Conant wrestlers find success at state
After more than a year of COVID mitigations and uncertainty, the Conant boys’ wrestling team won their first regional championship in five years. The team sent four wrestlers to the IHSA Wrestling State Tournament and came back with a state champion, Ethan Stiles ‘23, and a 6th place finisher, Henry Chang ‘22.
Though COVID mitigations didn’t have much of an effect on this year’s season, coming back together after an unorthodox year proved to be tricky. Many wrestlers skipped the last season, so the season began on a shaky ground.
“It was definitely hard to come back together as a team after a weird year with COVID,” Andrew Guilde, boys’ wrestling coach, said.
However, even amidst the initial adversity, the team was able to recuperate and achieve significant victories with both successful individual wrestlers and overall team performance.
Stiles not only won the IHSA state tournament, but he also won the Doc Buchanan Invitational Wrestling Tournament in California. He credits his personal victories with his resilience throughout the season.
“I achieved [these successes] through hard work, dedication, and consistency,” Stiles said.
Chang also placed first at sectionals, regionals, and the MSL conference, all of which were unfathomable to him until it happened.
“A couple years ago, I only dreamed of myself accomplishing anything close to what I did, so it’s still hard for me to believe that everything really happened,” Chang said.
Looking back at the season, Chang explained that maintaining a strong mental focus was challenging for him.
“With wrestling being extremely both mentally and physically demanding, it was often a struggle to keep myself focused while in season,” Chang said.
Chang especially loved seeing many of his teammates grow as wrestlers, as many had been wrestling together from their freshman year to their senior year.
“It’s been incredible seeing some of the guys that I’ve been wrestling with for a while explode in skill and strength, really pulling everything together and becoming the best version they could be,” Chang said.
Next season, the team hopes to continue to grow the program, as 18 seniors will be graduating this year.
The girls’ wrestling team also debuted their first official wrestling season and sent wrestler Mannie Anderson, ‘23, to the IHSA state championship, who came back as Conant’s first female IHSA state qualifier, placing 6th place in state.
Anderson recounts the pressure that she faced to have a successful season, as this was the real opportunity the team had to compete.
“It’s frustrating when you are defined by your gender. There were multiple times where I wanted to surrender, but I realized I had to fight. I had to fight to show them that we belonged here [and] that we mattered,” Anderson said.
Anderson hopes to continue to break barriers next year and help the girls’ wrestling team gain recognition without being overlooked as female wrestlers.
“There have been other female wrestlers in Conant history that have competed at state level tournaments, but their accomplishments weren’t recognized due to the fact that the state never recognized girls wrestling as a sport,” Anderson said.
For the female wrestlers, Mannie’s victory is just another milestone in their journey to bridge the gender gap in high school wrestling.