PHOTO BY ANDRE’ MORGAN / ILLINOIS MATMEN
By JARED BELL
When Kendall Coleman started wrestling at age five, he didn’t really like it.
In fact, he tried almost everything he could to get out of it.
“I used to dread going to practices,” he said. “I used to hide in my closet or fake like I had stomaches just to get out it.”
My how times have changed.
Now a 138-pound junior on the Mt. Carmel wrestling team, Coleman has not only changed his stance on the sport but has become one of the state’s best.
Nearly 12 years removed from trying to get out of wrestling, he got into his first state title match Friday with a 13-6 decision over Wheaton North senior Riley Lomenick in a Class 3A 138-pound semifinal at the IHSA State Wrestling Tournament in Champaign.
“This means a lot to me because now I know all the hard work that I’ve put in has paid off,” said Coleman, who admitted he didn’t really begin to like wrestling until the eighth grade. “This has been one of my goals that I’ve had for a while.”
Now comes the hardest part yet as Coleman will look to win his first state title against Glenbard North senior Austin Gomez, a two-time defending state champion.
“It’d be awesome and would be great for him if he could win,” said first-year Mt. Carmel coach Alex Tsirtsis, a former All-American at the University of Iowa and a four-time high school state champion in Indiana who finished his prep career 236-0. “He’s a junior, so he has one more year after this year. If he can get one now, it’d be a great way to catapult him into his senior year.”
Entering the state tournament as the No. 4-ranked 3A 138-pounder in the Illinois Matmen GO EARN IT rankings, Coleman fought his way into the finals Friday.
After a first-round win Thursday, he won a controversial, hard-fought match against Oak Park-River Forest senior and No. 2-ranked Jaime Hernandez by a 7-5 sudden victory.
In the win, Coleman was called for three stalling calls to send the match into OT, but he prevailed with a takedown.
“Kendall overcame a lot in that match,” Tsirtsis said. “He scored all the offensive points, but he got called for three stalling calls to put it into overtime. It’s kind of a hard thing to swallow, but he kept his composure and showed a lot of heart being able to overcome it.”
The match-winning takedown sent him into Friday night’s semifinal and avoided the heart-breaking defeat.
“In those situations, you just have to keep doing what you’ve been doing,” Coleman said. “I had to keep staying tight and not let up.”
Having already secured his highest-ever state medal, Coleman will need to continue that confidence in Saturday’s state title match against Gomez.
A win, however, would be a dream come true.
“It’d be amazing,” Coleman said of winning a state championship. “I’ve wanted to win it all season, but a lot of people don’t expect me to win it. I’m an underdog, so to win it would be really nice.”
It would also prove that Coleman – who finished fifth at 2A 132 last season when Mt. Carmel was 2A – could compete in the toughest class.
“I came into this season as a 2A kid, and people didn’t really expect this out of me,” Coleman said. “I want to show everyone what I’m made of.”
No matter what happens Saturday night, he’s already showed his five-year-old self how good he could be.
“He’s wrestled well this whole year,” Tsirtsis said. “It’s been his goal all season to be a state champion, and he’s one match away from it right now. I know he’s very excited for it but still focused.”
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.