CHAMPAIGN–Minooka’s Kalvin Hill missed the first half of the wrestling season with a pair of ankle injuries.
“I was out the first half of the year because of a football injury,” he said. “I worked in the weight room and the wrestling room. It paid off.”
Once he returned, the junior steamrolled the competition on his way to winning the 160-pound championship Saturday night in the Class 3A state tournament at Assembly Hall on the University of Illinois campus.
Hill (26-1) beat Proviso West senior Maleek Thurman (33-5) 5-2 in the title match.
“It feels great,” Hill said. “Nothing was going to stop me from winning this state championship. This is one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. This has been a great experience for me.”
A takedown late in the second period and an escape to start the third provided the difference as Hill became the school’s eighth state champ, but first at 160.
“I had two bad ankle injuries, and I was out a while,” Hill said. “I wanted to wrestle real bad. It really took a toll on me. I decided to come back a little early and it made me work a lot harder to get back. You never know what happens in life. You can’t take anything for granted.”
Nick Nasenbeny (38-15) of Plainfield Central at became the school’s first freshman to earn a state medal by taking third place at 103.
“He can be a program changer because of his work ethic and how he handles himself in the room,” Plainfield Central coach Jim Kappas said. “It was great to see a kid work so hard get paid off. That shows the other kids if they dedicate themselves, good things will happen.”
Nasenbeny beat Lincoln-Way Central’s Tyler Price 3-0 in the third-place match.
“I’m proud of what I did,” Nasenbeny said. “I beat some good kids and lost some close ones. But there’s room for improvement.
Nasenbeny beat Marist senior Ryan Conlin (29-7) 1-0 in overtime in the consolation semifinals to guarantee himself a medal.
“This feels good,” Nasenbeny said. “This shows that hard work pays off.”
Although Minooka sophomore Bobby Zabel (37-9) and junior Jake Residori (38-8) lost their final matches of the tournament, they both came away with medals.
Zabel took sixth at 130 pounds and Residori continued to climb the ladder, taking fourth at 152. He was sixth at 140 a year ago and is the ninth multiple state medal winner in program history.
“Jake’s been a workhouse this year,” Minooka coach Bernie Ruettiger said. “Every time we wrestled somebody, he went up against one of their studs. And we had a tough schedule. When Kalvin (Hill) was out in the beginning of the year, he really wrestled some tough kids.”
Residori dropped a 5-2 decision to Lyons Township senior Matt Nora (44-3) in the third-place match.
Zabel won the school’s second medal at 130 pounds, losing to Chicago Mather senior Nick Liotta (32-4).
A 3-1 overtime loss to eventual state champion Joey Gosinski (45-2), a senior from Glenbard North, sent Zabel into the consolation bracket.
“Bobby medaled and he has to understand he’s done what a lot of wrestlers here have been trying to do,” Ruettiger said. “Bobby had heckuva tournament. If a call in the Gosinski match goes our way, who knows what would have happened? Bobby had a great tournament.”