OPRF senior Jalen Dunson (right), a 2019 state qualifier, cruised to an IHSA Regional title on Feb. 5 at Downers Grove South, winning both of his matches by technical fall. He takes a 16-2 record into the IHSA Sectional meet this weekend, looking for a return to the state championships. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

Senior Allyn Johnson always hoped to return to the Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling program.

After competing through the West Suburban Conference Silver Division Meet as a sophomore, COVID-19 contributed to his stepping away for a while.

He’s back as a 250-pounder in the 285 heavyweight class.

“I liked wrestling, so nothing could really keep me away,” Johnson said.

“There’s just something about wrestling. I feel like all of the hard work you put in and when you get to moments like being on that [awards] stand, you feel so accomplished when you get to a place where you want to be. You’ve earned it. I just like the feeling of earning things.”

Johnson enjoyed that feeling again Feb. 5 by taking second place at the IHSA Class 3A Downers Grove South Individual Regional and being among six Huskies who advanced to the Hinsdale Central Individual Sectional on Feb. 13 with top-three finishes.

Senior Jalen Dunson (16-2) won the 120-pound title to continue proving himself among the state’s best. Junior Cooper Lacey (13-8 at 126) and sophomore Ruben Acevedo (9-8 at 106) also finished second while juniors Will Kelly (11-8 at 132) and Vance Domenz (9-8 at 170) were third. The Huskies (105.5 points) finished fourth as a team.

Top-four finishers at the sectional advance to the 3A individual state meet.

“It was awesome. We were obviously shorthanded for numerous reasons but excited that we had 10 guys [for 14 weight classes] come out here and give really good efforts,” OPRF coach Paul Collins said.

“For a couple of the seniors, today was their last day. Everything got shut down as sophomores. They didn’t get to wrestle last year [as the postseason was canceled]. Some of them were doing different things when the season got moved and they still decided to come back and finish their career for the program.”

Johnson (10-10) has transitioned from competing at 195 his sophomore season. He won his first match on Feb. 5 by pin and then got two takedowns to win 4-2 in the semifinals before being pinned in the final.

“I feel like I could have tried way harder than that [in the final], could have pushed myself a little more,” Johnson said. “[Advancing] just means a lot that I can hop back into [wrestling] and get my rhythm back.”

“He’s lost some 20-plus pounds. He’s in better shape,” Collins added. “He’s kind of reinvented himself and gotten a lot of individual work. Allyn’s really bought into it.”

A 2019 state qualifier, Dunson dominated both his matches on Feb. 5 by technical fall (15 or more points), including a 19-3 title victory behind a 17-point first period with four takedowns and nine near-fall points.

“I like pushing the pace, getting a lot of my points in the first period,” Dunson said. “I’ve put myself in a really good position to qualify for state and win state. This year I’ve been training every day nonstop for months now.”

Lacey lost his final 8-2 to Lyons Township High School sophomore Gunnar Garelli after recently losing to him by a technical fall.

Senior Reid Butterly (7-15 at 138) finished fourth, one victory from advancing.

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