LOMBARD – The Glenbard East regional was tough at just about every weight class, and the only Willowbrook wrestlers to survive were Matt Rowland and Jake Kroeger.
Those two will compete at the Leyden Sectional this weekend with the hopes of qualifying for state. Both Rowland and Kroeger made the championship match at their respective weight classes before losing to wrestlers from Oak Park-River Forest, the favorite to win the state title this season.
Rowland, a sophomore, returns to a sectional after going 1-2 at that stage last year. Kroeger is looking for his second state appearance.
“We had kind of a rough finish this year,” Willowbrook coach Bryan Murphy said. “We were injury prone. As long as we get these two guys to state and next week focus on trying to get them to place [at state], that’s a pretty good year.”
Rowland is 39-3 at 152 pounds and only lost 5-4 to OPRF’s Matthew Rundell in the final. St. Charles East’s Keone Derain is another talented wrestler at 152 in the sectional field, but Murphy thinks Rowland should be able to get through to state for the first time.
“Matt’s doing real well,” Murphy said. “He lost to three top-ranked kids. He’s got a pretty good sectional, but I think he should be back in the finals against Rundell from Oak Park.
“It gives us a good shot at getting him a couple championship shots in the next couple years.”
Kroeger made state as a sophomore and is hoping to end his career in Champaign, despite missing some time this season due to injury. His record stands at 18-4 after losing to OPRF’s Allen Stallings 5-2 in the final at 182.
Kroeger will face Evanston’s Carldrail Cannon in the first round of the sectional. In addition to Stallings, Taft’s 39-1 Nicola Gallo and Rolling Meadows’ 35-7 Dardan Kadriu are other wrestlers to watch for in that weight class.
“We’re prepared for all of them, and Jake should be in pretty good shape,” Murphy said.
Willowbrook had a chance to get more wrestlers through from the regional, but the Warriors went 0-3 in decisive third-place matches. Sophomores Andrew Verr (113 pounds) and Elijah Rochelle (170) and junior Christian Chavez (220) also came up one win short of advancing to the sectional.
“Andrew Verr we thought we’d get out at 113,” Murphy said. “He kind of had a flat match in the semis.”
Rochelle entered the regional seeded fourth and, according to Murphy, was going to have to pull off a significant upset to get into the top three. Murphy mentioned Chavez as a wrestler with good potential next year.
“He has the ability to hang around and stay in matches,” Murphy said. “We’re going to expect a lot of him next year. Same with Rochelle.”