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Fenton, Ridgewood fight through difficulties

By Ed Muniz

For two schools, the wrestling season didn’t go the way they expected. The reasons were different for Fenton and Ridgewood, but each school had its share of disappointments, difficulties and surprises this year. Some could have been avoided, others could not.

Fenton  had done well throughout the year, and head coach Brian Hastings was satisfied with the results especially after losing one of his leaders to injury.  Highly touted 2013 state qualifier Andy Santana was pegged to standout at the 132-138 weight classes but was lost with a torn ACL before the season began.

The Bison went into the Class 2A Elmwood Park Regional with a pair of highly ranked wrestlers -- seniors Alex Cowan, seventh-ranked at 126, and Jiven Delgado, ranked sixth at 106. Juniors Antoine Bess (120), Oscar Ledezma (132), Joe Owenia (170), Juan Alfaro (182) and sophomore Marshawn Bunch contributed throughout the season and made coach Hastings optimistic as the state series began.

“I thought over all we had wrestled decent and had a pretty good year with some improvement from the underclassmen,” said the Bison leader.

Returning state qualifier Cowan and Delgado led the Bison effort.

“Cowan has been fighting some nagging injuries he suffered in football that haven’t ever fully gotten back to 100 percent" Hastings said. "Jiven has been really wrestling well all year and has really improved and is probably wrestling the best for us right now.”

At the weigh-in, the Bison expectations quickly changed. Delgado was .2 over the allowable weight of 108 after the two-pound allowance for the 106-pound weight class.
 
Although Delgado had wrestled at 113 during the year, he previously made scratch weight at 106, 107 and 108 several times during the season but just couldn’t get down where he needed in his most important meet of the year and high school career.

“I blame myself, it’s all on me. I did a terrible job at what I ate or drank and it’s really disappointing in my senior year to end this way. It’s difficult to think of being just .2 over and not wrestling,” said a somber Delgado.

Some may question why he didn’t stay at 113. The senior said he really didn’t have any thought of wrestling the regional at 113; it was all in at 106.

Hastings also never thought of bumping his freshman 113-pound wrestler for Delgado.

“I didn’t want to do something that I thought was totally unfair to the guy at 113 who was ready to wrestle," he said. "It’s a tough decision and one I didn’t ever expect to or want to make. I also thought it would send the wrong message to a kid who might think it's OK to not make weight because he can just move up. I didn’t want that.

"As much as it hurts, considering this is a great kid who gave us four years and it was his last shot, I just didn’t want to get into that.”

Cowan reached the regional finals which assured him of advancement to the sectional. Unfortunately his match ended prematurely when he suffered a right shoulder dislocation. His availability for the next step in the state series is up in the air.

Fenton advanced seven of its nine wrestlers and won its lone title with Ledezma at 132.

Ridgewood head coach Jared McCabe also had to make some tough decisions this season.

The Rebels hoped to have their mats full of athletes who wanted to be part of an improving program that included 2013 Class AA fourth-place finisher Sam Karim.

Unexpectedly, Ridgewood's numbers fell and McCabe was only able to regularly fill half of the 14 varsity weights. The bright spot was the return of Karim, who has a strong chance to return to the podium in Champaign.

“I can’t really explain why our numbers are down," McCabe said. "At times we had only 14 wrestlers in the room. It’s disappointing. So we put out only 7-8 wrestlers all year.”

To the credit of McCabe and his wrestlers and staff, the Rebels won several duals this year despite the large amount of surrendered points.

In the 30 years prior to McCabes’ arrival in Norridge, the Rebels had just two-place winners at state. During McCabe's 6-year tenure, Ridgewood has sent three wrestlers to the state finals.

At the regionals, McCabe made a decision with Karim that wasn’t popular with some Rebel supporters.

The second-ranked Class 2A 138-pounder was set to battle top-ranked Montini wrestler Vince Turk in the regional final. Fans saw them shake hands at the introduction of wrestlers and anticipated an edge-of-your-seat” championship bout. But before the finals, McCabe informed the head table that Karim would not wrestle due to a knee injury the coach felt could hurt his wrestler's chances in the sectionals.

“I really felt he wasn’t ready to wrestle his best and was worried he’d get hurt worse if he tried," McCabe said. "I thought it was best to give him another week of recovery and have him at least a week better at the sectional. Unfortunately that didn’t go over to well with some of the folks here.”

McCabe has also had unusual situations pop up this season. He was informed by one of his top wrestlers that he would not return after this season.

“He lets me know that he wants to pursue a career in mixed martial arts, train and compete in MMA and give it his all. I couldn’t understand that," said a disappointed McCabe. "He is a really talented wrestler but you really have to do a lot more in MMA. It takes a lot to be successful at it, but here this is a young kid who has decided to give up high school wrestling to do that.”

The Rebels advanced four to the Lakes Sectional led by Karim. The group includes senior 132-pounder Nathan Munoz (32-7), who was upset as the top seed at the regional but took third place to advance. Sophomore Adonis Silva (106) and freshman Anthony Giovannielli (152) also advanced with third-place wins.

McCabe will have plenty to do this weekend, but who knows how much busier he could have been with a full wrestling room.

The attitude of the program has improved at Ridgewood. The hope is that this season was a bump in the road and the numbers will be higher next season.




 

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