By Melvin Tate
This season has been particularly strong for the LTHS wrestling team. They claimed the West Suburban Silver title (one that's belonged to OPRF the past few seasons) and found themselves in position to take home a regional championship.
However, 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.
LTHS head coach Griff Powell was 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," said Powell. "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's head coach Paul Collins was also thrilled about how his team bounced back.
"Today went about as well as it possibly could have," said 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 advanced nine wrestlers to the individual sectional. The Lions had two champions - senior Jimmy Ruston in the 138-lb class, and senior Griffin King at 182. Ruston got a 16-3 major decision win over Rodriguez in the semifinal, then got a technical fall over Tim Song of Hinsdale Central for the title.
King got a 10-2 major decision over JT Pyle of Hinsdale Central High School in the semifinal and then followed with a 12-8 win against Ben Bielawski to claim the championship.
For King, winning a regional championship in his final home match meant a lot.
"It's actually a little crazy," said King. "I've been coming to matches here since I was four years old, and to end my home career with a win is pretty awesome. I had to stay under control and use my game plan. I'd beaten (Bielawski) twice in the season, and I had that in my head. All I had to do was to keep up my attacks, and I came out with the win."
Other LTHS wrestlers to advance to the individual sectional were Villareal, Paul Cozzi (145 lbs), Bettiga, Andrew Schodrof (160), Griffin Pohl (170), Jack Bergman (195), and Christian Krull (220).
OPRF also advanced nine individuals. 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).
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.
"I'm unbelievably proud of our boys," said Powell. "We're going to try get as many as we can Downstate next week. I like the way we're wrestling, and hopefully we get a whole bunch (to advance)."
"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," said Collins. "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 at 9 am on Feb. 15.