By Marty Farmer
The Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team was essentially untouchable from 2014 through 2016. The Huskies' magical run produced three straight Class 3A team state titles and numerous individual champs as well.
Over the past decade, the Huskies have produced 18 individual state champs. Throw in the Huskies' 2009 state championship squad, plus several other teams that were serious contenders, and it is apparent OPRF can match up against almost any opponent.
Unfortunately, even dynasties can seem relative by comparison. In that regard, Montini rates a clear edge currently over the Huskies from both short- and long-term perspectives.
The Broncos, who defeated OPRF earlier this season at the Beat the Streets Brawl in Oak Park, bested the Huskies again 41-18 in the IHSA Dual Team State Tournament finals at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington over the weekend.
Montini (27-2) has now won two state titles in a row, seven in the past nine years and 15 overall in assorted classes since 2000. The Broncos edged OPRF by a score of 43-29 in the 3A state final last year.
In their highly anticipated state finals rematch, the Huskies hung tough against the Broncos in the early going. OPRF seniors Jaylan Pascacio and Ashford Hollis notched wins in the 220-pound and 285-pound weight classes, respectively, to stake the Huskies to a 9-0 lead. The Bolivar brothers, Nico and Eddie, added victories for OPRF via a 4-2 decision and sudden victory (2-0) before teammate Torry Early beat Montini's Braden Stauffenberg 11-5.
Through eight matches, OPRF led 18-14.
However, the Broncos' enviable depth ultimately made the difference with six consecutive victories and 27 unanswered points to close out the dual. Individual state champions Dylan Ragusin (126), Jake Stiles (152) and Peter Christensen (195) led Montini, which had nine wrestlers place at the individual state tourney.
Other wrestlers who competed for OPRF in the dual-team final included Connor Nagela (106), Zavien Stewart (113), Jake Rundell (126), Stephon Carr (145), Joe Chapman (160), Danny Lingen (170), Daemyen Middlebrooks (182) and Brian Ziech (195).
Rundell (37-3), who won a state championship at 106 pounds in 2018, inspired his team after missing the individual state tourney due to an illness. Rundell wrestled up two weight classes to face Ragusin. In a hard-fought match, Ragusin edged Rundell in a 3-0 decision. Facing elite competition all day, Rundell won two of three matches against two state champs and a state medalist.
Despite losing their final match of the season, the Huskies enjoyed another top-notch season under the guidance of head coach Paul Collins and the rest of his coaching staff.
The Huskies reeled off three straight fiercely contested dual victories to meet Montini in the finals. OPRF edged Glenbard North 33-31 in a sectional dual, followed by close victories over Lockport 34-30 in the quarterfinals and over Marmion 32-27 in the semifinals.
Eddie Bolivar (47-3), Pascacio (38-12) and Hollis (41-6) all finished 3-0 against Lockport, Marmion and Montini on Saturday.
OPRF, which went 23-3 through the regular season, claimed titles at the Rex Whitlach Invite at Hinsdale Central and its own Huskies Invitational. The varsity also placed second out of 52 teams at the Powerade tourney in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania and won the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship with a 6-0 record.
Reflective of its reputation as a nationally-respected program, the Huskies wrestled against opponents from eight states.
At the IHSA Individual State Tournament, 132-pound state champ Eddie Bolivar led a contingent of six OPRF grapplers who medaled at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
After a runner-up finish last season (16-1 tech fall loss against Montini's 3-time state champ Real Woods), Bolivar took the final step with a 7-5 decision victory against Libertyville's Danny Pucino.
In addition to Eddie Bolivar's title, Hollis (285-pound class) earned third, while Josh Ogunsanya (126) and Chapman (152) both placed fourth in their respective classes. Nico Bolivar took fifth at 120 and Middlebrooks earned sixth at 182.
"I think as a team we performed great," Hollis said after the individual state tourney. "Placing six out of eight we brought [to state] was awesome."
OPRF has nine seniors on the varsity roster this year. Notable losses to graduation in the spring will include Hollis, Eddie Bolivar, Early, Pascacio, Brian Ziech and Jake Cagnina.
Among so many prominent wrestlers, Ziech epitomized the Huskies' toughness and competitive spirit as well as anybody. Ranked No. 4 at 195 pounds for most of the season by IllinoisMatmen.com and IWCOA, Ziech wrestled nine matches against opponents in the top 15 nationally in his weight class, despite dealing with a partially torn labrum in his shoulder. The transfer from Fenwick also cut weight from the 220-pound weight class to 195 to bolster the OPRF lineup overall.
Fortunately, individual state medalists Nico Bolivar, Chapman, Middlebrooks and Ogunsanya plus a healthy and motivated Rundell ensure the Huskies will be as formidable as ever.
Answer Book 2019
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