Richards sophomore wrestler Rocco Palumbo admits that on occasion he shoves his younger sister, Mia, around.
But that’s a good thing.
“I shove her around to make her tougher,” he said. “But I help coach her because she knows I know a lot about the sport. She watches my matches. We’re a good duo, I guess.’’
A good duo, he guesses?
Actually, this duo is much better than that. This is a history-making duo. And there is no guesswork there.
The Palumbo siblings are just the second brother and sister combination to ever win Illinois High School Association regional wrestling titles on the same day and the first bro/sis combo to accomplish this has a Richards’ connection.
Mia, a freshman seeded second, won the 106-pound championship in the Class 2A Lemont Regional title on Saturday while Rocco, who was seeded first, took care of business at 145.
Mia also made history when she became the first freshman girl to win a wrestling regional title. She is believed to be the fourth female regional champ in state history joining Mohamet-Seymour’s Mary Kelly (2002), Glenbard North’s Caitlyn Chase (2005) and Carbondale’s Alli Ragan (2010).
By the way, Mary Kelly, a senior at the time, won the 103-pound title the same day her brother, Chris won at 112. Mary and Chris Kelly’s names might not be widely recognizable around these parts, but their father is Jerry Kelly, who won Class AA titles for Richards in 1977 and 1978. Their uncle, Bill, won a couple of state titles as well and an NCAA championship while uncles Jim and Paul were also strong on the mat.
So, the Palumbos do not make up the first family of Richards wrestling, but they are still pretty darn good.
Jason Maholy, a longtime journalist who wrestled at Lockport High School and is not one who throws out hyperbole very much, said Mia winning the South Suburban Red conference championship as a freshman girl was “an amazing story.’’
“A freshman girl winning a conference championship is one of the greatest individual accomplishments I have ever heard of in any high school sport,” he said.
Mia took it to another level on Saturday after beating Brother Rice’s Michael Loughney in the semifinals 8-4 and top-seeded St. Rita’s Noel Rosales, 3-1, in the finals to improve to 25-3.
“This is the best feeling,” she said. “My matches were close and I never worried about losing – I just kept going and going.’’
Rocco is a pretty cool name for a wrestler and in the semifinals, he pinned a kid with an even cooler name – Lemont’s Connor Stomp – in 2 minutes, 27 seconds. Rocco won the title with a 6-1 victory over St. Rita’s Nate Bennett to improve to 27-3.
He might be a little overshadowed by his sister’s success but the sophomore is poised for a huge career. Last year, Rocco won a regional title and qualified for state. A year later, he is now a target.
“It’s fun to have that target on your back to prove that you are worthy,’’ he said. “I lost the first round at state but it was a great experience. Richards did a great job buying us hotels and team apparel.’’
Rocco sported a United State Marines cap at the regional after he was done wrestling and said if he can’t find a collegiate fit, he’s going right into the Marines.
“It tough and I love to push myself,” he said. “I would love a chance to defend my country.’’
Growing up, he said he played several sports but he is concentrating on wrestling now.
About the only thing that didn’t go Richards’ way was winning the team championship. The Bulldogs (158.5 points) finished behind champion St. Rita (191) and runnerup Lemont (181).
But they will still bring a solid number of individuals to at Hinsdale South on Friday and Saturday.
Aside from the champion Palumbos, Jason McIntyre (132), Marty Cosgrove (220) and Marquis Hall (285) finished second and Adam Alkilani (113), Basil Muhammad (126) and Andre Jefferson (195) finished third and all will be heading to Darien.
Bulldogs coach Nick Grabarek was hoping his team could win its first regional since the Kelly boys were dominating in 1979. But he was happy with the way his team competed. The Bulldogs won conference titles on all three levels so the future is bright.
“This is the toughest regional – St. Rita and Lemont have great programs,” he said. “Our program is getting better and better. Mia and Rocco met or exceeded their expectations. The kids are buying in and we hope to be strong for a while.’’