Whenever a young, top-shelf wrestler loses his bid to win a state title, he always uses it as fuel for the fire heading into the next high school wrestling season.
After placing fifth at 112 pounds last year, and third at 125 pounds at this year’s Class AA Individual State Finals in Champaign, OPRF’s Ellis Coleman has enough fuel to feed a bonfire.
“After losing in the quarterfinals by a point, two years in a row, next year I have to win it,” said Coleman, who became a national champion at the prestigious Fargo Tournament over the summer.
“I really do believe Ellis is the best talent at 125 pounds in the country,” said Huskies coach Mike Powell “That loss in the quarterfinals was devastating to me, so it had to be hard on him.”
After winning his opening match on Friday by technical fall over Lemont’s Matt Leibforth, Coleman tightened up and lost an 8-7 decision to Grant’s Izzy Montemayor, who went on to place second to Glenbard North’s Tony Ramos.
“I panicked. I was worried about first place more than I was worried about the kid I was wrestling,” Coleman said. “The same thing happened last year. I wasn’t thinking one match at a time.”
Coleman regrouped for Saturday’s wrestleback round and buzz-sawed his way through it, reeling off three pins before winning an 8-3 decision over Fenwick’s Chris Dardanes for third. He finished the season with a 48-2 record.
“The way he was able to regroup speaks to the type of kid Ellis is,” Powell said. “It showed his character. He’s a great kid with an unbelievable work ethic.”
The Huskies’ Dan Martin finished one win away from placing at 145, going 2-2 in Champaign and finishing his junior season with a record of 27-12.
Martin opened with an 11-7 win over Yorkville’s Mike LaVallee before losing one-point decision to eventual sixth-place finisher Lamor Hickman of Quincy. Martin won his first wrestleback match before losing to eventual fourth-place Jake Holler of Carl Sandburg.
“Danny’s a great story-very limited experience coming into high school, and he has just made himself a wrestler,” Powell said. “He’s got a great heart, and that will take you far in this sport.”
At 140 pounds, senior Jack Dengel posted a record of 35-17 this season, and had one tough draw in Champaign. Dengel won a 7-2 decision over Champaign Central’s Josh Middleton to start the tournament, before losing to eventual state champion Reese Taylor of Rock Island.
Dengel then lost to a returning state champion in Grant’s Lee Munster in his first-round wrestleback match.
“He had a tough draw, but just making it downstate was huge for Jack,” Powell said. “And I couldn’t be happier for Krys Watkins, too. He had a great year.”
The senior heavyweight Watkins lost his first match in Champaign and was eliminated from competition, but finished the year with a 26-10 record and leaves the program with nothing but respect from his coach.
“The guys we brought down there epitomize what we preach,” Powell said. “Wrestle within our system, off-season involvement, toughness-those four guys are poster children for our program, in terms of what we want our wrestlers to be.”