With four team state titles – 2009, then a three-peat from 2014 through 2016 – along with several individual state champions, the Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team has been the school’s best athletic program during the last decade.
Last year, the Huskies were considered the Class 3A favorites as they went for their fourth consecutive state title.
However, OPRF was upset by Montini in a classic state quarterfinal match that went down to the wire. Yet despite losing good wrestlers to graduation, including two-time state champion Jason Renteria, the Huskies entered this season with the usual high expectations.
As OPRF gets ready to embark on another postseason run, the team has enjoyed another successful regular season. The Huskies went 23-2 in dual meets and will likely be a major contender once again in the 3A dual-team tournament in late February.
OPRF also has fared well in tournaments. During the Rex Whitlach Invitational at Hinsdale Central on Dec. 15 and 16, sophomores Jake Rundell (106 pounds) and Josh Ogunsanya (120 pounds) won their weight classes as the Huskies finished in first place out of 24 teams with 266.5 points, easily out-distancing themselves from second-place Dekalb, which had 170.5 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. The only team ahead was Montini, currently ranked No. 1 in most state wrestling polls (OPRF is No. 2).
And on Saturday at OPRF, the Huskies once again turned in a very solid performance in their own invitational, winning with 209 points. Christian Brothers, a St. Louis-area school, finished second with 166.5 points and Minooka was third with 145.5 points.
OPRF had two individual winners, Rundell at 106 pounds and Ashford Hollis at 285 pounds. Rundell defeated Christian Olsen of Crystal Lake South via technical fall, handing Olsen his first loss of the season (he entered the final with a 35-0 record). Hollis defeated Artese Gregory of Plainfield East via pinfall at the 1:00 mark.
For Hollis, the win served as a testament to the hard work he has put in this season.
“I thought it went pretty well today,” said Hollis, a junior who is also an All-Wednesday Journal defensive lineman in football. “The season started a bit rocky for me as I wasn’t conditioned coming from football. But the last few weeks I’ve gotten better.”
The Huskies also had eight wrestlers that placed second in their weight classes – Ogunsanya at 113, junior Eddie Bolivar at 132, junior Torry Early at 138, senior Eddie Ordonez at 145, sophomore Joe Chapman at 152, sophomore Danny Lingen at 160, sophomore Daemyen Middlebrooks at 170, and junior Brian Ziech at 195.
Ziech, who transferred to OPRF from Fenwick, was pleased with his performance. Yet he also knows he has work to do, given that he missed much of the regular season with an injury.
“It was okay,” he said. “I have a lot of room for improvement and I’ve got a long way to go. I spent half the season recovering from knee surgery and made my debut about four weeks ago. Coming back to face such worthy opponents humbles me.”
Ziech also appreciates the family environment of the OPRF program, which has helped him deal with the transition from a private to a public school. Although he considers his former teammates at Fenwick good friends, he is enjoying the new friendships he is making with the Huskies.
“It’s been a difficult transition (from Fenwick),” he admitted. “But the wrestlers here have helped me develop even further as a person. There’s a bit more camaraderie here because all the guys are from the area.”
Other top finishers at Saturday’s meet included junior Jake Cagnina in fifth place at 182 pounds, freshman Connor Nagela in fourth place at 106, senior Kedrick Bryant in sixth place at 152, sophomore Ronnie Massari in sixth place at 160, senior Ibrahim Mohkatar in sixth place at 170, senior David Smith in sixth place at 182, and junior Jaylen Pascascio in sixth place at 220.
In addition to the team’s success, the Huskies have received a few very good individual seasons. Ogunsanya leads the team with 31 individual wins; his record is 31-4. Rundell has a 30-2 mark; Eddie Bolivar 30-6; Chapman 29-7; Ordonez 28-10; and Middlebrooks 27-7. Also, sophomores Nico Bolivar, Early, Hollis, and seniors Elijah Osit and Jack Fisher each have posted at least 20 wins.
“As a team, we hope to go all the way,” Hollis said. “This is my junior year so I still have time, but I would like to advance to state this year and place.”
Ziech has high hopes as well.
“My goals are to try to make it Downstate and maybe place if I’m fortunate,” he said. “Then continue to lift weights after the season and improve between my junior and senior years. I want to become a better wrestler and a better person.”