DeKALB – When Ben Aranda, Blake McGee and Kyler Klapprodt prepared for their championship matches at the IESA state tournament Saturday at the NIU Convocation Center, they were in a position they hadn’t been all year.
They were the underdogs.
But that didn’t stop the trio of Huntley co-op wrestlers from winning state titles, as the J-Barbs won the team title.
“We’ve had a target on our back all year,” said Pat Kiley, coach of the co-op between Huntley and Clinton-Rosette middle schools. “Sometimes that’s hard on a middle school to have that target and still be able to achieve that goal.”
The J-Barbs were perfect in the regular season, winning every tournament, including a record-setting performance in the regional with 531 points – Kiley said he never had been a part of a team that broke the 400-mark.
In the finals, however, the last three J-Barbs standing were underdogs.
“Ben was wrestling a defending state champ at 80 (pounds),” Kiley said. “Blake was wrestling an 85-pounder that was undefeated, and Kyler was wrestling a kid that experts say is pound-for-pound the best wrestler in the state.”
All three came away with state titles. Aranda, an eighth-grader, rolled to a 9-3 victory that Kiley said could have been even more lopsided.
“It was actually kind of scary,” Aranda said. “Your parents and coaches all expect you to win. It’s nerve-wracking.”
McGee “came out with a vengeance,” Kiley said, got four quick points, and then the eighth-grader held on for a 5-4 win.
“I’ve been in the situation before at state, but it seemed like so much more,” McGee said. “You have two mats, and you have your whole team cheering you on. It’s great having them right there cheering for you.”
Klapprodt started from behind against Logan Deacetis from Dwight, but Huntley’s lone seventh-grader in the finals came away with a title.
“He was cranking on Kyler pretty good,” Kiley said. “At one point I saw it looked like he was going to either get turned or the arm was going to go out of his socket. But Kyler willed himself over to his stomach and did not go over.”
Klapprodt said he didn’t really care about being the favorite or the underdog.
“I didn’t really pay attention to that, what people said,” Klapprodt said. “I felt real comfortable going in.”
The J-Barbs hosted all three rounds of the postseason and didn’t have to worry about long trips across the state, instead getting to wrestle on their own mats.
“It was a lot of work on the logistic ends for the parents, coaches and all the behind-the-scenes stuff,” Kiley said. “But the kids got to sleep in their own beds, they got to sleep longer, weigh-in on their own scales.”
So was it worth all the extra effort? Kiley answered that question emphatically and without doubt.
“You better believe it is,” he said.