'I know I'll be ready if I'm fortunate enough to wrestle with my team'

Times-area's top grapplers staying in shape, hopeful for rescheduled season

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An old adage advises “Good things come to those who wait, but better things come to those who are patient.”

Some of The Times area’s returning wrestlers are banking on the long-held recommendation being true after recently seeing their 2020-21 winter season moved back to a newly minted summer campaign by the Illinois High School Association.

During a special board meeting Oct. 28, the IHSA announced its intentions to postpone the prep wrestling season from the most current winter schedule (Nov. 16 to Feb. 13) to a first-of-its-kind summer campaign (April 19 to June 26) because of the recent proliferation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pushback has left wrestlers across the state five months to ponder the move and prepare for a potential season that is unprecedented.

One of The Times-area wrestlers the decision affects is Ottawa High School senior Hunter Duffy, who compiled a 23-7 record at 160 pounds for the Pirates as a junior before missing regional competition at Rich East because of a medical condition.

Duffy has enlisted in the Air Force and is hopeful his deployment next summer won’t conflict with a possible wrestling season that could extend until late June.

“Right now I’m working out at home, and with going into the Air Force, I’m training 2-mile runs, which is really nice, so I think I’ll be pretty ready if we have a wrestling season next spring,” Duffy said. “I’m hoping my deployment won’t be until September. If it comes earlier, I may have to miss the final days of my senior year in wrestling, but the Air Force is my future.

“Hopefully it won’t come to that for me.”

One of the more impressive storylines the past two wrestling seasons is that of Somonauk High School junior Shea Reisel, a girl who has competed admirably in a male-dominated sport throughout her freshman and sophomore seasons.

As a sophomore, Reisel compiled a 14-8 record at 106 pounds against all male foes, placing third at the ultra-tough Class 1A Plano Regional before advancing to the Oregon Sectional, where she bowed out in her bid at a state final appearance.

Reisel is hoping she’ll get another crack at achieving her goal despite the pandemic.

“Getting to state in a boys-dominated sport is first and foremost in my mind,” Reisel said. “I was a little crushed when [the IHSA] postponed everything, but I’m continuing to work hard, and I’m going to be competing in the Sparti Duals girls tournament (held at Wisconsin Dells) in December.

“I’m only thinking positively about my junior year come April.”

Another junior hoping to climb the ladder of success is Sandwich High School’s Evan Reilly.

As a sophomore, Reilly recorded an impressive 33-9 overall mark at 126 pounds, including a regional crown at Plano. He then reached the semifinals at the Oregon Sectional before falling in two tight decisions that ended his effort toward a state appearance.

He’s hoping his junior year won’t be lost with the move to April.

“I was kind of expecting the IHSA to do something with wrestling because of the pandemic, but it’s kind of weird not competing this time of year,” Reilly said. “I have a workout place in my basement, and I also go to the YMCA to help keep me sharp.

“I’m not trying to overtrain with a lot of months to go until spring. But I know I’ll be ready if I’m fortunate enough to wrestle with my team this school year.”

Seneca’s Gavin Mason surprised many, making it to the Class 1A State Finals as a freshman at 220 pounds with a 34-16 record. He won the prestigious Seneca Invitational while finishing second at the Plano Regional and fourth at the Oregon Sectional before dropping his first two matches under the bright lights on the IHSA State stage.

He’s pumped at the prospect of getting back to state if the future climate should allow.

“Even though things got pushed back, I’m so grateful that we’ve got at least a chance to compete next spring,” Mason said. “These times are so strange, but I want to make the best of what we’re all going through.

“I’m going to miss out on possibly being the first person in Seneca history to win the Irish Invite all four years, but if I can compete as a sophomore and make it to state again, I’ll take it for sure, at this point.

“I’ll be working hard over the next few months to make that happen.”