Although the Nazareth Academy wrestling team finished with a 12-9 record last season, the Roadrunners enjoyed a historic season.
The team placed third in the East Suburban Catholic Conference tourney, which is the program’s best finish ever. In the postseason, the Roadrunners produced seven individual champions and a runner-up result in the team standings at regionals. Nine grapplers qualified for sectionals and two advanced to the state tournament.
Gavin Smith and Jack Faine, the team’s only significant losses to graduation, won regional titles and fell one match shy of qualifying for the state tournament last season.
Entering his eighth year at Nazareth, head coach Denis Laughlin is optimistic about the team’s potential this winter. In addition to a bevy of skilled wrestlers, Laughlin cites assistant coach Brian Daly as a key contributor in the program’s success.
This season, the Roadrunners (11-3) have dual-match victories against Kennedy, St. Laurence, Hillcrest, Walther Christian and Fenton. On the flip side, Riverside-Brookfield edged Nazareth 35-33 and they also lost against Lisle and Joliet Catholic Academy.
Nazareth took third place at the 21st Annual Walther Christian Invite on Dec. 8 with four first-place showings and two runner-up results. The Roadrunners scored184.5 points, trailing only champion Birmingham Seaholm from Michigan (259) and Walther Christian (186).
Several wrestlers have started well for the Roadrunners, notably Anthony Greco (138-pound weight class), Alex Carrillo (152/160), Elijah Pesek (160/170), Robert Gurley (182) and Stan Suter (195).
Greco, Carrillo, Gurley and Suter each won his weight class title at Walther Christian.
Carrillo, who also played on the Nazareth football team which won the Class 7A, is a two-time state qualifier. Greco, a transfer from St. Patrick, and Gurley are off to fast starts, while Pesek and Suter are also wrestling at a high level.
Gurley and Suter lost in blood round matches at sectionals. A blood round is a match in which the winner qualifies for state.
“The key for us is staying healthy and spreading the guys out,” Laughlin said. “Many of our wrestlers have no experience before high school.”
Other wrestlers penciled in the lineup include returning sectional qualifiers Josh Fowler (126-pound weight class) and Oscar Lopez (132), along with Fenwick transfer Jackson Fowler (120), and seniors Ted Bucor (145) and Joe Seidel (220). Seidel was a junior varsity champion last season.
Freshmen Javaughn Jossell and Zach Milos were slated to hold down the lower weights, at 106 and 113, respectively. However, Jossell broke his leg during football season and Milos is trying to get his weight down.
“We do not when or if Javaughn will be back,” Laughlin said.
Heavyweight Louie Stec, also an outstanding football defensive tackle, starts at 285 as a returning state qualifier.
Nazareth competes in the ESCC, which features Class 2A ranked teams Marian Central Catholic, Carmel, Notre Dame and 3A standout Marist.
As if competing in a tough conference isn’t enough, the Roadrunners have bulked up the rest of their schedule.
“The major change to this year’s schedule is we have upgraded it,” Laughlin said. “We will be attending the 24-team Sycamore tournament on January 5. That tourney is pretty much a split between 2A and 3A schools. We will have a pretty good idea of where we stand after that tournament.”