Photos courtesy of Hononegah Wrestling
By JARED BELL
Tony Cassioppi has heard it all.
A 285-pound junior on the Hononegah wrestling team, Cassioppi has heard his name mispronounced in many different ways over the years.
“I’ve heard it Cass-e-o-pie or Ca-sapp-e or stuff like that,” he joked.
Don’t forget about Cass-a-issippi or Cass-a-pee-a.
“Luckily,” Cassioppi said, “nobody has ever made the ‘C’ silent.”
This season, however, Cassioppi is making certain everyone knows his name.
Pronounced Cass-e-o-pee, the junior has been one of the state’s most-dominate wrestlers as he’s 34-0, ranked No. 1 at Class 3A 285 pounds in the current Illinois Matmen GO EARN IT Wrestling Apparel Rankings and has been out of the first period just twice this season.
“Tony definitely lives and breathes wrestling,” Hononegah coach Jason Glodowski said. “He’s definitely goal-oriented and goal-driven in his training and his wrestling.”
The competition has learned that the hard way as he has a whopping 150 takedowns – or 4.4 per match – and has pinned every opponent but two in the first period.
“It doesn’t really surprise me with how hard I’ve been working,” Cassioppi said. “I’ve always been good on top, but I’ve just gotten so much better on my feet.”
He hopes all of his success so far translates into winning a state title, something Cassioppi came close to doing last season.
After a shoulder injury ended his freshman season, Cassioppi qualified for the state tournament for the first time last year and advanced to the 3A 285-pound semifinals, where he lost to the eventual state champion.
Cassioppi bounced back to finish third, but it wasn’t the medal he wanted.
“Third place was nice, but looking back I wish I could’ve done a little better,” Cassioppi said. “I wish I would’ve won, but I just have to get better now and make up for it.”
Over the offseason, he worked to make sure this season he goes all the way.
In the summer, he placed at Fargo in both Freestyle and Greco and also worked with current Division I Big Ten Conference heavyweights.
“I look back at last year and think, ‘If I was this good last year, I would’ve won a state title,’” Cassioppi said.
So far this season, he’s been crushing opponents as he’s already won tournament titles at Barrington, the Dvorak and Sycamore.
“After watching him in Fargo competing against some of the nation’s best, I definitely thought he’d have a great season,” Glodowski said. “I think it’s about keeping him determined and keeping eyes on the prize at the end, and I think he’s going to get it.”
An IKWF state champion as an eighth grader, Cassioppi entered high school around 220 pounds but freshman year was unable to beat out Hononegah graduate Blake Zalapi for the spot.
Forced to go up or down, Glodowski made Cassioppi into an undersized heavyweight.
“With Tony’s style, we told him, ‘You’re going to make a great heavyweight,’ and we just kind of went with it,” Glodowski said. “There was always a little second-guessing of putting him there, but freshman year he beat ranked kids left and right. He definitely turned some heads and surprised some people that this small heavyweight was beating some pretty decently-ranked kids.”
He hasn’t let up since as his offensive style has helped make him so successful.
“If you look at kids’ club heavyweights, a lot of times they just stand there and don’t do much, and that translates to high school,” Cassioppi said. “But when you look at college heavyweights, they’re much more offensive. They hit shots and singles and stuff like that. The more athletic heavyweights are becoming the norm, and I feel that’s how I am.”
After he went 44-3 last season, Cassioppi has taken his skills to the next level this season as he’s already beaten the No. 3-, No. 6- and No. 7-ranked kids at his weight.
“Last year, there was a lot of pure muscle and bullying guys around,” Glodowski said. “This year, his technique is definitely starting to come through. The setups have been great, the footwork is great and his takedowns are great.”
Cassioppi is hoping everything adds up to a great finish.
“I feel like I have the ability to win a state title,” he said. “That’s my goal, but in the meantime, I just want to keep getting better and not settle. I want to be the best that I can be.”
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.