With the toughest portion of their schedule on deck, the Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team underwent ideal preparation at Hinsdale Central’s annual Rex Whitlach Invitational over the weekend.
The Huskies produced five individual champions and scored 293 points to claim the team title at Whitlach. Unbeaten wrestlers Jake Rundell (15-0 at 113 pounds), Josh Ogunsanya (12-0 at 126), Eddie Bolivar (15-0 at 132) and Daemyen Middlebrooks (13-0 at 182) each earned an individual championship in the 24-team event. Nico Bolivar (14-1 at 120) won the 120-pound title.
Joe Chapman (15-1) finished second at 152, while juniors Torry Early (16-1 at 138) and Danny Lingen (12-1 at 170) and senior Brian Ziech (12-3 at 195 all took third place.
In the heavier weight classes, senior Jaylan Pascascio and Ashford Hollis both came in fourth, respectively, at 220 and 285.
DeKalb was second (239.5) and Sandburg third (197) at Whitlach.
Among these highly regarded Huskies, Rundell owns the most impressive resume. Last year, Rundell won the 106-pound weight class state title in Class 3A. Rundell (42-2 last season) defeated Marmion Academy’s Diego Sotelo 5-2 in the championship bout. The junior standout also placed fifth at the Cadet Freestyle National Championships and third at the Cadet Greco National Championship last summer. He may see action at both 113 and 120 this year.
“I’m really excited for this year because we have so much talent on the team,” Rundell said. “The guys (last year) tasted the championship and are ready to fight for it this year.”
OPRF has always excelled with tremendous balance and depth in the lineup. This year is no exception as returning state qualifiers Eddie Bolivar, Chapman, Ogunsanya, Nico Bolivar and Middlebrooks are back on the mat.
“I am very excited for this year because we can take the team title once again,” Nico Bolivar said. “It’s unfortunate we lost some tough seniors like Jack Fisher or Eddie Ordonez, but for the most part, we have a strong lineup back that is hungry for a title.”
The Huskies, who finished runner-up in the Class 3A dual team state finals last season, had eight state qualifiers in the individual tourney.
“Our wrestling team did remarkably well in the team state competition,” Ogunsanya said. “It gave us an opportunity to finish off the season strong. It was an opportunity not wasted. Despite not being able to take home the first-place title, I’m very proud of the work the team has done.”
Other than Rundell winning state, the Huskies’ top performance last season was Eddie Bolivar taking second in the 132-pound state final. He won his first three matches before losing to Montini’s Real Woods by a 16-1 tech fall in the state title bout. Bolivar will wrestle at Indiana University next year. Woods finished his career with the Broncos as a 3-time individual state champion.
Chapman split six matches at state to earn sixth at 152 last season.
Other OPRF wrestlers in the mix this winter include Malakye Rodriguez, Connor Nagela, David Deyro, Max Walton, James Murphy, Clayton Smith, Jake Cagnina, Cameron Rigden and Fabian Gonzalez.
Off to a 14-0 start this year, including a 4-0 record in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division. The Huskies have also won both the New Trier and Washington Quads in convincing fashion.
Looking ahead, OPRF hits the road for stern tests at the Powerade Tournament in Pittsburgh (Dec. 28-29) and The Clash in Rochester, Minnesota (Jan. 4-5).
Then the Huskies return home for the debut of the Beat the Streets Chicago Wrestling tourney (BTS). The premier wrestling event will feature nationally-ranked teams Bergen Catholic (N.J.), Lake Highland Prep (Fla.), Poway (Calif.), Montini (Ill.) and OPRF, plus a clinic held by wrestling legend Tony Ramos, an NCAA Champion and USA World Team member.
The event will also include an exhibition match between former OPRF stars Kamal Bey and Ellis Coleman. Bey is training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while Coleman competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“This is an unbeatable opportunity for young athletes to learn from Tony Ramos and then watch some of the most explosive high school teams in the country,” said BTS Chicago Executive Director Mike Powell in a press release. “In addition, the tournament supports our mission of promoting and providing top quality wrestling programs in the Chicago area.”
An OPRF alum, Powell guided the Huskies to multiple state championships before Paul Collins replaced him as the wrestling head coach. OPRF has won four state titles overall (2009, 2014, 2015, 2016).
After running the gauntlet of three straight elite national competitions, the Huskies will close out the regular season with conference dual matches on the road at York (Jan. 11) and Hinsdale Central (Jan. 17), plus their annual Huskie Invite on Jan. 19 in the OPRF Field House at 8 a.m.
*www.oprfwrestling.com contributed to this story.