Jared-BellBy JARED BELL
Illinois Matmen

Connor Gaynor was worried.

After a distinguished youth wrestling career that culminated in an IKWF state title last spring, Gaynor was a little fearful about the jump to high school.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect with high school wrestling,” Gaynor said. “I was a little scared going into it since I didn’t know how I’d do or what it’d be like.”

Turns out there was no need to worry.

Now a 126-pound freshman at Chicago Mt. Carmel, Gaynor has started his high school wrestling career with a bang as he has a 7-1 record, including going unbeaten at Saturday’s quadrangular and upsetting Montini junior and two-time state qualifier Dylan Burnoski along the way.

“At the start of the season, I was a little surprised by my first couple of wins,” Gaynor said. “Then I realized, ‘This isn’t that bad,’ so I’ve just been having some fun with it ever since.”

For all he accomplished last week, Gaynor is this week’s GO EARN IT Wrestler of the Week.

“He has an unorthodox style and is a really good mat wrestler, but he also has a really great mind for the sport, which I think is the most important thing,” Mt. Carmel coach Alex Tsirtsis said. “It shows that his ceiling can be really high and that his potential is great.”

Gaynor had an eventful weekend as he suffered his first loss of the season Friday to Marian Catholic senior Carlos Champagne but bounced back less than 24 hours later with the pair of wins.

“I didn’t really know what to expect on Saturday,” Gaynor said. “I was just trying to bounce back from the night before. I tried to focus on that day and not on what happened the night before.”

He did so to perfection as he learned from Friday’s defeat.

“On Friday against Champagne, Connor got the first takedown, rode him out and almost turned him in the first period,” Tsirtsis said. “Then he had some issues on bottom after that. But his temperament and body language afterward were all about how he could make the adjustments. He doesn’t get down on himself too much. He’s a competitor who wants to win, but at the same time he’s not going to let a mistake or something that didn’t go his way hold him down or keep him down for too long.”

After the performance, Gaynor debuted at No. 4 in this week’s inaugural GO EARN IT WRESTLING APPAREL Class 3A 126-pound Illinois Matmen rankings and caused him to be one of the nominees for this week’s GO EARN IT Wrestler of the Week award.

He was one of seven finalists and won the poll with 28 percent of the votes.

“My dad saw it on Facebook and told me, ‘Hey, some guy nominated you,’” Gaynor said of the award. “I thought it was so cool and later when my dad told me I was a finalist, I couldn’t believe it. I just told him, ‘That’s awesome.’ We reached out to some family, friends and teammates who reached out to their friends and family. It was pretty neat.”

Not bad for a kid who went from reading Matmen to being on Matmen.

“My friends were telling me where I was at (in the poll) and if I was winning,” Gaynor said. “Once I pulled ahead by a good number, I remember thinking, ‘This is really cool. This is really going to happen.’”

Gaynor and Mt. Carmel will face their biggest challenge yet this weekend as they travel to the nationally-renowned Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

“This season, I’m just hoping to medal at our tournaments and possibly even win some of them,” Gaynor said. “With state, I want to make it, take it one match at a time and see what I can do there.”

After the start to his prep career, anything is possible.

“After last weekend, I think he learned that he’s right there with all the top guys,” Tsirtsis said. “Now it’s making those little adjustments to get even better over the next 2 ½ months. He has this great ability to make adjustments, and I don’t think his ego gets in the way of what he needs to do to get better.”