Appointed as new coach for this season, there can be little doubt after only a few weeks the difference former St. Charles North assistant Gary Conrad is making with the Jacobs wrestling program.
Last weekend the Golden Eagles won their first tournament but outdistancing 12 teams to win at the Tom DuBois Classic in Richmond-Burton. Earlier, the team had a very successful day at its own mega-duals.
Thursday night the Golden Eagles had their biggest test of the season thus far against visiting McHenry, and the FVC Valley Division power Warriors left the cozy wrestling gym in Algonquin with a 40-24 victory as they improved to 10-0 in duals.
"After a slow, then tough start, we showed we could be right there with a very good team like McHenry," said an upbeat Conrad, who was without his best competitor in Austin Ryan at 106 pounds and later lost starter Matt DiFecchio midway through his 170-pound bout to an injury. "We made some mistakes which led to pins. (DiFecchio) was leading his match when he went down, and you have to think Austin could have given us at least 3 points, so it was still a good night despite the loss."
"Coach (Conrad) has really changed things around here," said Mark Mamola, one of the few seniors which dot a roster filled with talented younger wrestlers. "This is my third coach in four years, and although it's been a little difficult dealing with all that change, I can honestly say that the atmosphere is different in the room, and there are a lot of good, young guys who are working hard for our new coach."
Mamola is one to watch for sure after a superb junior campaign which ended in 31 victories and a sectional appearance in the heavyweight division -- quite a feat when you consider the four-year standout competed against some giants who may have outweighed Mamola by nearly 100 pounds.
"I was at 200 pounds, which was kind of crazy when you think about it. But even though I am at (204) pounds this season, I feel like I am at the weight that I should be to be able to go at most of the 220-pounders, and I should have a great chance of getting downstate this season."
Mamola, Ryan and freshman Chris Danka each captured tournament titles at the DuBois Classic. On Thursday, Mamola earned a hard-fought 4-1 decision over Ryan Wykes to help jump-start a Golden Eagles revival after the hosts fell behind 20-0 in the early stages in McHenry run fueled by Wade Tardy, a state qualifier last season for coach Will Gaddy.
The Warriors jumped out ahead with victories at 145, 152, then 160 to open the night. But McHenry appeared to be in some trouble when DiFecchio carried a 6-2 lead halfway into the second period before a low single from Cam Pait send the Jacobs junior reaching for his right knee in obvious pain.
After a short delay, DiFecchio was helped off, giving Pait a 6-point injury default victory.
It became 20-0 following a 4-1 OT win by Luke Krauser over junior Charles Goin at 182 before Carson Shoemaker stopped the McHenry run with a fall at 4:49.
"We really showed that our strength, for now, is at the lower weights, starting with Austin at 106, then right through 126," said Conrad.
Dranka (113) and Kenny Thompson (120) help put the Golden Eagles right back in it with consecutive pins to bring the hosts closer at 32-21.
Then it was Cody Ferencz' turn at 126 to shine.
The sophomore opened strong in the third period against Mike Sikula, who won 31 matches last season, recording a reversal to go up 2-1, then, with a nice angle, scoring a takedown to take the lead for good at 4-2 at 5 minutes. Ferencz put Sikula away for good with a deuce at the edge in the waning moments of the match in a 6-3 decision.
Trailing 32-24, the Golden Eagles were not able to get any closer with Mike Infelise and Brad Ostdick finishing things off with a 5-0 decision, then a tech-fall at 138 pounds.
"This was a big night for us, and I thought the guys did real well against McHenry," said Conrad. "The attitude around in the room and around the program is very good, and for me, it's all about the kids. I think the good start that we've had so far has really got everyone exited about wrestling, and that's the type of thing we need to continue to grow and succeed."