CHAMPAIGN – Dylan Connell had to hold on.
The Marian Central freshman wrestler needed to keep his opponent, Cahokia’s Martell Boone, from scoring an escape.
Connell held on – for 59 seconds in all – his hands wrapped around Boone. When the final buzzer sounded, he shared a hug with Hurricanes coach David Silva. With a 4-3 victory over Boone in the Class 2A 152-pound state championship match, Connell became Marian Central’s first wrestling state champion since Rich Powers won back-to-back titles in 1986 and 1987.
“It’s great,” Connell said. “It’s something that every kid wants to be. It just feels so good. Freshman year, I got it.”
Connell improved his freshman year record to 46-2. He fell behind early against Boone before scoring a reversal in the final period to go from a one-point deficit to a one-point lead.
“I got taken down, I knew I had to come back if I wanted to win,” Connell said. “I got the reverse and I just kept saying to myself, ‘I have to ride him out. I have to get this.’ And I rode him out.”
Boone (38-2) was the fourth senior Connell beat in four matches during the state meet this week at State Farm Center in Champaign.
Prairie Ridge’s Nick Fetzner was the other McHenry County wrestler vying for a state championship Saturday night. Cahokia’s Rozell Baker pinned Fetzner in the second period of the Class 2A 170-pound title match.
Fetzner, a senior, ended his year 31-5 with a state runner-up medal.
“I tried to escape so I could get a point,” Fetzner said. “I don’t know.”
After a third-place finish last year at 170, it was Fetzner’s second state medal.
“[Baker] wrestled a great tournament,” Prairie Ridge coach Trey Breeden said. “We watched him earlier. We knew he could throw. We talked about not tying up. I thought we did a pretty good job for a while, but we got in a situation there where one guy was going to come out on top and unfortunately that wasn’t us. Nick’s got nothing to be ashamed of.”
For Connell, Saturday was the culmination of a freshman year that already included regional and sectional titles.
Silva knew Connell had potential coming in as a freshman.
“He was a very accomplished wrestler as a kid,” Silva said. “He’s a kid that would come to our camps and made his presence known. He’s been great. It’s been such a pleasure to coach a young kid like that.”
Connell fell behind early, 2-0, in the first period, but stayed calm.
“He gave up that first takedown and as a freshman that’s got to be a little bit scary,” Silva said. “He worked through it and kept his mind right. He just had to keep scoring points. That’s Dylan’s way.”
Connell said his goal coming into state was to place. He didn’t necessarily believe he would be wrestling in a championship match.
After he won Friday night’s semifinal match, he kept calm all day Saturday. Silva said Connell was relaxed and composed. When it came time to wrestle, he stuck with the plan: keep Boone down on the mat as much as possible.
“Coming out as a freshman and wrestling all these seniors, you have nothing to lose,” Connell said. “You have to just go out there and wrestle.”
Connell wrestled his match, and he went home a state champion.