ROMEOVILLE – After struggling through a rough stretch at the beginning of the season because of having a shorthanded lineup, the fortunes have changed for the better for Joliet Central’s wrestling team.
The Steelmen followed up on their championship in the 20-team Pontiac Invite over the weekend by capturing their fifth straight dual meet win with a 59-17 Southwest Prairie Conference victory Thursday at Romeoville.
After getting off to a 1-5 start against good competition, Central swept a quad at Niles West and beat Oswego East in another SPC dual before claiming first-place honors at Pontiac.
Prospects looked good for the Steelmen on Thursday because the Spartans had to forfeit at four weights while the visitors were able to field a complete lineup. Romeoville won the opener, but Central responded with victories in the next 10 matches.
“We’re really working hard in the room, and it’s a different kind of atmosphere this year with a lot of kids just after each other,” longtime Steelmen assistant coach Pat McGovern said. “That first week, we had about eight starters out, so we started off a little slow. Now we’ve got our team fully healthy, and every day in the room, they’re competing like it is a dual match. And we have a lot of good kids who are next to each other at weights, so that helps the conditioning in the room and translates to the dual.
“Damaris Stanley is 15-1, Jaden Perez went to 6-1 and Mario Leon, a returning state qualifier, is 6-3, and all three losses have come to top-10 people. On Saturday, we have a big test against Oak Forest, who’s ranked in 2A, and the kids are excited about that challenge.”
Romeoville opened with a fall from River Kowal in the opening match at 138 pounds, but the Steelmen answered with four straight wins on the mat as Mario Leon beat Azael Martinez, 12-6, at 145 before Jon Garcia (152) and Joe Carroll (160) both recorded falls and Ke’Andre Wiley (170) was a winner by technical fall.
“This year, we have a different kind of vibe since we’re stronger as a team and we have a stronger bond between everyone and that’s what is making us better as a team, because we’re having fun,” Leon said. “Having someone at every spot gives everyone hope since we can all do our part, and it improves everyone in the practice room since we all have partners and there’s no gaps in weight classes. This is definitely the best that we’ve been in years.”
The Steelmen got a forfeit win from Blake Tillery at 182 and then Jaden Perez recorded another fall in the next match. Damaris Stanley (220), Darrion Brown (285) and Jesus Vasquez (106) followed with forfeit wins before Michael Anderson (113) added another pin.
“At the start of the year, we went against some good teams and didn’t have our full lineup, but we have those guys back now,” Stanley said. “Coming off of last year, we knew that we could be good, so we just had to carry it to this year. I think that everyone on our team is confident, including the freshmen and sophomores who have moved to the varsity. This is very exciting since we’re a talented team.”
Romeoville picked up victories in the next two matches as Kaleb Zeffield (120) was a winner by technical fall and Nick Torres (126) followed with a pin before Central closed out its victory by getting a 9-6 triumph from Tyler Holmes over Tim LeVasseur.
The Spartans also have posted a good tournament this season after claiming fourth place at the Stagg Invite. While having several key performers in the lower and middle weights, Romeoville coach Rick Dellamorte also has a young group that will require more time on the mat and in the room in order to compete with teams in the tough SPC.
“We took fourth and had a bunch of medalists at Stagg,” Dellamorte said. “We’ve got four great seniors in Kaleb Zeffield, Nick Torres, River Kowal and Azael Martinez, and they go right back-to-back, and they’re good examples for the rest of the boys. I have a younger crew around them, and they learn from them on how to work, how to wrestle and how to be tough. And we’ve brought in some alumni to help me coach this year. We’ve still got a long ways to go, but we’ve come a long way in two years.”