By Jason Maholy
Marist rolled through December, beginning the month with a victory over a strong Providence team and reeling off seven more wins in succession heading into the challenging Dvorak Invitational and William Red Schmitt Holiday tournaments.
On the cusp of returning to classes following winter break, the RedHawks traveled southwest to New Lenox to compete in the Lincoln-Way West mega duals.
The Warriors played the role of rude host, winning eight of 13 contested matches and topping the RedHawks, 44-20. Marist got victories from Owen Dunlap (106), Michael Leveille (113), Tom McAuliffe (132), Jacob Dado (138) and Ghee Rachal (195).
Mateem Taylor was solid in a 6-2 loss to Javen Estrada at 126, and Tim Maheen (220) and Tom Munoz (285) dropped matches in overtime. Munoz’s defeat was especially tough, with the junior taking Brian White to overtime and grappling for 7:51 before being pinned.
Marist coach Brendan Heffernan pulled no punches in assessing the result, but only because he knows the showing wasn’t indicative of his team’s ability.
The RedHawks have been challenged to overcome injuries to three starters at 132, 145 and 160 pounds, and were coming off two tough tournaments over the holidays.
“We’re not competing very well right now, just not competing very hard,” Heffernan said. “We’ve had two pretty tough weeks, so I don’t know if the kid are worn out or what, but they’re not really where we need to be at this point. So, we’ve got to toughen up a little bit.
“We’re a little short-handed right now, but that’s not an excuse. These guys, the way they compete, needs to change.
“But we’ve got time to straighten it out.”
One who didn’t appear to be worn out – not that he was on the mat long enough to be – was Dado. The third-place finisher in Class 3A at 132 last season, Dado rolled over West’s Garrett Giegner, a state qualifier at 120 last February, finishing him with a pin in 52 seconds.
Heffernan said as well as his senior captain is wrestling, he believes Dado can reach an even higher level as he eyes a state championship.
“He’s wrestling with confidence, the big thing we need to figure out with him is finding those two, three positions that people haven’t seen from him yet, and those are what are going to win him that state title,” he said. “That’s just a different mindset – training every single day, knowing these two (daily practice) hours are gearing toward a state title.
“I think he’s really excited about that last opportunity. That’s a good way to look at it rather than be anxious or nervous or apprehensive.”
It appears Heffernan has an excellent gauge on Dado, who has qualified for state the past two seasons, but believes he is better now than he was when he stood on the medals stand in Champaign last February.
“I think I’m way ahead compared to where I was last year. Last year I was kind of still feeling myself out in some matches, but now I’m just doing what I do.
“I’m out there hammering – not thinking, just wrestling.”
Dado didn’t wait long to begin his quest for a championship, taking only two weeks off after state last season before getting back on the mat. He trained locally with other top wrestlers from the area and competed at the Marine Cadets and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D., where h placed seventh.
“I’m feeling pretty strong, just really excited for the state series, just trying to get to the main goal of a state championship,” he said. “It’ll be fun, it’ll be exciting
Heffernan is excited about the emergence of Dunlap, one of two freshman, along with Tom McAuliffe, who are establishing themselves as solid additions to the lineup. Dunlap defeated West’s Josh McLean, 11-2.
“Owen Dunlap is going to be a stud,” he said. “He came in with a lot of wrestling knowledge. He’s still figuring out the high school game a little bit, but we’re really excited about him. He’s got a lot of potential.
Heffernan credited senior Mike Leveille, one of Dunlap’s practice partners, for helping acclimate the freshman to high school varsity wrestling.
“It’s great for him to work out with Mike Leveille every single day, learning how to train, learning what it takes to succeed at this level,” he added.
Leveille was a 6-2 winner over Johnny Buell.
McAuliffe took a 1-0 decision over Mike Yario.
“We’re asking a lot out of him there, so he did a great job to win that match for us. That was a nice win for him,” Heffernan said.
Two sophomores, Taylor at 126 and Bobby Gaylord at 152, have also acquitted themselves at times as they get experience under their belts.
“Taylor has been wrestling well – that was a tough match (against Estrada), but as a sophomore he’s starting to learn how to compete with consistency, which is key for him,” Heffernan said.
Gaylord, wrestling with an energy more common at the lower weights, had the Warriors’ Brock Pfeifer on his back, but couldn’t finish him off. Pfeifer turned the match around and took an 8-6 victory.
Gaylord was wrestling a weight above his usual class because of the RedHawks’ injuries.
“He’s a sophomore, and that’s kind of what sophomores do,” Heffernan said of Gaylord looking sharp at times, and struggling at others. “He started off the season red hot, and I think he was just wrestling. Now, I think he’s thinking a little bit too much, which will cause you to doubt positions or question things.
“It’s a matter of consistency. He’s got to compete the same way every single time, be ready to go every single match. So those letdowns are what’s frustrating at this point, but he’s got all the potential in the world.”