By JARED BELL
Illinois Matmen

Bilal Bailey learned from his mistakes.

On Dec. 9, in an early-season match, the 145-pound Thornton Fractional North sophomore did something rather unusual – he lost. By pin fall.

“It was my first really competitive match of the season and I made some mistakes,” Bailey said. “I really learned a lot from that match and got better from it, but it was definitely an eye-opener.”

Turns out, it was only a minor hiccup in his season.

Nearly 6 ½ weeks later, Bailey has done nothing but win as he hasn’t lost since and, most of the time, he’s prevailed in dominating fashion.

That was the case at Saturday’s South Suburban Conference Tournament where Bailey rolled through the competition as he pinned his way to the finals and won the championship by third-period technical fall.

It was an impressive week for an impressive wrestler and, for all he accomplished last week, Bailey was voted as this week’s GO EARN IT Wrestler of the Week.

PAST GO EARN IT WRESTLERS OF THE WEEK

1/14: John Paul Smith, Wheeling
1/7: Michael Donatelli, Geneva
1/1: Noah Villarreal, Aurora Christian
12/24: Jack Jessen, Willowbrook
12/17: Joe Roberts, Yorkville
12/10: DJ Hamiti, Joliet Catholic
12/3: Connor Gaynor, Mt. Carmel
11/26: Trevor Chumbley, Marmion

“In that loss, he got put into a position he had never been put in before,” first-year TF North coach Tim Springs said. “When we got back into the room, we really worked on it as well as some other things we had seen.

“That’s the great thing about Bilal – he always wants to correct and improve any mistakes he makes or any position he’s put in. He always wants to get better.”

So far this season, that’s meant bad news for his competition.

After last weekend’s performance, he’s currently 27-1 this winter, ranked No. 3 in the current Class 2A 145-pound GO EARN IT Wrestling Apparel Rankings and his only loss came to a wrestler from Iowa meaning he’s unbeaten against wrestlers from Illinois.

“I have a lot of confidence right now,” Bailey said.

Bailey’s SSC title was TF North’s first conference championship since 2007, but he wasn’t the only family member to win as his younger brother – 132-pound freshman Sincere – also captured a title.

“They are both so competitive, so I have to keep them separated in practice because they still have to go home together,” Springs joked. “They may drill together, but that’s all I really let them do. No live wrestling allowed in practice. That’s my rule.”

After Bailey was unable to advance to state last season, he’s aiming to qualify for his first state tournament next month, win his first state medal and capture a state title.

If he accomplishes his ultimate goal, Bailey will be the first TF North wrestler to win a state title since 1968.

“If I won a state title, it’d mean the world to me,” Bailey said. “It’s been 50 years exactly since someone from TF North has won a state title and, when I came to the school, I just felt like it was meant to be.”

No matter what happens and how Bailey finishes, he still has two more seasons to build his resume. However, funny thing is, depending on who you ask and where you look, not everyone properly lists his year in school correctly.

“It’s actually kind of funny,” Springs said. “I see where everybody keeps putting him as a junior or a senior, but luckily he’s just a sophomore and we have a lot more time together to watch him learn, grow and hopefully get that state title.”

Regardless of what happens in the postseason, Bailey is already a winner as he captured the GO EARN IT Wrestler of the Week award.

He admitted he wasn’t even aware of the award until friends told him he was a finalist, but he quickly learned and campaigned friends, family, teammates and the TF North community for support.

“It felt really good to be nominated, but I didn’t know what it was at first,” Bailey said with a laugh. “I was surprised when I first looked at it, but I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is good.’”

Just like his season so far.