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Smith: Area wrestlers well represented at state this year

Coal City junior Corey Jurzak lost last Saturday's 126-pound Class A finals to Caleb Micho of Rockford Lutheran despite being ahead in the bout with 20 seconds to go. He is already thinking ahead to what needs to be done in order to make things right next winter.
Coal City junior Corey Jurzak lost last Saturday's 126-pound Class A finals to Caleb Micho of Rockford Lutheran despite being ahead in the bout with 20 seconds to go. He is already thinking ahead to what needs to be done in order to make things right next winter.

So, I never could find a way to work it in before, but Coal City junior 113-pound wrestler Cody Minnick was on the cover of the IHSA state wrestling program this year. It is obvious that it was from last year’s finals, when he lost for the first time because, much like Morris senior Trevor Allbert this year, his head was heavily bandaged because of a major cut to his head.

It was a reminder how fragile an undefeated season in wrestling really is, since that particular bout for Minnick proved to be his only loss of the season. He ended his sophomore year at 47-1 with plenty of motivation to get back into the finals this year.

“It just motivated me to work as hard as possible,” he said, after winning the 113-pound bracket last Saturday. “To bust my butt every single day.”

Minnick finishes the year at 46-1, and he was one of the Three Amigos of the Coal City wrestling program over the last two years. Much has been written about how Minnick, junior Corey Jurzak and senior Casey Brown all reached the finals two years in a row. Last year they did it as 106, 113 and 120-pounders, respectively, and this year as 113, 126 and 132-pounders.

“It’s really a bond that can’t be broken in and out of the wrestling room,” Minnick said. “We train together; we sweat, we bleed, we cry together. It’s awesome.”

“I’ve been with them my entire life,” Brown said after losing to the only four-year, undefeated state champion wrestler in IHSA history Josh Alber on Saturday. “They have been great practice partners, and they have helped get me a lot better.”

Like Minnick last year, it seems that Jurzak is already looking forward to redeeming himself in the finals a year from now. He lost the 126-pound title Saturday, even though he was holding a 1-point lead in the last 20 seconds.

“Corey was in position to win that match, but things happen. It’s part of wrestling,” Coal City coach Mark Masters said. “He wrestled really well, he just got caught hanging on there a little bit. That kid [Caleb Micho of Rockford Lutheran] is strong. He cradled him up and held him there. That was the match.”

Brown said that, even though he was in the runway leading out to the mats and waiting for his name to be called, he was able to watch both Minnick and Jurzak wrestle from his vantage point.

“I saw both of them. I think Corey should have won. If he would have had better positioning in the last 10 seconds,” Brown said. “It feels like more of an accomplishment because at least one of us won.”

Even Jurzak took solace in watching Minnick get the win while already showing resolve to get back to the State Farm Center one last time next winter.

“It’s a great feeling … still I was hoping to come out on top of the podium with Cody and Casey but only Cody came out on top,” Jurzak said. “I’m now hoping I can come back next year and get the win.”

“[Expectations] will be pretty high. It’s going to be a lot of intensity with the offseason work. Especially with football. I’m going to have to find a way to get some extra work in.”

He will be returning next year with Minnick and Coal City’s other two state qualifiers, Joey Rivera and Riley Kauzlaric – something that Masters is already looking forward to.

“We have a good group of kids coming back. Obviously we’re going to miss Casey Brown, a two-time finalist. You don’t just replace those guys. You hope that you can get kids to fill that spot, but as a team, hopefully things work out,” Masters said. “Sometimes kids don’t grow. Sometimes guys don’t grow at all and sometimes there are guys who will grow up three or four weight classes. There is no control over that, but we’ll have two senior state finalists coming back and we should be in good shape.

“Those guys are returning state qualifiers and we leaned on them quite a bit this year. Joey won 40 matches and Riley 34. You bring that back and you are now part of the leadership,” Masters added. “Joey is still growing into that weight. He’s just tiny, but he’s going to be a handful next year wrestling as a full-sized 106 pounder. Riley is still growing and learning. He can be a sponge at times, especially with all of the technique we’ve been giving him. He’s athletic enough that he can handle it.”

Rivera and Kauzlaric will be working to return next year, as will Seneca junior Sage Friese and Minooka sophomore Carson Oughton. Minooka’s K.J. Minor and Erik Velazquez advanced to state, but didn’t podium, this year to cap their high school careers. Same is true for Morris’ Allbert, though Seneca senior Tommy Lovett did go out as a decorated wrestler. He ended up being just the fifth Fighting Irish wrestler to medal when he finished sixth despite wrestling all day on the final day with a dislocated jaw.

Of course, Morris senior Kenny Baldridge also went out in high fashion by winning the 132-pound champion medal to wear around his neck.

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