When Riverside-Brookfield High School junior wrestler Al’lon Carter transferred from Proviso West in December, he only had two years of limited frosh-soph experience.
Carter’s only knowledge of the Bulldogs’ program was of second-year coach Mike Boyd from a summer wrestling camp in eighth grade.
During the Class 2A individual state tournament Thursday through Saturday in Champaign, everybody learned quickly about Carter and the rebirth of the Bulldogs.
Carter became the program’s first all-state finisher since 1983 by taking fifth at 220 pounds. Boyd was told the Bulldogs’ six state qualifiers is their largest group ever.
“It was a big thing for me to go down there and place. Just all of the hard work that I put in, I didn’t want to make a blank trip,” said Carter (19-3).
“I’m trying to make R-B wrestling up and coming. (I tried) working hard and doing extra work and everything that ordinary kids wouldn’t, just an ordinary kid doing extraordinary things.”
Senior John Szydlo (34-5 at 145 pounds) finished among the top eight with a 2-2 record, losing a 3-2 decision that would have clinched all-state.
Seniors and 2014 state qualifiers Nick Giurini (20-6 at 120) and Antonio Ochoa (28-9 at 126) were 1-2 with first-round victories. Sophomore Josh Contreras (26-9 at 113) and freshman Tommy Russell (25-9 at 106) were 0-2.
Boyd was told the Bulldogs previously hadn’t won any state match in roughly 20 years. This group still wanted more.
“As long as we keep making steps forward [we’re pleased]. We put in a lot of work in so, of course, we’re going to be disappointed,” Boyd said.
“(Carter) went down there to win state. Every time he went out there and wrestled, I told him, ‘Remember the sacrifices you and your mom made for a better life, for better coaching, better wrestling, to be in this situation right now.’ “
Carter, 3-2 at state, avenged his only regular-season loss in the quarterfinals by edging third-place Geneseo senior Lane Akre 4-3. In the semifinals, Carter was pinned by the eventual state champion, Crystal Lake Central junior Romeo McKnight, in 1:37.
Hoping to wrestle for third, Carter lost a 5-4, sudden-death heartbreaker to fourth-place Ridgewood junior Vinny Scaletta. Because Scaletta scored first, he chose the positions for sudden death. Scaletta picked down and escaped.
“If [Carter] had that choice to get on bottom, he would have won,” Boyd said. “The only good thing is he sees how thin that margin is [at state]. He knows how hard he has to work.”
Carter dominated Oak Forest junior Nick Graziano 9-4 for fifth. Four all-staters and eight bracket qualifiers were underclassmen.
“From people not knowing who I am to people knowing who I am in a couple of days (has been interesting),” Carter said. “It makes me really hungry for next year. Now I can’t wait.”
Szydlo was pinned in the second round by an eventual state champion, Montini senior Vincent Turk. In his final match against sixth-place Carmel senior Anthony Swindell, Szydlo trailed 3-2 entering the third period but never could escape.
“My goal was to be all-state. That didn’t end up happening so that kind of (stinks) but I did pretty well during the season and throughout the ride there,” Szydlo said. “[We seniors] showed just how our hard work made us a lot better.”
Szydlo has been invited to wrestle for the University of Illinois as a preferred walk-on.
“It’s good to have a happy ending,” Boyd said. “To think that [his all-state] picture won’t be on the wall [at R-B is disappointing].”
Giurini and Ochoa won major decisions by 11 and nine points, respectively. Giurini found out later his victory ended R-B’s long drought.
“I kind of see it as we all won our first match. It’s kind of like all of us did it,” Giurini said. “It was awesome, the experience of getting your hand raised [for a state victory].”
Contreras was defeated by two eventual all-staters. Ochoa’s first loss came 9-4 to second-place Montini junior James Pawelski.
“I hope I left a giant mark on the program. From top to bottom, it’s like a family tree,” Ochoa said. “Last year, I looked at it as I was just happy to be down there. The mindset was completely different. We went down there expecting to win.”