When Montini wrestling comes to town…

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You might as well hold a parade. It’s a big deal in the big top when Montini enters the gym. Next to Fenwick boys water polo, the Broncos are one of the premier dynasties in current IHSA sports with seven state titles since 2000 and 10 state trophies since 1996. Is there anyone who doubts Montini won’t win a third consecutive state title in February?

Second-year Loyola coach Chris Stevens is trying to rebuild Loyola’s program. He started last season by upgrading the varsity schedule to include tougher competition. This season, he created a new juniors program with the ambitious mind set of looking to the future.

Senior Pat Dougherty (above) has noticed the difference.

“Previously, it’s just been a local schedule with our conference and local schools,” said Dougherty, a Chicago resident who was named the defensive player of the year in the CCL Blue during football season. The linebacker led the Ramblers to the semifinals in Class 8A.

Dougherty (26-1) is one of Loyola’s top wrestlers despite starting the season at 189 pounds coming off football season. He has dropped to his normal 171 weight class and has won 10 consecutive matches entering the week. He has yet to crack Illinois Matmen.com’s top 12 rankings, but is listed as an honorable mention. His last loss was at Prospect’s Mudge Invitational Dec. 12.

The Ramblers started the home-and-home series last year by competing at Montini. The Broncos complete the series at 5 p.m. Wednesday in a triangular meet with Lane at Loyola in Wilmette. Loyola doesn’t have a prayer beating Montini, but Stevens is trying to make his wrestlers better even if it means losing to better competition.

Stevens faces an enormous rebuilding job. Loyola’s wrestling trophy case consists of regional title plaques from 1989 and 1997.

Dougherty will see many of his club teammates from the Lombard-based Izzy Style team, including Montini’s Colton Rasche and Frank Baer. Rasche is one of four Montini wrestlers ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 2A. The Broncos have 10 wrestlers ranked in Illinois Matmen.com’s top 12.

“I train at Montini. A lot of guys (from Montini) are on the Izzy Style team,” Dougherty said. “They don’t make mistakes when you try to wrestle with them. They limit their mistakes.”

Montini now goes out of state to find better competition. Montini has taken full advantage of the IHSA’s lifting of the ban against long-distance travel. The Broncos are coming off a third place finish at the Clash National Duals Saturday in Rochester, Minn. and have already competed in Cayahoga Falls, Ohio, and Kaukauna, Wis. this season. The Broncos won the state’s most prestigious tournament, the 30-team Dvorak Invitational, on Dec. 22 at Harlem.

The Ramblers went 0-3 at the Glenbrook South Quad on Saturday.

The Broncos are willing to take some losses in their search to find better competition, even if it’s out of state. Of Montini’s top-ranked wrestlers, Rasche has the fewest losses at three. The other No. 1s have between five and nine losses, a high figure for a top ranking. When you look at each No. 1’s ranking at Illinois Matmen.com, the list of individual losses are a who’s who of out-of-state foes. It’s all the same formula: facing better competition (win or lose), makes you better.

Ironically, Montini does not have a ranked wrestler in 171, 189 and 215. Dimitri Willis is ranked No. 6 at 160, but moved up to 171 for Dvorak and finished seventh. Dougherty last faced Willis as a sophomore at the state meet for AAU. Willis won. Dougherty was the only Loyola wrestler at the meet.

Montini’s ranked wrestlers with ranking, as of Jan. 11:

103 — Kevin Powell, first

112 — Michael Sepke, fourth

125 — Chris Divito, fifth

130 — Rasche, first

135 — Eric Powell, first

140 — Steve Robertson, first

145 — Frank Baer, second

152 — Brandon McBride, fourth

160 — Willis, second

285 — Ross Ferraro, second

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