Photo by Becky LaMont / Illinois Matmen
By JARED BELL
Hassan Johnson was speechless.
When the 120-pound Brother Rice senior was asked what he thought his reaction would be if he won a state title, he didn’t have one.
“I don’t even know what I’d do or say,” Johnson said. “I’d just be speechless and so happy.”
The thought of reaching the state’s highest goal left Johnson at a loss for words.
Now he’ll attempt to make it happen and find out what his reaction will be on Saturday.
As the No. 1-ranked Class 2A 120-pound wrestler in the current GO EARN IT rankings, Johnson advanced to his second straight state title match on Friday.
After he won his quarterfinal by a 6-3 decision Friday morning, he pulled out a thrilling, hard-fought 3-2 sudden victory over formerly undefeated Mt. Zion junior Kooper Loehr.
“It feels great to be right there and to know that you’re so close (to a state title),” Johnson said. “I was this close last year, too, but I’m going to get it this year.”
He more than earned his state title berth in Friday’s semifinals.
Against Loehr – who entered 42-0 and as the No. 4-ranked wrestler in the state – the two wrestled to a scoreless first period.
After the two traded escapes in the second and third periods, the match went to overtime tied at 1.
In the first OT period, neither wrestler scored to send it into riding time. With Loehr choosing down in the first riding period, he quickly escaped but couldn’t score anymore points.
With Johnson trailing 2-1 entering the second riding period, he took down and also escaped quickly to send the match into the ultimate tiebreaker.
Johnson selected down and escaped Loehr’s control to win the match and advance to the title match.
“I was trying to feel him out the whole match,” Johnson said. “He was moving, so it was hard to get into my offense, so I was OK going to overtime.
“In practice, we always do 30-second goes, so I was confident that I could get out.”
Just like his state semifinal match, this postseason hasn’t been easy for Johnson.
In a stacked regional, Johnson prevailed in a field that saw the top-three ranked kids in the state in No. 1 Johnson, No. 2 and St. Rita senior Tommy Russell, and No. 3 and Lemont sophomore Kyle Schickel.
At the regional, Johnson entered as the No. 3 seed and beat both Schickel and Russell to win a regional title.
“Going into the regionals, I was really nervous,” Johnson said. “In the finals, my coach just told me to have fun and go to my offense, so that’s what I did and I came out on top.”
He backed it up the following week as he defeated Schickel in the finals of the Class 2A Hinsdale South Sectional.
The back-to-back titles and last season’s runner-up finish helped Johnson become the No. 1 seed at his weight for the state tournament.
Following his win Thursday and the two victories Friday, Johnson is back where he wants to be – in the state finals for a second straight season.
“Last year, I didn’t really have enough matches under my belt going into the postseason,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really prepared for the finals, but this year I feel much better, more confident and better conditioned.”
In the title match, Johnson will once again face Schickel, who he faced in his very first match of the regional.
This time, however, much more will be on the line.
“It’s both fun and challenging to see the same kids over and over again,” Johnson said. “We both watch tape of each other to see what we can improve on. I’ll never change my style, but I’m constantly thinking about stuff my coaches tell me in practice or before I got out onto the mat.”