team postseason as the prohibitive favorite to claim the Class 3A team state championship. Regardless of what happens in that competition, which kicks off this week with sectionals (Feb. 25) and the IHSA Dual Team Tournament on Saturday, Mar. 1, the Huskies have already made history.
Over the weekend, the OPRF wrestling team produced a whopping four state champions at the IHSA Individual State Tournament, held at the State Farm Center on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.
OPRF sophomore Isaiah White (38-4) won the 138-pound state title and junior teammate Larry Early (35-7) claimed the 145-pound championship. Sophomore Kamal Bey (39-6) was the 160-pound class champ, while Michigan-bound Davonte Mahomes (44-2) notched the state title at 170. Other than Mahomes, everybody returns next season to defend their title.
"We are successful because of all the hard work we put into each other and we push each other," Early said. "We are one big family who loves one another. It was a great experience to be a part of [the individual state tournament] because we were making history. The atmosphere felt great."
Here's a synopsis of the Huskies' state champs respective roads to glory. White edged Marist's Mario Leveille 3-1 in the championship bout at 138. White advanced to the final by sweeping Ben Williamson, Nick Aguirre and Jimmy Davis in earlier rounds. At 145, Early defeated Fernie Silva of Rockton Hononegah 7-3 for the title. Early knocked out Michael Kouvelis, Justin Maslow and Eric Barone en route to the hard-fought title bout. Bey, who finished 5th at 152 last year, claimed this season's 160 title by besting Warren's Emery Parker 10-5. Bey rolled to the final match with three straight wins, highlighted by a pair of impressive major decision victories. Finally, Davonte Mahomes closed out his brilliant OPRF career in style by taking down Tyler DeMoss of Rockton Hononegah 7-3 for the title at 170. Mahomes earned third in the state at 160 last year, defeating Nuntreae of Brother Rice via a 10-1 major decision.
Like his fellow OPRF state champs this time around, the poised Mahomes reeled off three victories to set up his title shot which he successfully converted. For his high school career, Mahomes is 167-19 with three state medals and a state championship. His 167 victories is the most in the OPRF program's illustrious history.
"I felt confident [last year] at state as well," Mahomes said. "This year I believed in my training and coaches even more, and I felt like all the hard work would pay off with a state title. I wrestled hard and wrestled smart and it got me where I needed to be."
The Huskies' remarkable performance extended well beyond just its state champions, however, as freshman Jay Renteria (41-2) earned second at 106, Matt Rundell (41-9) and Andre Lee(44-4) both garnered third place at 152 and 195, respectively, while sophomore Gabe Townsell (31-6) notched fourth at 120. Alex Madrigal (33-10) at 113 and Emonte Logan 36-9 at 220 finished fifth in their weight classes. OPRF state qualifiers SaVonne Bennette (132) and Allen Stallings (182) also wrestled well but didn't place. Both will likely return next season for another chance to earn a state medal.
When all the matches of the intense three-day individual state tournament were completed, OPRF claimed a school and state record 10 spots on the medal stand. The Huskies, commonly known as the orange and blue wrecking crew among their supporters, certainly tore up the competition over the weekend. OPRF produced eight semifinalists and 11 quarterfinalists prior to the championship round.
"The guys buy in to what we are selling which isn't easy," OPRF head coach Mike Powell said. "What we ask of them requires a tremendous amount of discipline, sacrifice and hard work. I'm also very fortunate to have the best coaching staff in the country and great support from our parents and supporters of the program."
The Huskies' incredible results come to no surprise for anybody within the program. Talent, hard work and chemistry fused together for a common goal have yielded historic results this season.
"It's the buy-in," said White, who finished third in the state at 126 pounds and 45-3 overall last season. "We all buy in to being a family. Our team is a family and it's easy to wrestle with somebody you love. Plus, Coach Powell and the rest of the coaches constantly push us to push ourselves. Our only goal is to win state and be on top of that podium."
Only Montini, which tied an IHSA record with five state titles, performed on par with OPRF. The Huskies defeated the Broncos 36-18 in a dual meeting, however, during the regular season.
The Huskies also comport themselves with plenty of class and heart off the mat. Both the top-ranked OPRF and Montini wrestling programs, in Class 3A and 2A, respectively, helped residents of Washington, the Illinois town ravaged by a tornado on Nov. 17.
The red-hot Huskies (25-1, 6-0 West Suburban Conference Silver Division) now turn their attention to the IHSA dual team state tournament, opening against Notre Dame on Feb. 25 in the Conant Sectional. If OPRF defeats the Dons (as expected), the Huskies will travel to Bloomington, Il. to compete in the dual team state tournament held at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum on Saturday, March 1, starting at 9 a.m. with the state quarterfinals. The semifinals are scheduled for 2 p.m. with the third-place match and finals held at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
"The dual tournament can be very tenuous and we'll have a target on our backs," Powell said, "but I think our senior leaders Andre Lee, Emonte Logan and Davonte Mahomes won't allow us to let up."
OPRF won the team state title in 2009, finished second in 2012, and garnered fifth-place showings in 2006, 2010 and 2013. Under the guidance of legendary head coach Mike Powell, the Huskies have a 209-43 dual match record since 2003. Over the past three seasons, OPRF has been particularly stingy about accepting losses with a stellar 78-7 dual match record.
"Coach Powell is an excellent coach and mentor," Mahomes said. "We learn things on and off the mat from him, including ways to build character and become a better person. He deserves 100 percent credit for our success.
"I think the family aspect within the OPRF [wrestling] program is also a big key to our success. Everybody looks out for each other and supports each other on and off the mat. Whereas a lot of other wrestlers on other teams might just be looking out for their own progress, we all truly care about each other."
The Huskies will look to add a few more victories this week, hopefully, en route to another team state title performance like 2009.
"I feel great about going into team state," Early said. "We just dominated the tournament. If we go into team like we did individual, we will for sure come home with the team state championship."
Added Mahomes: "We celebrated our performance a bit [on Saturday] at the individual tournament, which included four state champs and 10 all-state wrestlers, but now it's time to focus on the dual team tournament. We will approach it like any other dual match, but just with more at stake. Like always, our focus is to believe in our training and coaches and out work everybody in the state."
Friars' Kozyra splits four matches at 170 pounds in Class 2A
170-pounder Mike Kozyra was the lone state qualifier for Fenwick in the Class 2A IHSA Individual State Tournament. Kozyra (28-8), who will wrestle collegiately at Illinois, won his opening match over Derek Grant (Mahomet-Seymour) 6-3 in Thursday's preliminaries. He lost in the quarterfinals to Tinley Park's Eric Schultz 3-1. In first round wrestlebacks, Kozyra showed his resiliency by defeating Crete Monee's Brandon Hannigan via pin at the 3:27 mark of the match. Kyle Fugiel of Crystal Lake Central outlasted Kozyra 15-8 in the quarterfinal wrestlebacks to close out Kozyra's busy weekend at state.
oprfwrestling.com contributed to this story