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updated: 3/1/2014 9:12 PM

National power OPRF too much for Conant

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By Mike Garofola
Daily Herald Correspondent

BLOOMINGTON -- Conant came to the Class 3A dual-team wrestling state tournament hoping to put a dent in the side of the favored club from Oak Park-River Forest.

But in their quarterfinal opener at U.S. Cellular Coliseum, the Cougars were involved in a hit-and-run with the Huskies, who rolled right past the MSL champions as well as two other subsequent foes en route to a state title late Saturday night.

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The No. 1-ranked Huskies (28-1-0) sent out a strong message to their latter victims, Hononegah and Marist, after rolling over Conant 59-9 to start their day.

It ended the season for Conant and coach Chad Hay, who enjoyed his best season since taking over at the beginning of the 2009-2010 campaign.

"We didn't come here with the 'We're just happy to be here' mentality," he said. "Instead, we wanted to give it a 100 percent effort and our best shot against the best team in the state, and one of the best in the nation. And whatever happens, happens."

In his first season on board, Hay led his club to a 9-11-0 record with gradual improvement, including a dazzling 19-3-0 season, which began 13-0 until Libertyville, who is also here, ended the streak with a 31-28 decision.

"This is the best group I've ever been associated with in all of the sports I've ever played, and the one I'll never forget," said Cougars heavyweight Tyler LaBarbera earlier in the week as his teammates prepared for a sixth trip to the final eight in program history.

"We're in the middle of a journey right now," began junior Griff Rose, whose key pin last Tuesday helped fuel a 27-26 victory over Glenbard North to help secure a spot in the Elite Eight. "Last year, one of our goals was to win a regional (which the Cougars did). This year, it was to get downstate, and next up is to get back here in 2015 and bring home a trophy."

Rose (31-9) will be one of 11 familiar Conant faces next November. Also back will be Dan Andress (160), who went 35-11 and made top 10 appearances in the state polls all season long.

"It wasn't until halfway through the season did I realize this team was good enough to win a conference and regional title and get downstate, and with just three seniors from our lineup graduating, there's no reason why, with an off-season of hard work and training, that we can't be even better next season," Andress said.

There was no stopping the Huskies.

With the benefit of a favorable coin flip, they saw the quarterfinal open at 138 pounds. That, coincidentally, is where state champion Walter White, Jr. (39-4) resides, as does 145-pound teammate Larry Early III (36-7), who also lifted a state trophy last weekend.

After state medalist Matt Rundell (43-9) and state champ Kamal Bey (41-6) finished up with a tech-fall and pin at 152 and 160 pounds, OPRF was off and running with a 23-0 advantage.

"And (Davonte) Mahomes didn't even wrestle against us," said both Rose and Andress, who could find a bit of humor in the fact their club didn't face the 170-pound state champion in their dual.

"Yeah, they're a pretty good team, don't you think?" Andress said with a wry smile.

The junior lost 6-5 to Maxwell Metzer in the Cougars' closest match while LaBarbera (27-11), in an epic battle with Adam Lemke-Bell (31-13), was finally pinned at 5:41.

Sophomore Kyle Peisker (33-9) ended the Huskies' bid for a shutout with a 5-2 decision at 120. Later, third-place state finisher Bobby Alexander (41-4), received a forfeit at 132 in the final match of the season for Conant.

Alexander, Rose and Peisker were all state qualifiers. That trio plus Jason Giuliano (27-18), Danny Madonia (35-6), Marcus Williams (21-18), Nick Catalano (21-15), Gus Karapanos (29-11) and Michael Meier (21-13) plus Andress and LaBarbera competed at the individual sectional.

"It's been quite a year with these guys," Hay said. "They're a group that has never given in, even when things have looked a little bleak.

"And I believe because they're so tightly knit, and a group that truly understands it's all about the team sport and you've got to pick each other up. It's the reason we've had such a successful season."

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