Team Illinois cruised past Pennsylvania 60-18 in the final of the Cadet National Greco-Roman and Freestyle Duals held in Daytona Beach, Fla. in June. Illinois dominated the action by winning 14 of 17 bouts en route to the coveted national title.
Boasting the two largest youth wrestling organizations in the country, Illinois and Pennsylvania are familiar rivals on the mat. Our state's delegation of grapplers certainly carried a local flavor. Of the 22 members who represented Illinois, eight hail from Oak Park and River Forest High School.
The USA National Wrestling Governing Body is the central organization that coordinates amateur wrestling programs, which includes 160,000 members and over 3,000 clubs that practice Greco-Roman and Freestyle.
During the school year, wrestlers train using the folkstyle technique, which is standard for high school and college wrestling. In the summer, however, they adjust to Greco-Roman and Freestyle to prepare for the Cadet National Greco-Roman and Freestyle Duals. The major difference between the two techniques is that Greco-Roman and Freestyle forbid holds below the waist. Consequently, wrestlers place an emphasis on throws because they aren't able to trip in order to take down opponents.
At this summer's Cadet National Greco-Roman and Freestyle Duals, Illinois excelled with considerable contributions from the aforementioned slew of OPRF representatives.
OPRF wrestlers who notched victories for Illinois were Gabriel Townsell (120 lbs.) GR, Savonne Bennette (132 lbs.) FS, Isaiah White (138 lbs.) GR, Larry Early (138 lbs.) GR & FS, Andrew Borgdorff (152 lbs.) GR, Kamal Bey (160 lbs.) GR, Allen Stallings (195 lbs.) GR & FS, and Adam Lemke-Bell (285 lbs) GR & FS.
"This competition lets people know that wrestling is still alive and still a very competitive sport" said Lemke-Bell, who wrestled at 285 in the national competition.
Borgdorff added: "It was really fun because we blew all the other teams away. It felt great bonding with the guys that you're competing with [at OPRF] all year."
Illinois started the match by building an impressive 12-0 lead via a pin, decision, and a fall respectively, before Pennsylvania countered with a pin by World Team member Spencer Lee, making the match score 12-5.
"It was huge for us to get off to a great start," Townsell said. "That gave us even more confidence, knowing that we had a chance of winning a national championship"
Illinois won the next nine duals paving the way for their second consecutive Cadet National Greco-Roman and Freestyle Duals title.
Illinois and Pennsylvania squared off in the final after the rivals had previously competed in Pool B, which Illinois won by edging Pennsylvania 45-31 in the first-place match.
"It means a lot to win this [national title]," Lemke-Bell said. "It shows that we did the work beforehand and prepared well for any type of competition."
In addition to the team title, Townsell, White, Bey and Stallings earned all-tournament team honors as each wrestler finished 5-0 in duals.
"This isn't momentum for our team [at OPRF], but it gives us confidence going into next season," Townsell said. "Hopefully, that confidence carries over to motivate our other teammates."
OPRF is coached by Mike Powell, who returns next season for his 15th campaign leading the Huskies.
Powell, an OPRF graduate and former Indiana University All-American wrestler, was presented with The Medal of Courage by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame-Illinois Chapter last year. This award is given to a wrestler or former wrestler who overcame an incredible challenge.
In Powell's case, this challenge arose when he was diagnosed with the muscle-wasting disease polymyositis. Despite that setback, Powell has flourished as the Huskies' wrestling coach guiding a disciplined program which is a perennial contender to win the Class 3A state championship.
According to IHSA.org, Powell has compiled a 98-13 record since the 2008-2009 season, highlighted by a state title win, 33-30, over Minooka in 2009. Last season, OPRF advanced to the state quarterfinals and lost to eventual state champion Sandburg 33-23. Sandburg ultimately defeated Marmion 38-17 in the state final to claim back-to-back 3A state titles. The Huskies also placed second in 3A in 2012, losing to Sandburg 30-24 in the championship bout.
OPRF figures to stay on top of the highly competitive West Suburban (Silver) Conference in 2014. With all eight members who represented Team Illinois returning for the Huskies, OPRF wrestling fans will be treated to a loaded team intent on making another successful run next season.
Regarding Greco-Roman and Freestyle champions, OPRF alum and 2012 Junior level champ Sam Brooks was recently added to the Junior Level World Team.
This team features the top high school and college wrestlers from around the world. The squad is arranged by age as opposed to grade level. For example, one age-range grouping is 16-20 year olds so a sophomore in high school could possibly compete against a college sophomore. The Junior Level World Team world affords elite wrestlers an opportunity to take on a full season's worth of wrestling in just one week.
At 184-pounds, Brooks won the challenge tournament over the weekend with a few pins and a few technical falls. During the finals, Brooks swept his opponent by scores of 6-0 (Match 1) and 9-4 (Match 2).
Based on his impressive results, Brooks qualified for the Junior World Team Championship held in Bulgaria in August.