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Mooseheart Qualifies 4 Wrestlers From IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional

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

Mooseheart senior Sammy Strickland (in red) struggles in his IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional 120-pound championship match with Harvard's Ivan Pena. Pena won the match, but Strickland advanced to the Oregon Sectional by finishing second in the weight class.

Mooseheart sophomore Joe Feemorlu works for his pin victory over Harvard's Jose Mejia in the 160-pound title match in the IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional.

Mooseheart senior Junior Smith celebrates victory over Harvard's Marcos Tapia in the 182-pound title match in the IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional.

Aurora Central Catholic's Tony Hizo (in blue) had an early edge against Mooseheart senior U-Jay Smith in the 220-pound title match. But Smith recovered and pinned Hizo to claim the IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional title.

HARVARD, IL, Feb. 2  – There have been some mighty good days in postseason wrestling in the history of Mooseheart's wrestling program.

But none of them quite compare to what the Ramblers produced on the mats at the IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional on Saturday. Four wrestlers competed for regional titles and three of them won. All four – seniors Sam Strickland, Junior Smith and U-Jay Smith along with sophomore Joe Feemorlu – compete next weekend at the Oregon Sectional.

"I'd say I'm surprised, but they worked hard all year," Mooseheart wrestling coach Mark Johnson said. "They deserve it. This is just our first step. We've got to get past sectionals now and get someone downstate."

Mooseheart has never had a state qualifying wrestler. The last Ramblers wrestler to win a regional title was 152-pounder Karidu Abdulahi in 2006.

All the individual success added to push the Ramblers to third place as a team behind regional titlist Harvard and second-placed Aurora Central Catholic.

Feemorlu is a sophomore who wrestled for the first time this season. He showed his happiness after pinning Harvard's Jose Mejia in the 170-pound title match by leaping into Junior Smith's arms as he left the mat.

"Junior's really pushed me," Feemorlu said. "Every practice, he's always saying 'Joe, you've got to go, you've got to get up, you've got to push it.' When I won, the first person I thought of was Junior. All this hard work I've been going through with him paid off."

Feemorlu's pin victory started a run of three wins in four weight classes by Mooseheart wrestlers and all ended with Ramblers' pins of their opponents.

"I think he set the tone today," Johnson said. "He went out and got his pin and then Junior (Smith) got psyched for his match and that definitely mace U-Jay (Smith) wrestle better."

Junior Smith carries a glittering 23-0 record into the sectional and has spoken throughout the season of his lofty goals for the 2013 postseason. He did so again on Saturday after qualifying for his third sectional meet in four years as a high school wrestler. He completed his quest for the regional title when he pinned Harvard's Marcos Tapia in the second round.

"It's something that every wrestler dreams of," Junior Smith said. "At the start of the year, everyone says 'boy, I wish I could remain undefeated and get a regional championship. Going into the season, I wanted to compete with the best or be the best in the state. Right now, everything's going better than I ever could have asked for."

In his junior season, Junior Smith suffered through a series of injuries that left him with barely enough matches wrestled in the regular season to qualify for the postseason. This year has been a different story.

"Being healthy, knowing more about the sport and being mentally tough – my goal coming here was to get revenge for what happened last year," Junior Smith said. "Last year, I didn't feel I was 100 percent, so I wanted to come here and be the regional champ."

Junior Smith has been a leader on and off the mats this year, and his influence was felt throughout the lineup at the regional.

"It's all about hard work paying off," Johnson said. "He's got that focus and belief and he wants it. That's the thing."

As highly anticipated as Junior Smith's performance was, U-Jay Smith's surge to the regional title brought smiles to everyone in the Mooseheart camp. The senior makes his first trip to a sectional with a 13-5 record and earned his trip after pinning Tony Hizo from Aurora Central Catholic in the second round of the 220-pound title match.

"I just really worked my hardest," U-Jay Smith said. "I had my eyes on the prize and set goals and it feels good to accomplish them."

Early in his match with Hizo, U-Jay Smith appeared to struggle. But once he got the momentum in the second period, he powered to the pin victory.

"Especially in the bigger weight classes, they like to tie you up," U-Jay Smith said. "You have to have a little bit of strength and speed."

U-Jay Smith's solid day of wrestling, culminating with the regional title, pleased Johnson, who has seen the senior improve throughout the season."

"He had a rough year, he was up and down." Johnson said. "I don't think he always knew where it was going. Finishing first here at the regional is a good thing for him."

The fourth qualifier is Strickland, who earned his third trip to a sectional despite suffering a major decision defeat to Harvard's Irvin Pena in the 120-pound title match. Two years ago, Strickland was the school's only sectional qualifier.

"(Strickland), those lower weight classes, it's all about skill and you don't know what's going to happen," Johnson said. "Those upper weight classes, it's about muscle and less about finesse. Where (Strickland) wrestles, it's tough. But he has gotten better in his years in the program."

IHSA Class 1A Harvard Regional

Team Scores

Pl  School                            Score     Head Coach       

1   Harvard                            238.5     Tim Haak

2   Aurora Central Catholic     102.5     Eric Fulara

3   Mooseheart                       78        Mark Johnson

120 Pounds

Pl  Wrestler              Yr   School                    W-L       Result    

2   Sam Strickland        Sr.  Mooseheart                11-5

170 Pounds

Pl  Wrestler              Yr   School                    W-L       Result           

1   Joe Feemorlu       So.  Mooseheart                16-7      Fall 1:45

182 Pounds

Pl  Wrestler              Yr   School                    W-L       Result           

1   Junior Smith          Sr.  Mooseheart                23-0      Fall 3:14

220 Pounds

Pl  Wrestler              Yr   School                    W-L       Result         

1   U-Jay Smith           Sr.  Mooseheart                13-5      Fall 2:44

 

 

 
   
 

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