Mission accomplished. All season long the Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team appeared to have a date with destiny — the lofty aspiration of winning the dual team state championship. The Huskies converted that dream to reality, Saturday, edging Marist 31-22 in the Class 3A championship match at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.
It wasn't easy, however. OPRF led Marist 19-4 before the resilient Red Hawks reeled off five wins in six bouts to knot the suddenly suspenseful dual match at 22-all. In the final two bouts, OPRF turned to two of its four individual state champs, Isaiah White and Larry Early, to clinch the title. Both grapplers came through with clutch performances, as White pinned Mario Leveille at 3:32 of their match, followed by Early's 9-2 major decision win over David Kasper.
"When it came down to Isaiah and I, we were confident that we were going to get it done," Early said. "We finished off with two state champs and as a team we'd have it no other way. We will bring it next year. Of course, we're shooting for the title again."
The dramatic ending might have been a bit of a surprise for supporters of the orange and blue wrecking crew, considering the Huskies appeared virtually invincible in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
In the quarterfinals on Saturday morning, OPRF crushed Conant 59-9. The Huskies also routed Hononegah 62-6 in the semifinals during the afternoon.
OPRF built its 19-4 lead against Marist, courtesy of victories from Matt Rundell (9-4 decision at 152; 45-9 record), Kamal Bey (5-0 decision at 160; 43-6 record), Davonte Mahomes (5-3 decision at 170), Andre Lee (pin :37 at 195; 42-3 record) and Emonte Logan (12-3 major decision at 220; 39-9 record).
In a regular season meeting on Dec. 7, the Huskies defeated Marist 43-23.
"We knew coming into the tournament that it would be a difficult challenge, especially with quality teams like Marist and Marmion," OPRF coach Mike Powell said. "Our guys worked so hard and we're so committed to each other and our goals. It's truly a family and the closest team I've coached since the 2009 team."
Historically, the Huskies notched their second dual team state tournament championship under Powell (OPRF also won the 2009 state title), and turned in one of the most dominant seasons in the history of Illinois high school wrestling.
The Huskies' team title consolidated their showing during the individual state tourney. On Feb. 22, OPRF 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. White won the 138-pound state title, Early claimed the 145-pound championship, Bey was the 160-pound class champ, while Mahomes notched the state title at 170. The Michigan-bound Mahomes (47-2) finished his OPRF career with another prestigious school record, 170 wins.
OPRF finished the season with a school-record 29-1 record, their lone loss to Apple Valley, Minn., at a tournament held in Rochester, Minn.
"We learned from our loss to Apple Valley," Early said. "We moved on and it led us to be better."
OPRF also won their own Invite as well as Hinsdale Central's, took second at The Clash in Minnesota and third at the Ironman in Ohio (both prestigious national tournaments). The Huskies dominated the West Suburban Conference Silver Division with a 6-0 record and earned notable nonconference wins over St. Rita, Marist, and seven-time Class 2A champ Montini.
The Huskies also made their mark off the mat by helping others in need. Both state wrestling champs OPRF and Montini — in Class 3A and 2A — respectively, helped residents of Washington, the Illinois town ravaged by a tornado on Nov. 17.
The results come as no surprise to anyone within the program. Talent, hard work and chemistry, fused toward a common goal, yielded historic results this season.
"It's the buy-in," said White earlier this 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."
It's no secret that much of the Huskies' success stems from their behind-the-scenes work under the demanding Powell. Since he took over the head coaching job, the Huskies are 184-42 in dual meets (according to oprfwrestling.com) and annually boast one of the toughest schedules in the country.
"Our practices are probably the hardest in the country," Adam Lemke-Bell said. "Our coaches care so much about each of us. They want to see every wrestler get the most out of his ability. Win or lose, the important thing is that each of us gives our best. Our coaches give their lives to this program. I have so much gratitude for their dedication."
While the Huskies will lose senior wrestlers like Mahomes, Lee and Logan, whom Powell praised as the team's leaders and the backbone of the program, the bulk of the Huskies' roster remains virtually intact for next season.
Individual state champions White, Early and Bey all return, along with state contenders Jay Renteria, Rundell, Allen Stallings, Gabe Townsell, Alex Madrigal, Lemke-Bell and SaVonne Bennette.
Add Powell and his coaching staff's around-the-clock dedication (along with tremendous parental and community support), and it's apparent the Huskies will be a heavy favorite to successfully defend their Class 3A championship next season and perhaps well beyond.