Trailing by two points in the 182-pound regional championship match, Marian Central’s Niko Lopez flipped the script on Prairie Ridge’s Tommy Evans.
Despite being out-wrestled in the opening period, falling behind by as many as four points, Lopez caught Evans by surprise and pinned him in the second period. He celebrated by flexing his muscles, and Marian coach David Silva flexed right back at him.
“When I put him on his back the first time and I caught him, I knew that I was going to catch him throughout the match,” Lopez said. “Just through his style, don’t get me wrong, he’s a phenomenal wrestler. He’s a good athlete. But I just knew that the time was going to come, and when it did I knew that I just had to hold him there.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Lopez and Evans in a rematch at the Class 2A Deerfield Sectional this weekend or even at state a week later.
“I told him I’m super proud of him,” Silva said. “He’s put in a lot of hard work and he’s taken, second, second, second, and now he’s won his last two tournaments.”
Lopez, a junior, is a newcomer for the Hurricanes who has slotted into the 182-pound starting spot. Lopez wrestled at 160 for Montini last season. He qualified for the Class 3A state tournament, but tore his hamstring at sectionals and missed state due to the injury.
“It completely just snapped and I knew right away something was wrong,” Lopez said. “I was a sophomore and I qualified for state. It was still a good feeling, but it just kind of sucked to watch everyone else wrestle.”
Montini won the Class 3A dual team state championship, even without Lopez in the lineup. It was Montini’s 15th state championship since 2000.
A wrestler leaving a place like Montini to attend Marian Central says a lot about what the Hurricanes wrestling program is building. Over the offseason, Lopez moved to Huntley. He had previously worked with Silva as a youth wrestler.
“He’s just a great mentor,” Lopez said. “He’s a great coach, he’s always there for us, along with all the other coaches, too.”
Lopez wrestles two-time state champion Dylan Connell (170) often in practice, as well as Lou Gaddy (195). Silva believes that trio has made each other better.
“He came in and he was actually a little bit more green than I expected,” Silva said. “And I was thinking, ‘Dude you came from Montini.’ He’s just a great partner for Dylan. His success is a credit to Dylan’s success and a credit to Lou Gaddy.
“I tell him all the time, if you can wrestle with Dylan, you can wrestle with anybody.”
Lopez is out to prove it now.
Dual team sectional draws: The IHSA released draws for the dual team sectionals and state tournament. Full brackets are available at IHSA.org. All sectional matchups take place Feb. 25. The three regional championship teams from McHenry County learned their path to state.
In Class 3A, Huntley will take on Libertyville at the Glenbrook North Dual Team Sectional. The winner advances to state to face Prospect or Barrington in the quarterfinals.
Huntley and Libertyville have not faced each other. They both wrestled at Harlem’s Al Dvorak Invitational. Huntley came in third; Libertyville finished ninth. Libertyville (19-3) is ranked 13th in 3A, two spots ahead of No. 15 Huntley (18-7).
Marian Central will square off with Deerfield in the Class 2A Fenton Dual Team Sectional. The winner will face Aurora Christian or Rock Island in the state quarterfinals.
Deerfield and Marian have not faced each other in a dual. No. 5-ranked Deerfield (24-3) finished seventh at Antioch’s Ted DeRousse Invitational on Thanksgiving weekend. No. 1-ranked Marian (21-0) finished second. Both teams have wins over Huntley and Stevenson, though Marian’s margins of victory were larger.
Harvard will battle Sandwich in the Class 1A Rock Falls Dual Team Sectional, with the winner facing Coal City or Lisle at state. Harvard (24-5) ranks No. 9 in Class 1A, while Sandwich (17-4) is No. 22.
Harvard and Sandwich have not crossed paths this season. They both defeated Rock Falls, though Harvard won by a larger margin, and both lost to Rochelle.
If all three McHenry County teams were to advance through the sectional, each would wrestle at 9 a.m. Feb. 29 at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington.
WHAT TO WATCH
Class 3A Barrington Sectional: Dundee-Crown, Huntley, Jacobs, McHenry
Class 2A Deerfield Sectional: Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Marian Central, Prairie Ridge, Woodstock, Woodstock North.
Class 2A Rochelle Sectional: Hampshire.
Class 1A Oregon Sectional: Harvard, Johnsburg, Marengo, Richmond-Burton.