CHAMPAIGN -- Ask Ray Griggel if if it wasn't for bad luck then you wouldn't have any at all applies to him and the Dundee-Crown senior might just have to agree.
After all, a torn ligament in his left arm during his freshmen year, followed by a skin infection just before the postseason wiped out his season for good last year then this fall, an attempt to block a kick resulted in a freak shoulder injury threatened to end his year for good.
However, there are ways to erase bad luck without some crazy old world method or magic potions, and for Griggel it was good old fashioned hard work and persistence, both of which he has plenty of. Saturday afternoon, he was rewarded for it all when he captured a fourth-place finish at the Class 3A state wrestling tournament at Assembly Hall.
After nearly seeing his career nearly end on Thursday with a first-round defeat, Griggel came back through the consolation bracket to win four three straight, before falling in exciting fashion in OT to Jacob Suter of Glenbrook South) to take home his most treasured possession of his career.
"This really means a lot to me, especially after going through what I did the past two years, and the reality that maybe I wouldn't be able to wrestle at all this season or if I did, at less than 100 percent," said the Chargers' quiet giant.
"This result today is a real tribute to Ray, and what he's done to get himself back to form, and it really showed what he was capable of if he had good health last year and this season," added Chargers' assistant coach Matt Wahl.
Griggel slowly got himself into shape, and match fit, and when he won a Fox Valley Conference title in late January, the transformation was nearly complete.
Last week, a fourth-place finish at the Barrington sectional sent him downstate, where he drew No. 1 Tom Howell (Marist) for his opener.
More bad luck?
"It really was a tough draw for sure, but we knew if he dropped his first match, Howell would continue to win, to help keep him alive in wrestlebacks," said Wahl.
Once there, nobody was safe from the three-year star, who pinned his way into the third-place match.
"This was it for me, there were no more chances, so it feels real good right now to finish up with a state medal, and although I would like have liked to finish higher, I can still go home on a high note," said Griggel.
"Ray's success here is so big for him, as well as for our guys who came down to support him, and to find our what it's like here and what can happen if you put the extra time in, during the season and after, and how successful you can be if you do all the right things," said Wahl.
The ultimate result was not what both Nick Gil and Michael Cullen had hoped for, but it certainly wasn't a lost weekend despite it all.
The FVC dynamic duo will be back next season, much to the disappointment of those who will have the 'pleasure' of meeting these two on the mats.
Gil (Crystal Lake South, 42-6) came out of a group of granite at 126 pounds with a fourth-place medal after dropping his season finale 7-1 to No. 3 Isaiah White III (Oak Park-River Forest) Saturday afternoon to give the Gators' junior a much deserved top 4 finish after just missing out on a medal during his first visit here last February.
"As I mentioned (Friday) night, it was tough for Nick to get over the hard loss he took from No. 1 Jered Cortez (Glenbard North) in his semifinal, and it was important for him to get himself together and go out today and battle back into medal contention," said Gators' coach Ross Ryan.
"He did that part very well, and I was impressed with the way he came out and beat a quality guy in (Nick) Nasenbenny (Plainfield Central) who got him earlier (5-4) and stayed with his game plan in order to do so.
"White was yet another top flight opponent, and someone he beat the first time around (3-2) so he showed he's right there with the best, and I fully expect him to come back next year and be that much better for his experience here this year."
Cary-Grove head coach Ryan Ludwig is wishing his top man Cullen could get back at it after a short recovery time after the Trojans' sophomore dropped his final two matches of the tournament to end up sixth overall.
Cullen (45-3) opened up the day with a pin at 53 seconds over Kegan Calkins of Wheaton North, but was then stopped by Brian Rossi (Lockport) in a 5-3 decision, to bump him into the 5th-place bout with Ronald Triche (Providence Catholic), who ended his dreams of a state title with a 5-1 defeat in the quarterfinals.
Triche had Cullen's number one last time in a 1-0 loss.
"Obviously it's a lot easier and more fun to talk after winning," admitted Ludwig, "but you know, despite the end here, how proud of Michael that I am, and how much time, effort and work he's put in all throughout this season.
"He came out of here with a second straight medal, and although it wasn't the finish that we wanted or desired, I can tell you he will get back at it real soon, and be ready to go next year when the season comes around."
Cullen is now the first two-time state medalist in program history.