SPRINGFIELD • Damari Reed loves to strum his air guitar after big matches, and at the state championships in Springfield, Reed ripped out that guitar and jammed away to the focused tune of a 152–pound state championship.
When asked about how it felt to be a state champion, the former Harvey Twister said, “It feels amazing.”
When asked about the guitar celebration, Reed smiled, “The guitar? I don’t know. I want to be a rockstar one day.”
The Shepard junior may not have to wait any longer to reach rockstar status, especially back at Shepard High School, and certainly not in Illinois. On Saturday, at the Bank of Springfield Center, he made stage presence known and took down the building in the process.
As a freshman, Reed qualified for the state championships at 113 pounds. He would win his first match against Dekalb’s Tommy Curran, 8-4, but then lose in the quarterfinals to Jake Lindsay of Providence Catholic by a 4-2 decision. In the wrestle–backs, Reed would lose to Warren’s Austin Nash, 10-5, and his tournament was concluded.
“His freshman year,” head coach Scott Richardson commented, “he went 1-2 at the state tournament. He wrestled really well, just young and I think the wrestle-backs caught up to him. His sophomore year, he had a little bump in the road—he didn’t finish with us. But we never turned our back on him. We just tried to help him. This year when wrestling season came around, his grades shot up, and he really stayed focused.”
And being focused was Reed’s focus all year long. “I put in a lot of hard work and I got what I wanted out of it,” Reed explained of his approach. “This whole season has been dedicated to one word: focus. I focused, I stayed out there, did what I had to do, and I got the title.”
Reed came into the tournament with a record of 15-1. His only loss came a week prior in the semifinals of the sectional championships against Chicago Mt. Carmel’s Zach Rotkvich, 11-9 in sudden victory. A match-up Reed had won earlier in the season by a 14-6 major decision.
“The loss last weekend was more me making mental mistakes versus actual physical mistakes,” Reed commented. “I let myself get out of the match—I wasn’t focused—I let a couple missed calls impact me, and I wasn’t keeping my positions tight. I let the match slip away from me. But today I wasn’t going to let those things impact me.”
To reach the finals, Reed would have to face a slew of ranked wrestlers—no easy feat. In his opening match, he faced Wheaton North’s number-six ranked Logan Balosky, a difficult draw for the number-four ranked wrestler in the state. But, through his focus, and four takedowns, Reed dominated the match with a 9-2 decision, putting him in the quarterfinals, the same position he was in two years earlier as a freshman where he struggled to advance.
In those quarterfinals, Reed would face number-right ranked Nate Ramsey of Lockport. Reed would strike first with an opening period takedown in the first thirty-one seconds, but, about forty seconds later, Ramsey would escape, close the gap, and then score a takedown of his own with two seconds left in the period. Reed would trail by one headed into the second period and, once into the second period, Reed would regain control. He would choose down, escape within the first four seconds, and score a takedown eight seconds later. The period would end with both wrestlers on their feet, but Reed had pushed the pace and Ramsey would be called for stalling; however, it was still only a one-point match with Reed up, 5-4.
In the third period, Ramsey chose bottom and was working to escape. Reed would be warned for stalling on top, and a few seconds later he would concede the hard-fought escape. The score would be tied, 5-5. Reed would attack a number of times, and Ramsey would fight him off with great defense and a few reattacks. When the period ended, both wrestlers would be headed to overtime.
The overtime period would start, and Reed would take an open shot off the whistle and end up in a single leg. Ramsey would key lock the position and, ultimately, square his hips until a stalemate was called. Off the second whistle, Ramsey would work to his front-head position, but Reed backed out, and then worked to arm drag himself into position. Ramsey would defend, but Reed would fire back in on an open double leg. With a left-handed underhook on Reed, Ramsey would find himself out of position, lose his balance, and Reed would hip in and score a takedown on the edge of the mat with nineteen seconds left in the overtime period.
On his way back to the middle of the mat, Reed brushed each hand off on his oppositeshoulders and strummed his guitar for the first time on the day. He removed his ankle bands and waited for his hand to be raised. He was now all-state, and headed into the semifinals where he would have to wrestle the number-one ranked wrestler in the state, McHenry’s Brody Hallin.
When match 3311 was called to mat one, Reed felt that it was his time. He was confident and knew that if he focused on his footwork and his wrestling, he would come out as the winner.
During the match, Hallin tried to tie up the quicker Reed, and his efforts would earn him a first period takedown with sixteen seconds left in the period. To Reed’s credit, he continued to move and cut the lead in half with an escape with about four seconds left in that very period. Headed into the second period, Reed would choose down. He would escape, but Hallin would take him down about one minute later. It would take Reed about fifteen seconds to escape and, with four seconds left in the period, Reed would score his first offense points and take a 5-4 lead as the third period began.
“[Hallin] wanted to tie me up and slow me down,” Reed said of his semifinal match. “I got my feet working a little bit, and he thought he was going to muscle me—I look small but I’m strong—so I had to do what I had to do. I had to take him to deep waters, he got tired, and I worked it from there.”
In the third, Hallin would choose bottom, escape four seconds after the whistle was blown, and the two would exchange shots and strong defense throughout the course of the period.
“In all my years of coaching,” Richardson said, “I think he has some of the most-raw athletic talent. And the only thing I really say to him most of the time is ‘Stay focused.’ In that match, he did a great job of keeping his feet moving and staying focused.”
