CHAMPAIGN — Over the past few years, Ottawa wrestling has entered a youth movement of sorts, hoping that its youth would sparkle into something special.
This weekend's individual state tournament might have been the sign OTHS is getting its wish.
Two Pirates, both with at least one more year of eligibility, walked away from the Class 2A state tournament at Assembly Hall with medals on Saturday. It's the first time since 1967-68 that multiple Pirates claimed medals in the same season.
Sophomore Daniel Close wound up fourth at 138 pounds while Alex Fuentes was sixth at 195 pounds.
"It was a great day for the program," said OTHS coach Pete Marx. "They wrestled outstanding this entire weekend. We've had a real good time down here. The kids got a taste of it, and to come out with two place winners is really a good feeling."
Throughout the tournament, Close showed exactly how much has matured in his sophomore season, especially on his feet and with his aggressiveness.
"It did (think I could medal)," Close said, "I just knew I had to work 10 times harder than anybody else just to get a medal here, because it's a tough weight class down here. Nothing's easy, so you've got to earn it."
Close (39-9) did just that, winning twice more on Saturday to put him in the state's third-place match.
The first of those two wins was the most important. He entered the match against Dixon's Kylian Lally (40-9) having lost the last two meetings, including the championship match at the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference Tournament.
He didn't let it slip away this time, winning 4-2 in thrilling fashion. Close notched a takedown with one second left in regulation.
"It was revenge; it was the best feeling ever, you know,"Close said of the win. "I beat him the very first time. I ended his undefeated season and then I ended his (entire season)."
After that victory, Close earned a tight 3-2 decision over Tinley Park freshman Eric Schultz (40-9) to put him in the third-place match against Kyonn Keith of Bloomington, the same wrestler who beat him earlier in the tournament.
This time, revenge wasn't in the cards. Close led 3-2 after one period but got caught by Keith (39-8) and eventually turned for a fall in 3 minutes, 8 seconds.
The loss didn't diminish a major accomplishment for Close.
"It means a lot. Getting here was an achievement of mine, and so placing was even better," he said. "Next year I just want to win that title like everybody else."
Fuentes has had a fantastic postseason mainly by wrestling aggressive the entire six minutes and using a double underhook to his advantage. He did that again in crushing Alec Posewick (26-19) of Lincoln-Way West 13-3 to guarantee himself a medal.
After that he was the victim of an earlier upset that put top-ranked and championship favorite Jacob Davis of Sycamore in the consolation semifinals. Davis (38-2) beat Fuentes by technical fall in 2:32.
Fuentes then lost by fall in 2:46 to Bloomington's Austin Weltha (43-5) to give him sixth place, which remains a significant accomplishment for the OTHSjunior.
"I wasn't even sure I was going to win my first match (of the entire tournament),"Fuentes said. "I'm happy that I did. I came out and I won. Like I said last week, my goal is to win my first match, and I did and it helped a lot. And look at me now — I took sixth. I'm so happy.
"All of us who qualified, even (Cyrano Rayfield), we worked our butts off to get this, and I'm happy with it. I know next year I can come back and place even higher."
Rayfield was Ottawa's final entry and also was within one victory of reaching the medal stand. Unfortunately he had an ultra tough portion of the bracket at 220 pounds, a portion that left him with the state's second-ranked wrestler in Edgar Ruano of Lombard Montini in wrestlebacks.
Rayfield (34-9) hung tight through the first period and a half, trailing 4-3 seconds into the second period and 6-4 less than a minute later. From that point on, Ruano (45-9) took control of the match and wound up posting a 12-6 decision to eliminate Rayfield.
"Cyrano had a tough draw,"Marx said. "He had two very good kids with Alec Brown (Oak Forest) and Ruano from Montini, and (Rayfield) went out there and wrestled really well I thought. He wrestled two kids that were a little better than him, and now I think he's going to use this as motivation as well. We talked about it, and he's ready to go out and lift and work his butt off in the offseason and get himself ready to come back again."