ROCHELLE — Former high school and collegiate wrestling standout Alphonso Vruno picked an opportune time to join the Rochelle Township High School coaching staff.
Vruno assisted the Rochelle wrestling coaches this past season, when the Hubs sent four individuals to the IHSA State Championships before placing fourth in the IHSA State Duals and earning their first-ever state wrestling trophy. Learning under seasoned veteran coaches such as Richard Harvey, Carl Harvey, Jason Fore and Kyle Bridgeman, Vruno is ready to take on his role as the new head coach of the Hubs this winter.
“Coming in really young, it was all about working the kids hard and concentrating on the wrestling aspect of things,” Vruno said. “But people like Rich, Carl, Jason and Kyle helped me understand how to look outside the wrestling room and how to become interested in the families of these kids and what their interests are. Learning under them taught me how to make connections with the kids before worrying about wrestling.”
Vruno inherits a Rochelle wrestling program that won 19 dual matches during the 2017 season including both a regional championship and the school’s first-ever team sectional victory over Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference rival Ottawa. The Hubs also took third place in both the Mahomet-Seymour Invitational and the Rockford East Giardini Invitational.
“I think this team can be really good,” Vruno said. “We have quite a few varsity starters returning and we have some other wrestlers stepping into new roles. It will be exciting to see where the team starts off… It looks like we’ll have a pretty good team but we won’t know for sure until we get started.”
Rochelle returns senior and two-time state qualifier Eddie Villalobos to the varsity lineup, while sophomore Ben Harvey also returns after winning over 30 matches and coming one match short of reaching the state championships as a freshman. The Hubs lost several seniors to graduation this past year including state qualifiers Alex Harvey and Ehren Metzger, but Vruno is confident in returning upperclassmen such as Jacob Fore, Keegan Davis and Gavin Ansteth.
“We have quite a few returners and my expectation for them is to show the underclassmen the way,” Vruno said. “If they can work hard and be good leaders, their results will speak for themselves.”
The Hubs will open their season at home with matches against Burlington Central and Dixon on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 5 p.m. Vruno said the team’s conditioning played an integral role in its success last season, and he said the Hubs will be looking to continue improving in their match tactics this winter.
“We were very conditioned so I thought the wrestlers did a good job of pushing the pace during their matches,” Vruno said. “I think we can do a better job of that and we need to be better with our tactics such as what to do with 30 seconds left and when we’re up by only two points and situations like those.”