The Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team is in a rare retooling situation. Having graduated several seniors from last spring’s pandemic-abbreviated season means the Huskies have several young and inexperienced wrestlers in their varsity lineup.

Yet, OPRF coach Paul Collins is optimistic about the way his team has performed in the early stages of the season. The Huskies lost their dual-meet opener Nov. 24 to Batavia 63-15, but defeated Andrew 43-30 three days later.

“It’s going pretty well,” he said. “We’ve got a young team with strong senior leadership. We don’t have the superstars like we have had the last couple of years, but we’re looking to make solid development throughout the year and push at the end for the conference and state meets.”

Returning wrestlers with experience include seniors Amari Blanchard and Jalen Dunson (126 pounds), along with junior Cooper Lacey (120). Newcomers to keep an eye on include sophomore Ruben Acevedo, who will wrestle at 113 pounds, junior Vance Domenz (170), junior William Kelly (132) and freshman Joseph Knackstedt (140).

With a young team, Collins expects to take some bumps early in the season. But he’s taking a long-term view of the program.

“Team-wise, we have a lot of development that needs to happen this year,” Collins said. “We want to put ourselves in a position to win at the end and help our seniors finish their careers the right way. We’re looking at this as a two-year process.”

The Huskies are due to travel to several high-profile invitationals both in Illinois and across the Midwest, including The Clash dual-meet tournament in Rochester, Minnesota, on Jan. 7 and 8.

Then there is the always-tough West Suburban Silver Conference, which features top teams such as Downers Grove North, Hinsdale Central and Lyons Township.

Collins feels his young team is up for the challenge, thanks to the foundation established by past wrestlers.

“These guys are going to see the level of wrestling they’re expected to be at,” he said.

After having a pair of dual meets canceled last weekend due to the temporary shutdown of athletics at OPRF as a result of an increase in COVID-19 cases, the Huskies have dual meets scheduled for this week with Hinsdale Central and Downers Grove North and a home quad on Dec. 11 with DeKalb, Providence and Riverside-Brookfield.

Deep Fenwick squad looks to make noise 

With a large number of experienced wrestlers returning this fall, Fenwick High School wrestling coach Seth Gamino is optimistic about this season.

“It’s exciting to have a full wrestling room and the energy is amazing,” Gamino said. “Guys are pushing one another and are pumped to hit the mats representing Fenwick with pride.”

The Friars return seven wrestlers from last spring’s pandemic-abbreviated season, including senior Tommy Sullivan (145 pounds), junior Rowan White (152), senior Martin Paris (160), junior Finn McGee (170), junior Alex Ochoa (182), senior Conor Paris (195) and junior Conor Stetz (220).

Moreover, Fenwick regains the services of senior Jimmy Liston at heavyweight. A Purdue football recruit, Liston missed the spring season due to injury.

“We’re solid from our middle weights all the way through heavyweight,” Gamino said. 

Several of Fenwick’s wrestlers were on the IHSA Class 5A state championship football team, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Friars started slowly. However, Gamino readjusted the schedule and believes it will help alleviate any early-season struggles.

“The only thing I was worried about was them being out of shape, but winning a state football championship kept them in great condition,” Gamino said.

Fenwick has a rigorous schedule this winter. Besides having dual meets in the competitive Chicago Catholic League, the Friars will participate in the Morton Holiday Classic Invitational, a quad at Lyons Township High School and their annual triangular meet with St. Patrick and Taft.

Gamino said he’s thrilled to have wrestling back in its traditional time of year.

“Last year was irregular and just no fun,” he said of the spring season. “[Now] the boys can look forward to a proper schedule and [state] tournament action. It’s exciting.”

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