DARIEN — Justin Maslow found himself in strange situation early in his third-place match at the Class 3A Shepard sectional — taken down to the mat.
In two previous match wins, the Hinsdale South junior was the one forcing the action, but things started off differently against Marist's Jakada Hall, who earned the first takedown.
"I knew he was kind of a funky wrestler, so I knew I had to watch my hips and watch my balance as I was finishing my takedowns," Maslow said.
Maslow rebounded and won the third-place match 8-3, including three takedowns, to secure a better seed as he earned his first trip to the state finals, a result that validated some hard work in the offseason.
"It feels pretty good," Maslow said of qualifying for state. "I feel like I deserve it, though, because I trained hard in the offseason and all that."
Maslow won his first match with a second-period pin, and, after dropping a semifinal match at 145 pounds, won twice in the backdraw to finish third. It was his 6-2 win in the wrestleback semifinals that secured a top-four finish and a trip to state, but taking third was a much better sendoff.
"Without a doubt. It definitely feels better," Maslow said.
Maslow planned to spend the days leading up to the state finals improving his conditioning. What he didn't want to change was his approach to his matches.
"I'm wrestling smarter. Before I just do something, I'm thinking about it. Every position I'm in, I'm thinking 'What can I do?'" Maslow said. "I feel like I'm riding kids out well, and I'm taking the first shot usually and that's better mentally if I get the first takedown because then I know I'm pushing the action."
Maslow (41-3) drew Edwarsville's James Mosher (28-7) in Thursday's opening round with St. Charles East's Keone Derain or McHenry's Wade Lardy possible quarterfinal opponents. No matter the foe, Maslow was hoping to make his first state trip a memorable one.
"I'm going to take it one match at a time and hopefully I'll place," he said. "That would be the ultimate goal."
South freshman Joshua King went 2-2 at the sectional and earned a trip to state with a fourth-place showing at 220. His 2-1 overtime win in a backdraw semifinal secured his trip to state.
Nick Perisin (113 pounds), Ed Murphy (120), Nick Carlson (126) and Mark Kosiek (132) also represented the Hornets at the sectional but came up just short of earning state berths.
What: Class 3A wrestling individual tournament
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday; 8:30 a.m. Friday; 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Assembly Hall, Champaign