After enduring a dry spell in recent seasons, the Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team hopes to start returning to its lofty program standards.
Seven returning starters give OPRF coach Paul Collins a solid base on which to build.
“We’re very excited about the season,” he said. “We have a great mixture of experience and youth. This group of young men is working and pushing each other within the room.”
OPRF’s returnees are senior Tej Menon at 106 pounds, junior Ruben Acevedo at 120, sophomore Joe Knackstedt at 132, senior Cooper Lacey at 138, junior Ben Sanchez at 170, senior Vance Domenz at 182 and senior Kole Sneed at 220/heavyweight.
Top newcomers are freshman Zev Koransky at 113 pounds, freshman David Ogunsanya at 126, senior Roman Pantazopoulos at 160, sophomore C.J. Robinson at 195, and sophomore Eric Harris at 220/heavyweight.
The Huskies have a challenging schedule, which includes the Rex Whitlatch Invitational at Hinsdale Central on Dec. 16, the William “Red” Schmitt Invitational at Granite City on Dec. 29-30, the Clash National Duals in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, on Jan. 6-7, and their own Huskie Invitational on Jan. 21.
OPRF will host neighborhood rival Fenwick in a dual meet on Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m. It’s the first time since 2010 that the Huskies and Friars will meet on the mat.
“We have a lot of respect for Coach [Seth] Gamino and his program,” Collins said. “The wrestlers are excited and we think it’s going to be a great night.”
OPRF, which had just one wrestler advance downstate last winter — Jalen Dunson, who graduated in 2022 — wants to reestablish itself as a force to be reckoned with come postseason.
“The goal is to be better heading into the regionals than we are now,” Collins said. “This is going to be a year where we get ourselves back on track and move forward together.”
With 17 returnees to the varsity, Fenwick High School has plenty of competition among its wrestlers, and that has Gamino optimistic about this season.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We’re a bit young with the bulk being sophomores and juniors, but we’re ready to hit the mats and turn some heads.”
The Friars return three wrestlers from last year’s lineup in sophomore Aiden Burns at 152 pounds, senior Vincent Floravanti at 160 and senior Finn McGee at 170. McGee placed second at last year’s Chicago Catholic League meet and came within a match of advancing downstate.
“I am beyond proud of how Finn and Vincent have prepared for their senior seasons and know their hard work will pay off,” Gamino said.
A newcomer to keep an eye on is freshman Michael Frighia at 126 pounds.
In addition to the dual meet with OPRF, schedule highlights for Fenwick include a two-day Catholic League Quad that takes place Jan. 3-4 at St. Laurence and St. Rita.
Fenwick finished fifth in last season’s Catholic League meet, the program’s best conference finish since 2012. Gamino sees Marmion Academy and Mount Carmel as the league’s top teams this year.
“I want the boys to get better every day and appreciate it along the way,” he said. “We’re a young team and we look forward to the challenges of a tough season.”