The Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team closed out another stellar regular season by winning 10 of 14 weight classes en route to its own Huskie Invitational championship on Jan. 23.
Over the past two seasons, the IHSA’s Class 3A Individual and Dual Team State Tournaments could just as easily be called the Huskie Invitational based on the program’s dominance.
The Huskies, who finished as the top-ranked team in the country per high school wrestling websites InterMat, Flo Wrestling and Open Mat last year, have produced back-to-back team state titles and six individual state champions (Isaiah White [twice], Matt Rundell, Davonte Mahomes, Kamal Bey and Larry Early) since the 2013-14 campaign. The team also owns a 57-1 record overall, plus numerous other tournament titles as well during its recent run of excellence.
So can the Huskies achieve a three-peat?
While that question won’t be answered until the dual team state tourney on Saturday, Feb. 27, that is certainly the goal.
“We’re excited to be honest with you,” OPRF coach Paul Collins said about the upcoming postseason. “The guys have worked hard. Having two weeks between the regular season and regionals is beneficial. We’re pushing it a bit as we train through regionals and then we’ll start tapering for sectionals and state.
“It’s really all about fine tuning. The guys are in as a good a shape as they’re going to be. They’re ready to go.”
During the regular season, OPRF (24-3, 5-1 West Suburban Silver) defeated Class 3A state title contenders Marmion, Sandburg and Lyons Township, won the Washington Quad championship, placed second at Hinsdale Central’s Rex Whitlatch Invitational, third at the Clash Tournament, and 11th out of 94 teams at the prestigious Walsh Ironman Tournament in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
OPRF also finished in a three-way tie with Lyons Township and Glenbard West as West Suburban Conference Silver Division champions.
The Huskies roll into the state series as Class 3A’s No. 1 team in the Illinois Matmen rankings.
“We know we are the top dogs, but we’re not worried about it,” OPRF senior Bobby Campos said. “Whatever happens at the individual and team state tournaments, we’re just focused on maximizing our ability.”
For all their success, the Huskies have experienced growing pains this winter.
“We’ve had some ups and downs, guys not really taking care of their personal business,” Collins said. “We preach to our guys about focusing on things you can control like weight and grades. Some guys lost focus and they had to learn the hard way as did our team, but I think we’re better for it.”
Heading into the individual state tourney, which kicks off for OPRF at the Glenbard West Regional on Saturday, Feb. 6, the Huskies have a legitimate shot at qualifying all 14 weight classes for the state finals at the State Farm Center in Champaign on Feb. 18-20.
While that’s obviously an exciting prospect, the team is taking a measured approach toward achieving its goals.
“The regular season and the postseason aren’t any different honestly,” said senior Gabe Townsell, who has committed to Stanford. “Every match should be the same for us and we’re approaching it that way. We’re developing a sense of consistency. Consistency and gratitude have been our themes this year.”
The Huskies have a talent-laden roster full of state contenders, led by Isaiah White. White, who recently committed to Ohio State, is a two-time defending state champion and three-time medalist. He went 38-0 to earn the No. 1 ranking in the country at 152 pounds last year.
White is attempting to become the first wrestler in program history to win three straight state titles. While he’s a prohibitive favorite in his weight class to earn that accomplishment, several Huskies could win state.
In the Illinois Matmen rankings, OPRF juniors Jason Renteria (9-0 record in 120-pound weight class) and Jaime Hernandez (22-5 at 138) are both No. 1, while sophomore Tony Madrigal (30-0 at 126), junior Rolliann Sturkey (24-6 at 170) and senior Allen Stallings (23-3 at 220) are ranked second.
Seniors Bobby Campos (31-5; ranked No. 3 at 113), Gabe Townsell (24-7; No. 4 at 132), and Michael Ordonez (29-8; No. 4 at 145) and junior P.J. Ogunsanya (28-7; No. 6 at 106) are top grapplers as well.
Although OPRF is particularly strong in the lower weight classes, juniors Drew Matticks (18-14) and Chris Middlebrooks (24-11) earned honorable mention in the Illinois Matmen rankings at 152 and 285, respectively, and 182-pounder Dre Garner (10-8) is another solid performer.
Chris Yen (182) and Kendale McCoy (195) have been both invaluable role players and sources of inspiration for the Huskies.
“Kendale McCoy was 250 pounds last spring and got down to 195 to get into the varsity lineup. That’s a success,” Collins said. “He’s put himself in position to do well at regionals and sectionals and then get to state to do some damage.
“Chris Yen has been great for us. He’s not even going to wrestle at the regional, but he’s busting his butt every day in practice.”
And just in case their top rivals were wondering, the Huskies aren’t going away any time soon. Along with several varsity returners next season, the junior varsity had seven individual champions at the conference championship and the freshmen team won the Huskie Invitational.
“We have great depth throughout all levels of the program which will really help us,” Collins said. “When we put our full team on the mat, we’re as good as anybody and comparable to our [state championship] team last year.”
OPRFWrestling.com contributed to this story.