JOLIET — It might not have been the most complete day for the Minooka Indians on the mat Saturday at the Class 3A Joliet Central Regional, but they'll sure take the results.
Overall, nine of the 14 wrestlers to compete for the Indians Saturday will be moving on to next week's individual sectional at Moline.
"Not a bad day to say the least, but we really wanted to get a lot more guys out," Minooka head coach Jeff Charlebois said. "Nine is nice but we have five guys who don't have the chance to wrestle, and that's disappointing."
Of the nine wrestlers going to state, four of them won their bouts, with senior Mike McNulty (138), freshman Carson Oughton (145), senior Corbett Oughton (152) and junior Eric Velasquez (220) bringing home regional gold.
"We definitely thought we could get more than four today, but we'll take it," Charlebois said.
Once again, the Oughton brothers shined in back-to-back spots at the 145 and 152 weight positions. It seems as if both brothers are poised to make deep postseason runs this year.
"It's pretty awesome to win a regional, especially because my brother Corbett is winning at the next weight above me," younger brother Carson said. "It makes it even cooler to win."
Corbett is just three weeks removed from coming back from an elbow injury. Despite being gone for nearly two months, the senior is ready to win a state title.
"It's about as close to healthy as it will be. For the most part it's 100 percent. It's just a little sore after working on it," Oughton said of his elbow. "The doctor said that's expected, though, as it heals. Some people may think it's an advantage for my opponents that I'm hurt, but I know I can protect myself really well and it really doesn't bother me."
The match of the day may have come from Velasquez at the 220 mark, as he battled through a busted nose to get a hard-fought, 6-2 overtime victory over Providence Catholic's Vince Ambrose. Velasquez's win put the Indians over the top, securing the team a regional victory.
"I really don't know how I did it. I just had to tough it out, which is what I did," Velasquez said.
In total, 13 of the 14 wrestlers for Minooka made it to the semifinals, with seven of them earning spots in championship bouts. Along with the four winners, senior Danny Ruettiger (132), junior Jeff Klank (160), and sophomore Nathan Gunn (182) took home second place honors. The other two placers were junior KJ Minor (106) and sophomore Josh Bouie (195).
"It feels good to win," McNulty said. "Personally for me after having to fight the last couple of years just to get third to qualify for sectionals was tough. Here, though, knowing that I already had a spot guaranteed for sectionals and that I was able to come out and dominate and win regionals to earn a first round bye at sectionals is big."
The win caps off a very long week at Minooka, as the wrestling program lost a huge member of its staff in Minooka Junior High coach Mike Assaf. Assaf was also a math teacher at M High, so a lot of the wrestlers had been really close to him. No one was closer to him, however, than Nathan Gunn, who grew up idolizing Assaf. It surely had been a tough week for the sophomore.
"I knew it was hard on me. Assaf was like another father to me. He was the one that really got me started with the sport that I'm succeeding at now," Gunn said. "Everything has been on my mind this week, from his family to giving prayers for his family. So I tried to come out here and give my best for him."
Even Charlebois agrees that there has been a lot of adversity to overcome with this program this season.
"This is a team that has had more adversity than any other team that I've been with," Charlebois said. "KJ Minor lost his grandfather this year. The program lost Coach Assaf this year. Mike McNulty just lost his grandmother this week. This team has just had so much adversity to go through and they've just found a way to keep picking themselves back up and moving forward."
"As far as coach Assaf, these kids know him from this sport," Charlebois continued. "So the best way to pay tribute to coach Assaf was to come out here and wrestle for him. And there's a lot of kids that it hit hard because they knew him very well."