Oak Park and River Forest High School senior wrestler Jalen Dunson realizes the importance of his first state meet opportunity back in 2020.

“It was a good learning experience and it brought my confidence way up,” Dunson said. “I wouldn’t be the wrestler I am today if I hadn’t qualified for state sophomore year.”

Dunson is again headed back to Champaign after placing third at 120 pounds at the IHSA Class 3A Hinsdale Central Sectional on Feb. 12 to qualify with a top-four finish.

Jalen Dunson

After there was no 2021 IHSA state tournament because of pandemic restrictions, Dunson overcame two COVID-related schedule breaks this season that significantly limited the Huskies’ matches.

Dunson (19-3) outlasted Mt. Carmel’s Jairo Acuna 6-4 in overtime for third place after beating Marmion’s Tyler Aters 5-3 in the preceding match with the state berth on the line. Dunson lost to Aters earlier this season by a major decision.

“I was just telling myself before the match I’ve sacrificed so much time, energy,” Dunson said. “I’ve worked so hard so I deserved to be in that position to make it to state. I owe it to my coaches and teammates because we’ve all been training hard all year through adversity.” 

In the semifinals, Dunson was pinned by Sandburg’s undefeated Sammi Hayes (10-0) and moved to the consolation semifinals. 

Dunson then was behind 2-0 against Aters (17-6) on a takedown just 41 seconds into the match but then rode Aters most of the final two periods. Dunson recorded two near-fall points in the second period to lead 3-2 and a takedown six seconds into the third to move ahead 5-2.

“I gave up the first takedown but then I had to bring myself back up,” Dunson said. “It’s a six-minute match. It’s not decided in the first 40, 50 seconds of the match, so I just had bring myself back up, remember how hard I’ve been training in practice so win the match no matter what.”

Six Huskies reached sectionals. Juniors Cooper Lacey (15-10 at 126) and Will Kelly (13-10 at 132) were 2-2, junior Vance Domenz (10-10 at 170) was 1-1, senior Allyn Johnson (11-12 at 285) was 1-2 and freshman Ruben Acevedo (9-10 at 106) was 0-2.

After going 0-2 in 2020, Dunson hopes to earn all-state honors if not “top of the podium.” After reaching the sectionals of last year’s state-like tournament conducted by the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association, Dunson just missed its state finals. He then came one victory from All-America honors in summer Greco-Roman competition.  

“I’m just going to let it all out [at state],” Dunson said. “I’m never going to get this opportunity back. There’s no next year so I have to put it all on the mat.”

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