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Herron: Providence, Minooka youth movements paid off

Providence Catholic's Cole Smith grapples with Marmion Academy's Brad Gross on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, at the State Farm Center during Class 3A State Wrestling Semifinals in Champaign, Ill.
Providence Catholic's Cole Smith grapples with Marmion Academy's Brad Gross on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, at the State Farm Center during Class 3A State Wrestling Semifinals in Champaign, Ill.

As the 2014-15 season got underway, two of the area’s top wrestling programs went with an approach that you usually don’t expect from schools that aren’t that far removed from being considered among the elite in the state.

But facing some unusual down times, both Providence Catholic and Minooka decided to go with youth movements to try to turn around their situations and future prospects.

After only winning seven dual meets in 2014, Celtics coach Keith Healy went with a young group the next season, which featured five freshmen in the regional lineup.

Providence looked to those youngsters to help kick-start a revival for a program that hadn’t been to state since 2008. Of those five freshmen who competed in the 2015 regional, four were competing for the Celtics this weekend at the IHSA dual team finals.

The long absence from being at state was magnified by the fact that Providence had gone to the dual team finals 11 times from 1993 to 2004, which included a run of six championships, two second-place finishes and three third-place efforts under Healy.

In the 2016 regional, the Celtics went with 11 freshmen or sophomores, and eight of those were on hand as the program secured its second trophy in three years by finishing 22-11 and beating Barrington before falling to champion Montini and then defeating Huntley to place third, which was one spot better than the group achieved as sophomores.

Seniors from this year’s Providence team who competed in the regional as freshmen were Dominick Ambrose, Logan Anderson, Tom Farley and Cole Smith. This year’s juniors who competed as freshmen in the 2016 regional were Ross Heimlich, Jacob Lindsey, Josh Ramos and Antonio Tuminello.

“I don’t know why people underranked us,” said Smith, who was a three-time placewinner. “In the beginning of the season, we were missing three weights. So we wanted to go out and show people why Providence is Providence. The big concern that I had was just making sure that people know that we’re still around, and we do belong.”

The fact that people underestimated the Celtics only served as extra motivation for athletes who are proud of their efforts to put the Providence program back on the map.

“A lot of people wouldn’t have thought by the end of February that we’d be coming home with a team trophy,” Ambrose said. “We didn’t pay attention to all of the doubters, we just came together. We knew how big the Barrington dual would be for not only us seniors, but also the rest of the underclassmen and coach Healy, since this is his last year. We all just wanted to go out with a bang, and we got it done. This group of seniors knew what we had was special.”

Someone who’s already looking to be a part of a third trophy-winning team is Lindsey, who bounced back from the disappointment of not being able to defend his state title because of injury by securing the Barrington win to give his coach his 14th trophy in 14 state trips.

“When a lot of guys in the room look up to you, you have to set a good example coming off a disappointing tournament,” Lindsey said. “You’ve got to keep it together for the whole team. We had a great opportunity with a good group of guys and coach Healy, so keeping the tradition is what really held everyone together. It was awesome being able to be a part of something with these seniors and coaches. We had a good time and did some good stuff.”

Meanwhile at Minooka, a similar decision was being made by then-coach Jeff Charlebois. The Indians hoped to use the youth movement to get their program back among the best.

From 2004 to 2013, under coaches Bernie Ruettiger, Paige Schoolman and Charlebois the Indians appeared at the state meet eight times in 10 years with the highlight being three straight title meet appearances from 2009 to 2011, which featured a championship in 2010.

In the 2015 regionals, the Indians had six freshmen in the lineup, four of whom were on hand this past Saturday when the program made its first visit to state since 2013.

The number of freshmen and sophomores increased to 11 in the 2016 regionals with Ruettiger again as coach. Of that group, eight still were around to help the Indians to a sectional victory last week over defending champion Lockport before the squad saw its 25-3 season conclude in a quarterfinal loss to runner-up Oak Park-River Forest.

Indians seniors who were on the regional team in 2015 were Danny Debow, Adam McDowell, Zach McDowell and Derek Wentworth. A year later, Cody Hoshell, Jake Ryan and Dominic Ruettiger competed as sophomores, while Noah Boles, Connor Colbert and Austin Markee were freshmen on the regional team.

“We started as freshmen and have built the program up, and got it back down to the Elite Eight,” Debow said. “We took a lot of beatings, and it was definitely a fight, but we were able to get back down here, which was our goal. The younger guys are going to do good next year and in years to come. It’s been a lot of fun.”

After a five-year absence from the dual team finals, the Indians are hoping that their successful 2018 campaign kicks off another special stretch for their program.

“We took some early beatings, but we’ve all worked our butts off to get to where we’re at,” Zach McDowell said. “We’ve brought the program back to the top, and I’m proud of every single guy on this team, and there’s a lot to be proud of.”

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