Marian Central wrestling coach David Silva could tell by the look on Dylan Connell’s face that something was wrong.
Connell had just pinned Rochelle’s Ehren Metzger in the opening round of the IHSA Class 2A 152-pound state tournament at State Farm Center in Champaign. It was a convincing victory that moved Connell to the quarterfinals.
Everyone in Marian’s camp was excited for the Hurricanes freshman, but Silva noticed something was off.
“What’s wrong,” Silva recalled asking Connell.
“I don’t know,” Connell said. “I hurt my shoulder.”
Connell doesn’t remember feeling any pain during the match. When he returned to the stands where his parents sat, his shoulder began to bother him.
Teammate Daniel Valeria’s father, also Daniel Valeria, is a chiropractor. He took a look at Connell’s shoulder and thought it could be his labrum – a rim of cartilage attached to the shoulder socket that keeps the ball of the joint in place – or it could just be a muscle.
Silva was concerned but stayed positive, telling Connell to ice it and rest. Connell was one victory from assuring himself a medal at state, and three victories from a state title.
Shoulder pain or not, there was no stopping.
One match at a time
Not until the season was over and he’d gone to see a doctor did Connell realize that he had won a state championship with a torn labrum.
“I didn’t really think it was going to be something that needed surgery,” Connell said. “We just thought it was something that was moved the wrong way or a strained muscle.”
The injury did need surgery. He had his labrum repaired May 11 and has been wearing a sling on his right arm since.
“The way he dealt with it and the way he overcame adversity just shows how special Dylan is,” Silva said. “Literally every match I’d look at him and we’d both have this understanding of something that no one else knew and we had to keep it a secret. Otherwise people would go after that shoulder. We took it one match at a time.”
Connell won his quarterfinal match with an 11-1 major decision. He didn’t feel much pain during his matches. It was afterward that he was uncomfortable.
“When I’d move it in a certain direction it hurt a lot,” Connell said. “Drilling to warm up for those matches, it was tough.”
Silva continued to urge him on. It was never so bad that Connell considered quitting.
During the state semifinal match against Carbondale’s Kolbi Caffey, Connell took a brief injury timeout. A trainer looked at his shoulder, Connell sipped some water and headed right back out there.
Connell needed a takedown in the final seconds of the match to give himself two points and a 3-1 win.
“I didn’t fully understand how serious it was at the time,” Silva said. “As the tournament went on, we took it match by match and I just said, ‘Give me one more.’”
One night later, Connell beat Cahokia’s Martell Boone, 4-3, to win Marian Central’s first state championship since 1987.
‘Come back extra hungry’
With Marian competing at dual team state one week later, Connell returned to the practice mat the Monday after individual state. The Hurricanes coaches quickly realized Connell had to take it easy on his shoulder.
He never missed practice and he did wrestle in Marian’s quarterfinal loss to eventual Class 2A state champion Washington. Connell took some time off after dual state. About a month after the season ended, he returned to the mat and tweaked his shoulder again.
At that point, he knew he needed to see a doctor. Connell won’t return to full wrestling activities until late August or September. Surgery was quick and went well.
He had hoped to train in freestyle wrestling and give the 2018 US Marine Corps Junior & Cadet National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota a shot in July. But given all that Connell accomplished this year, Silva doesn’t think taking a break is a bad thing.
“I told Dylan it’s no big deal,” Silva said. “If anything maybe it’s good. It’s a good break for you off the mat. Get your rest now and when you come back you’re extra hungry.”