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Sports

Herron: Many memorable highlights for area wrestlers

St. Rita's Austin O'Connor grapples with Lockport's Shayne Oster during the IHSA state wrestling finals  Feb. 20 at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
St. Rita's Austin O'Connor grapples with Lockport's Shayne Oster during the IHSA state wrestling finals Feb. 20 at the State Farm Center in Champaign.

A quick comparison with last season might suggest that this wasn’t a great year for area wrestlers.

After all, local schools only had one individual state champion, compared with five a year ago, and three teams made it to the dual team finals, after four advanced in 2015.

But this past season may be just as memorable for ushering in a new era, highlighted by a young and talented group of athletes who figure to leave quite a mark.

The three squads who got to team state – Lockport and Providence Catholic in Class 3A and Coal City in Class 1A – all are reflective of this new wave of good, young wrestlers.

Freshmen who put together impressive seasons were a big part of all three teams, and they were joined in equally large numbers by sophomores who did the same.

The results were trophies for all three programs, which laid a great foundation for them to do the same next season.

Coal City claimed its second-straight trophy and reached its first title meet since 1998, giving four-time champion Dakota all it could handle in the finals.

Lockport also picked up a second trophy and improved one spot on last year’s fourth-place effort. And Providence took fourth after returning to state for the first time since 2008.

The Porters graduate about 10 percent of their wins, with that total belonging to three-time medal winner Shayne Oster – who fell just short in his quest for a second-straight title against a three-time champion, St. Rita’s Austin O’Connor, who also lives in Lockport.

This marked the end of an era for the Oster family, who played a huge role in helping the Porters to statewide success. The five brothers combined for 679 wins and eight state medals, with three winning state championships.

The oldest of the brothers, Josh, already has led three teams to state during his five years as coach and seems ready to become a regular feature at the event, since the Porters figure to add even more talented wrestlers to their already-successful program.

The last few seasons had been disappointing ones for coach Keith Healy at Providence. After producing one of the greatest stretches of domination in any sport in state history, the Celtics struggled the past few years.

But a talented group of newcomers kick-started things a year ago, and another really good contingent built on that this year as the Celtics got better as the season unfolded. They not only ended their long state drought, but also came away with a trophy.

Providence only graduates about 15 percent of its wins, so it seems a pretty good bet that with more good competitors likely coming on board, both the Celtics and Porters will again be among the top Class 3A programs over the next few seasons.

It’s a similar story in Coal City, where coach Mark Masters’ program challenged Dakota’s dominance in the state’s smallest class.

While the Coalers suffered greater losses to graduation than Lockport or Providence – with state champion Riley Kauzlaric and two-time finalist Joey Rivera moving on – they still have a lot of good wrestlers in the fold.

Another program that certainly was good enough to get a trophy this season but was the victim of the IHSA’s unfair structuring of the competition was Lincoln-Way West.

Coach Brian Glynn’s Warriors were ranked third in Class 2A throughout the season and proved that point when they gave eventual champion Washington a good battle in the sectional.

Although West certainly has been good enough over the past few years to get several trophies, it has had the bad luck of running into finalists in the sectionals, so it has been able to get to state only once.

But those who’ve watched closely know what West has accomplished and look forward to seeing how the squad makes the transition to competing in Class 3A.

It was another successful season for schools in the Plainfield district. North not only had its first medalist, Marcus Povlick, but he also was a finalist. East’s Michael McGee was a finalist again, and the Bengals won two medals for the first time. And South followed up on its third-straight Southwest Prairie title by also getting two placewinners for the first time.

Three others also reached title matches. Lincoln-Way Central’s Bryan Ditchman showed why he’s been one of the state’s best big men for three-straight years, while Lemont’s Egan Berta and Morris’ Cody Baldridge both also got to the finals.

So although 2016 maybe wasn’t perhaps a banner year for local wrestling, it certainly could go down as a memorable one for the foundation that it established for upcoming seasons.

Curt Herron can be reached at cherron@shawmedia.com.

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