When the first overtime began, there would be no points scored, and Reed would have to ride out Hillan in the first thirty-second overtime period. Reed would hang on and, when it was hischoice, he chose down—an escape would push him into the finals. In a flurry, and with Hallindoing all he could to ride out the period, Reed would find his opening and escape with six seconds left in the overtime. Immediately, Reed would spin and aggressively strum his guitar in pure joy and excitement. The junior would now be headed to the state championship match with an opportunity to capture an individual title.
After the grand march, the introductions, and a seven state champions having already been crowned, Reed was now in the spotlight on the state’s biggest stage, and he would face Schaumburg’s undefeated and number-two ranked senior, Grant Hansen.
Right away, Hansen looked to tie up Reed to slow him down, and he did. However, as soon as Reed found some separation, he quickly juked his feet and hit a beautiful super duck to Hansen’s right side. About to give up the takedown, Hansen popped his hip, regained his composure, and squared himself up and found his way into his front headlock—he did not surrender the takedown.
With about fifteen seconds left in the period, Hansen would fake a leg sweep, get Reed to step, and then find a great shot of his own, a knee-pull to Reed’s right leg, and score the takedown across the mat to end the period on top with a 2-0 lead.
In the second, trailing, Reed would choose down and cut the lead in half ten seconds into the period. Hansen would continue with his close ties and his head-and-hands defense, and as soon as there was separation, Reed would hit an open double; however, the two would go out of bounds.
Back in the center of the mat, Reed would attack off Hansen’s tie with a slide-by, but as Hanen defended, Hansen shot into another knee-pull, this time to Reed’s left leg. But Reed refused to give up the takedown. He would drop his hips, push his weight on the Saxon, and free himself from the position.
Reed and Hansen would exchange shots and Hansen would get in deep on a double leg. Somehow, with his toes tip-toeing, keeping him balanced, Reed would work to the edge of the mat and deny the takedown. With twenty-two seconds now left in the second, Reed would move forward and wait for Hansen to step into him. Once Hansen did, Reed again shot his open double, switched off to a single leg, and limped out into a two-point takedown and a 3-2 lead with two seconds left.
As the match was wearing on, Reed was looking stronger—just like in his last two matches. His speed and explosiveness had been difficult for his opponents to handle, and later in the matches, his athleticism was difficult for his opponents to contain.
Now two minutes away from a state championship, Reed was riding a tough hooked-ankle ride with a wrist looking to wear down his opponent. Fifty-six seconds into the period, with a strong ride, a stalemate would be called and a restart would continue the period.
Again, as the whistle blew, Reed would ride hard forward and, this time, Hansen tried to roll. In that roll, Hansen almost went to his back as Reed recovered. There would be no escape and another stalemate would be called as Hansen locked up Reed’s leg and simply hung on.
With another restart, Hansen would hit a standup and transition to a switch. Reed would concede the escape and the match would be tied 3-3 with thirty seconds left.
Ten seconds would remain off another restart—this time in the neutral position. And, after a cautioned start on Reed, the next whistle that blew saw Reed quickly look to score with a few duck–under attempts and him getting to a single leg as time expired. Reed would now wrestle into his third overtime.
The first overtime would see some close calls on takedowns for both wrestlers, and strong defense would be the difference for each. In the deepest shot of the one-minute overtime, and with about twenty seconds left, Hansen would again find his double leg and Reed would find a way with his feet and hips and a strong right-handed wizard to fend off Hansen as he looked to almost have the corner on his way to a takedown. As Reed pulled him up and hipped into him, Hansen would fall to his back, recover, and no points would be scored either way.
In the first thirty-second ride-out, Reed would look to switch, find himself in a Granby position, and a mad scramble would follow where, with no time left coming out the back door and reaching his arm around the hip of Hansen, Reed would be awarded a two-point reversalafter a referee conference.
“My freshman year,” Reed explained, “I was in that same position in the quarterfinals, and I wasn’t able to get that reversal; I came up that short. This time I was not letting that reversal go—I was going to get it.”
Out of his corner, Richardson was intense. He had one foot in the circle motivating Reed to hold Hansen down, yelling, “Keep him down!” and, with authority, pointing his finger down tothe mat.
As the whistle blew, Hansen stood up to his feet and Reed would bring him back down, but the two would go out of bounds. After a restart with seventeen seconds left, Hansen would sit and try to turn through. Reed would follow, come behind, drop to a single leg with four seconds left, bring it up, and ride him out as the period ended to capture his title.
In unison with the final whistle, Reed would flex and scream, motion to the crowd, drop to his knee and aggressively jam on that guitar as two more flexes would follow. The junior, pumped up and excited, went through the gauntlet of the best wrestlers in the state, and knocked them off one by one, with the last three going into overtime.
“Focus has been my word,” Reed said of his season’s mantra, “and I almost lost my focus in that match [giving up that takedown]. My coach did a good job of keeping my head in the match. I just had to get my get-back and do what I do in the last couple minutes. The main thing I had to focus on this week was footwork. In that last match, I had to get my feet working and get the takedown—work him a little bit, make him move—and that’s been the key to this entire week’s focus.”
The junior, who a year ago had struggled to find his focus and wrestling, was now a state champion. “My coaching staff did a great job,” Richardson said of Reed’s preparedness. “When you’re coaching, you’re always talking to your wrestlers, encouraging them—letting them know when they make a mistake, but then also letting them know when they do something good. I think he really bought into that and he trusts us, and today he did a lot of good. I am excited for him.”
As for Reed’s guitar celebration, Richardson laughed, “We don’t practice that. But I guess it’s one of those things after you win, you get to break it out.” And after three overtime victoriesagainst the state’s top opponents, the third encore seemed to be the perfect stage exit for Reed as he looks ahead and moves forward.
• TC LIFONTI / tclifonti.com