Lyons Township High School senior wrestler Cooper King’s 195-pound championship match at Hinsdale Central’s Rex Whitlatch Invitational on Dec. 17 began with him nearly being pinned in the first 15 seconds.
“I was kind of confused how I even got there in the first place,” King said. “It was kind of like a shock, like I got rolled over or something. It was a weird position that I got caught in. I was glad that I fought out of it, though.”
King not only recovered but dominated, winning 9-4 and not allowing a point the rest of the way.
King (18-1) only has lost once in finishing third at the Barrington Invite.
His championship at the prestigious 25–team tournament on Dec. 17 was the Lions’ first since 2017 and King’s first major invite title – something he’s thought about for a while. King missed last year’s Whitlatch after knee surgery on his left meniscus but returned to qualify for sectionals.
“I have a white board in my room, and it’s been ‘Whitlatch champ’ on it since last year,” King said. “I’m really happy that I accomplished this.”
Four other Lions ended with wins. Senior Sam Costello (15-7 at 220) and freshman Griff Powell (17-4 at 106) were fifth and seniors Calum Rogers (9-7 at 145) and Gunnar Garelli (14-6 at 152) were seventh. The Lions (89.5 points) were 12th as a team.
“As far as the place rounds were concerned, we couldn’t have finished any better,” LTHS coach Griff Powell said. “All of these teams are very competitive. This is very much like a sectional. You’re going to see a lot of these guys at sectionals and obviously at the state meet.”
In the finals, King defeated DeKalb senior David Stewart (16-2) by leading 6-4 after the first period. King opened with two pins followed by a 7-0 semifinal decision.
LTHS assistant coaches Mark King, his grandfather, and brother Griffin King were in King’s corner for the final.
“I trusted my abilities and what I needed to do,” King said. “I’ve got two of my most loving people in my corner cheering and supporting me on. They know exactly what I needed to do and they can lead me to any victory.”
Costello’s fifth-place victory especially was emotional. Costello pinned Hinsdale South senior Griffin Carr (10-3) in 3:42 after he was pinned by Carr in the quarterfinals in 1:15.
Costello trailed the fifth-place match 3-1 in the second period before his pin 52 seconds after an injury timeout.
“You learn from mistakes,” Costello said. “Wrestling is not just about winning but overcoming yourself and learning more.”
Powell defeated Lincoln-Way West freshman Carter DiBenedetto 12-8 for fifth after multiple comebacks from early-match deficits. Powell won his quarterfinal 11-9 and lost his semifinal 11-10 and his consolation-bracket semifinal 8-6.
“I didn’t wrestle up to my best,” Powell said. “I made a few mistakes in the matches but this is just getting me ready for the state tournament and better every week.”
Rogers defeated Lincoln-Way West senior Tyler Mansker 9-7 for fifth on a takedown with 13 seconds left. Rogers lost his previous match 3-2 after recording two pins.
In arguably the toughest bracket, Garelli defeated Stevenson junior Themba Sitshela 5-3 for seventh by holding his 2-point lead in the final 1:53.
A 2021 state qualifier, Garelli lost to Warren freshman Aaron Stewart (17-1), the tournament’s eventual champion, 7-3 in the quarterfinals. Garelli suffered a disappointing 3-2 double-overtime wrestleback loss after earlier beating the same wrestler 4-2.
“That was a tough one to drop,” Garelli said. “I think my conditioning’s really good right now. I’ve just got to find a way to open the guys up more. I’ve got to push the pace.”