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Junior Smith and Sammy Strickland advance from IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional

By DARRYL MELLEMA, Associate Editor, Moose Magazine
Click Photo to Enlarge

Mooseheart 182-pound wrestler Junior Smith (bottom) tries to work out of a difficult position in his IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional championship match with Harvard's Nathan Cowan. Cowan eventually pinned Smith, but both wrestlers advanced to next week's Byron Sectional.

Mooseheart 120-pounder Sammy Strickland searches for a way to excape from Marian Central's Zach Sell in the IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional semifinals. Stickland was unable to get away and was pinned, though he advanced to next week's Byron Sectional by finishing third.


HARVARD, Feb. 4—Sammy Strickland know all about the pressure and intensity of an IHSA wrestling sectional. For Junior Smith, the experience is brand new.

Strickland and Smith are Mooseheart's representatives at next weekend's Byron Class 1A Sectional. The pair of juniors qualified by finishing in the top three at Saturday's Harvard Regional.

“I know (Strickland) was disappointed last year,” Mooseheart wrestling coach Mark Johnson said. “(Smith) has had a tough year, starting the year injured. But they'll go to Byron and wrestle hard and see how they do.”

Strickland had an unusual day on the mat. Due to the lack of entries in the 120-pound weight class, he only had to wrestle in the semifinal round, where he was pinned by Marian Central's Zach Sell. But due to an injury default by Christian Liberty's Brendan Brosnan, Strickland finished third and advanced to the sectional.

“It's the way that things work sometimes,” Johnson said. “(Strickland) had a weird second half of the season in that he didn't wrestle too much. He's only gotten four matches in since Christmas. It's tough on a wrestler when you're not getting the matches that you need.”

Smith's mat time at 182 pounds has been limited because he did not wrestle until after the New Year. He was 8-0 heading into the championship match against Harvard's Nathan Cowan. That match lasted just over a minute before Cowan, one of the state's best 1A wrestlers in his weight class.

“I made sure that when I came back, I'd at least be in good shape so I could last through the matches,” Smith said.

Cowan had nearly four times as many matches this season as Smith. The Ramblers are often at a disadvantage when they face wrestlers who have prepared for their sport since they were in elementary school. To only compete for a half-season made it even harder for Smith to reach a competitive level this year.

“At first, it was hard,” Smith said. “As the weeks progressed, you have to get a mentality that you have to be in top shape. We had morning workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and that should help us last in the postseason.”

Despite Cowan's prowess and Smith's lack of on-mat preparation, Smith was still unhappy with the way in which his match ended.

“I just gave in to him,” Smith said. “Instead of me trying to dictate the momentum to him, he outsmarted me. It's a good lesson learned. Losses like these can really help you.”

Mooseheart had four wrestlers in competition in the championship round. At 138 pounds, junior Brandon Romero lost to Alden-Hebron's Cristian Gonzalez and finished fourth while senior Komba Sabba lost to Harvard's Tyler Kramer in the 145-pound consolation match.

Beyond the results, Saturday's competition gave the Ramblers a chance to compete against quality opponents.

“We can work in the wrestling room all we want,” Johnson said. “And that's good, because we can teach the skills and get the workout. But to get out here on the mat and wrestle someone different than on your team, that's good for all of them.”



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