Fenwick wrestlers Brandon Navarro and Matt Zuber competed in the Class 2A Individual State Tournament at the State Farm Center in Champaign over the weekend. Navarro (32-12) won two of four matches to place eighth in the 160-pound weight class division, while Zuber (22-10) lost a pair of matches via close decisions at 145. Both punched their ticket to state by placing third at the Antioch Sectional.

At first glance, these results might seem pedestrian. And by admittedly unfair comparison, perennial powerhouse Oak Park and River Forest had nine state qualifiers, including state champion Eddie Bolivar.

However, Fenwick coach Pete Kowalczuk is wisely taking the long-term view regarding the Friars’ status. From that perspective, the former wrestling standout at OPRF likes what he sees with his team. He believes the Friars are trending up and that Oak Park eventually will have two excellent high school wrestling programs.

“I think our program is going in the right direction,” Kowalczuk said earlier this season. “The primary focus is on building a winning program. I think our kids are getting better. They wrestle with passion and a lot of fight, which is all I can ask for as a coach.”

The Friars’ most encouraging performance actually occurred at the start of the post-season state series. Hosting a regional, Fenwick finished second with 154 points behind St. Patrick (249).

More significantly, the Friars advanced 13 wrestlers to the Antioch Sectional. Regional winners included Ethan Kaempf (138-pound weight class), Matt Zuber (145), David Capron (152) and Navarro (160), while Will Kornowske (132), Charlie Sullivan (182) and Jimmy Liston (285) were runners-up. Tommy Sullivan, Conor Paris, Martin Paris, Max Daley, Aden Vargas and Billy McGee also advanced to sectionals.

“The regional was great because it showed that Fenwick wrestling is back in business,” Navarro said. “The sectional was really good as well because it showed our JV guys who bumped up a high level of competition. Personally, I was able to put my name out there and just have a lot of fun.”

Fenwick returns all of its top grapplers next season, notably Navarro, Zuber, Capron and Liston. Kowalczuk has referred to them as the “four pillars” of the program moving forward.

However, the development of current wrestlers and a steady flow of future Friars will be essential to building a sustainable winning program. Kowalczuk believes a good wrestling program needs between 35 and 40 wrestlers overall. He estimates the Friars have 25 wrestlers this season.

“Coach K is doing a great job with the Fenwick wrestling program,” Navarro said. “He is young, enthusiastic and passionate about the sport of wrestling. He is getting first-year wrestlers to join the team which helps the program.”

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...