The phrase “you cannot judge a book by its cover” is one that fits the Highland Park High School varsity wrestling team to a tee.
This year’s squad may have only had three team victories as a whole but the success shown by senior grapplers Sam Guerrero and Jose Ruiz, as well as freshman Liam Burke has pleasantly surprised the expectations of Coach Craig Girvan. Sam Guerrero is the defending District 19 Champion at 126 pounds. He has a record of 29-4 on the mat this season.
“Sam started as a freshman and with his hard work he has made himself into an elite wrestler,” said Coach Girvan. “Winning the District 19 championship as a junior was a huge accomplishment and he looks forward to defending his title.”
At 132 pounds, Jose Ruiz has a mark of 25-8 this year, and has recorded more than 60 wins in his stellar mat career. “He has been a solid and steady wrestler since his freshman year and having 25 wins this year is outstanding,” said the coach. And then there is 106 pound Liam Burke, who is 20-11 this year and from whom “we expect big things in the future,” said Coach Girvan.
Things have not been easy for the team. Only 13 wrestlers were able to fill the 14 different weight classes for Highland Park and the Owls had four forfeits in the winter campaign. “It is difficult for a small town like Highland Park to fill the 14 weight classes. I knew we had a couple of experienced seniors but we are very young,” said Mr. Girvan. “Several freshmen were wrestling on the varsity level for the first time. The four forfeits for us were difficult to overcome,” the coach added.
Other wrestlers contributing to this year’s team included freshmen: Jeffrey Reyes (11-14 record) at 113 pounds; Kumayl Qureshi (6-14 mark ) at 120 pounds; Sean Li (7-21 mark) at 220 pounds; Jonah Beberman (2-3) who wrestles at both 145 and 152 pounds; Jake McCrone at 113 pounds; and Jonah Silverman at 120 pounds.
“Kumayl Qureshi, Jeffrey Reyes and Sean Li did a nice job this year. It was difficult for them to step in but they all improved tremendously over the year,” said the coach. “Jake and Jonah improved their skill level and we’re looking for big contributions from them on the varsity level.”
At 160 pounds senior Jeffrey Mathis came back from injury midway through the season to record a 4-8 mark and help the team get some key victories.
Sophomore Ish Zubrairu recorded a 10-13 mark at 138 pounds, while sophomore Matt Schrager recorded a 5-10 mark this season. Matt Schrager and Jonah Beberman wrestled matches at both 145 and 152 pounds. Sophomore Dylan Boynton recorded a 7-16 mark. Boynton and Sean Li wrestled at both 195 pounds and 220 pounds. The versatility of these grapplers could go a big way to the success of the team perhaps for next season and beyond.
Coach Girvan said that he expects “big performances” from Sam Guerrero, Jose Ruiz and Liam Burke in the district wrestling championships. “I’m very confident that Sam will do well in his weight class. I will be surprised if Jose or Liam fails to place in the top three in the districts,” said the coach. With a stock full of talented freshmen and sophomore grapplers, the future of the Highland Park Owls wrestling team looks very bright indeed. “Our kids wrestled well this season, their skills have improved and I look forward to their contributions on the varsity level,” Mr. Girvan said.