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Fast start could set tone for Morton wrestling success

CICERO – The Morton wrestling team has just a few returnees from last year’s varsity lineup, but the Mustangs’ mix has turned in some good early results.

Leading the way is Adrian Cardenas, a sectional qualifier last year at 170 pounds. The senior is back at that weight class and is arguably Morton’s best wrestler.

“I guess he would be the crown jewel of our program,” Morton coach Steve Eckert said. “He’s a senior. He’s been to sectionals twice. I’m thinking that if he doesn’t get to the state tournament this year, it would be a real disappointment.”

Cardenas was one of three Mustangs to claim tournament titles at Guerin on Nov. 30. Freshman Joewan Smith (113 pounds) and sophomore Donny DiNardo also won titles to help Morton win the 11-team tournament.

The tournament win has been part of a winning start for the Mustangs. Morton beat Riverside Brookfield 44-12 on Nov. 27 and defeated Glenbard South 63-12 on Dec. 5. The Mustangs also beat Kelly on Friday and went 4-0 in the Niles North Invite with match wins over Elmwood Park, the host Vikings, Lakes and Clemente.

“Not any high-powered schools [at Guerin], but it’s a real nice start for us,” Eckert said. “It’s a good gauge, especially for guys that are new to the varsity lineup.”

Senior Kevion Anderson is the only other sectional qualifier back for Morton. The Mustangs’ other sectional qualifier last year, Juan Blanco, transferred away. Anderson, a 220-pounder, went from a raw athlete that couldn’t win challenge matches in practice when he started wrestling to one of the team’s best last year, according to Eckert.

“He’s just a big, strong kid who we’re trying to teach to be a better wrestler,” the coach said.

DiNardo (120 pounds) started some of last year along with Jesus Ceja (195). Noel Ibarra (182) also earned some valuable experience last year while practicing against Cardenas. The rest of the varsity lineup is full of newcomers, which means they will need time to adjust to the level, according to Eckert.

“The jury is still out because all these guys are learning what it’s like to be varsity starters,” the coach said. “What I like about the squad this year is that they really came to practice this year wanting to learn to be better wrestlers and they really do work hard in practice. You can’t ask more than that.”

For now, the lineup consists of four seniors, six juniors, three sophomores and a freshman. Smith, the lone freshman, trained in Oak Park River Forest’s Little Huskies program so he comes in with more wrestling experience than most freshman.

Smith showed off his talent by winning the title at 113 pounds at Guerin.

“He’s lightning fast, but he hasn’t had much competition yet,” Eckert said. “He is a nice addition to our lineup.”

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