By Melvin Tate
While OPRF is perennially known for boasting one of the best wrestling programs in the country, this season has been uncharacteristically average as the Huskies had several dual-team meet losses and saw Lyons Township High School claim the West Suburban Silver title - one that's belonged to OPRF the past few seasons.
However, the IHSA state series is typically when the Huskies have been at their best, and on Feb. 8, OPRF found itself in a familiar position: a regional champion.
The Huskies claimed the team title in the 3A Lyons Township Regional with 191.5 points while the Lions were the runner-up with 151.5 points.
"Today went about as well as it possibly could have," said OPRF's head coach Paul Collins. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight, so we needed some guys to step up and they did. To take home the regional plaque again is awesome and sets us up for team sectionals."
LTHS head coach Griff Powell was also pleased with his team's performance as the Lions carried over their strong regular season - which featured their first conference championship since 2011 - into the regional.
"Overall, I thought our guys did an outstanding job," Powell said. "We ended up getting several guys through (to the individual sectional) and avenged a few losses in three different weight classes. I thought our energy and effort were outstanding."
OPRF advanced nine individuals to the Hinsdale Central 3A Individual Sectional. The Huskies had six champions - Jake Rundell at 120 lbs, Nico Bolivar at 132, Josh Ogunsanya at 145, Joe Chapman at 152, Daemyen Middlebrooks at 195, and Fabian Gonzalez at 285. Other OPRF wrestlers advancing were Zavian Stewart at 106 (third place), Jalen Dunson at 113 (third), and Malakye Rodriguez at 138 (third).
Chapman was particularly dominant, registering pinfalls in both the semifinal and championship rounds. After pinning Downers Grove North's Will Schuessler at 2:55 in the semifinal, Chapman - ranked fourth in the state in his weight class - notched a 15-0 technical fall victory over LTHS' Will Bettiga for the title, improving his individual record to 31-6.
"That was fun," said Chapman after the match. "I wrestled him earlier in the season and today it was good to meet him when I was stronger."
Rundell, the state's top-ranked wrestler in his weight class, also had a relatively easy day. After getting a bye to the semifinals, the senior pinned Terrance Smith of Proviso East in 1:42 before he made short work of LTHS' Jack Villarreal in the title match. Rundell got the pin in just 50 seconds to improve his season mark to 35-1.
Despite the uneven season, OPRF still has several state-ranked wrestlers. Besides Chapman and Rundell, the Huskies have Bolivar ranked third in the 132-lb class, Ogunsanya third at 145, Danny Lingen second at 182, and Middlebrooks second at 195.
Unfortunately, Lingen suffered an injury in practice three days before the regional and did not participate. It was a tough blow for OPRF, but Collins saluted his team for displaying resiliency.
"We thought we were going to solidly win (the regional) with Danny, but once he went down, we knew we had some work to do," he said. "Today we had guys like Stephon Carr, Malcolm Gray, and Connor Nagela who - although they didn't place - were able to win matches and get valuable points for us."
Both Collins and Powell believe their teams are performing at the highest possible level as the state series enters into the individual sectional round, and both are optimistic about having several wrestlers advance to the individual state finals, which take place Feb. 20 through Feb. 22 at the University of Illinois' State Farm Center in Champaign.
"Now for the next two weeks, these guys can solely focus on the individual tournament and try to get on the stand and get a state title," Collins said. "The 14 guys we put on the mat today, we thought they gave their best efforts of the season, and that's what we were hoping for. We solidified ourselves and let everyone know that we're still a good team and a force to be reckoned with. It's been a journey, and we've come a long way since the beginning of the year."
Preliminary matches at the Hinsdale Central individual sectional begin Feb. 14 at 4 p.m., with the remaining matches starting the next morning at 9 am.
Answer Book 2019
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