By Marty Farmer
Although the Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team lost in the IHSA dual team state finals in Class 3A, the Huskies took pride in their accomplishments this season.
Montini won late matches in the state championship dual to defeat the Huskies 43-29 at the Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington on Saturday, Feb. 24.
For those keeping score at home, OPRF has earned three state titles (2014-2016), a quarterfinals appearance and state runner-up over the past five years, further establishing themselves as an elite program in Illinois. The Huskies' biggest obstacle the past two postseasons has been Montini, which has beaten OPRF on both occasions.
Starting at the 145-pound weight class on Saturday, Montini reeled off five wins in six matches to put OPRF in a formidable hole. Daemyen Middlebrooks defeated Anthony Geraci 5-3 at 170 to give the Huskies their lone victory almost halfway through the finals.
OPRF responded brilliantly by winning five matches in a row. The rally started in the heavier weights as Elijah Osit cruised to a 24-8 tech fall win over Colin Baker at 220 and Ashford Hollis pinned Mike McNicholas at 1:25 of their 285-pound match. The Huskies tacked on three more wins by Jake Rundell (6-2 decision), Josh Ogunsanya (fall 5:19) and Nico Bolivar (fall 1:23) to cap off a 21-0 spurt.
In fact, Bolivar's pin win put OPRF ahead 29-27. Unfortunately, the Broncos called on Joey Melendez and Real Woods, who collectively own five individual state championships, to close the door on OPRF. The Broncos won their 14th team state championship
"That was the best I have even seen our team wrestle," Bolivar said. "Win or lose, my teammates fought for our family in every dual, especially against nationally-ranked Montini. I felt proud after our loss against Montini. Why should we feel sad when we know we gave everything we had to win that dual?"
Rundell also praised the Huskies' effort.
"I think we wrestled great," he said. "Everyone who stepped on the mat put forth their best effort for the family."
In earlier rounds, OPRF dominated Huntley, 43-30, in the semifinals and Minooka, 53-8, in the quarterfinals.
"I think OPRF wrestled 'Huskie Style' at state," senior Jack Fisher said. "That means everybody bought in to what the coaches preached. Everybody gave 100 percent effort to win their match."
OPRF went 12-2 in matches against Minooka in its state meet opener.
The Huskies' win against Huntley was much more lopsided than the final score indicated. OPRF won 8 of 10 matches before forfeiting the last four matches. Torry Early (138), Eddie Ordonez (145), Joe Chapman (152), Jake Cagnina (182), Brian Ziech (195), Osit (220), Hollis (285) and Rundell (106) accounted for wins against the Red Raiders.
OPRF turned in a fine regular season as well. The Huskies went 23-2 in dual meets and 6-0 as West Suburban Conference Silver Division champs.
OPRF also fared well in tournaments. During the Rex Whitlach Invitational at Hinsdale Central on Dec. 15 and 16, Rundell and Ogunsanya won their weight classes as the Huskies finished first out of 24 teams with 266.5 points.
At the Cheesehead Invitational in Kaukauna, Wisconsin on Jan. 5 and 6, Rundell won his weight class again as OPRF finished second out of 32 teams.
OPRF closed out the regular season by easily winning its own invite. The Huskies scored 209 points, while Christian Brothers, a St. Louis-area school, finished second (166.5) and Minooka was third (145.5).
Looking ahead to next season, the Huskies lose 13 seniors to graduation, notably Fisher, Talvin Gibson, Ordonez and Osit. Led by Rundell (106-pound individual state champion) and Eddie Bolivar (state runner-up at 132), OPRF returns a plethora of top-notch grapplers.
"I'm really excited for next year because we have so much talent on the team," Rundell said. "The guys this year tasted the championship and are ready to fight for it [next year]."
In particular, the sophomore class, featuring Rundell, Ogunsanya, Nico Bolivar, Chapman and Middlebrooks has a chance to be special.
"I am very excited for next year because we can take the team title once again," Nico Bolivar said. "It's unfortunate we are losing some tough seniors like Jack Fisher or Eddie Ordonez, but for the most part, we have a strong lineup that is hungry for a title."
After a relatively pedestrian performance at the individual state finals in Champaign, the Huskies responded with intensity in the team competition.
"Some of the wrestlers felt they could have done more in the individual state competition, including myself," Ogunsanya said. "Our wrestling team did remarkably well in the team state competition. It gave us an opportunity to finish off the season strong. It was an opportunity not wasted. Despite not being able to take home the first-place title, I'm very proud of the work the team has done."
While the Huskies always have ample talent, a lot of the program's sustained excellence was attributed to head coach Paul Collins and the coaching staff.
"Our coaches, including Collins, schedule extra practices for different guys on the team so they can get one-on-ones," Rundell said. "They also push us to be the greatest we can be and try to make us tougher every practice.
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