Wrestling: Atkinson reflects on IHSA State Championship run

Sophomore Dempsey Atkinson represented the Rochelle Hub wrestling team at the IHSA Girls State Championship at the Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington this past weekend. Atkinson is pictured above with assistant coach Chris Hager (left) and head coach Alphonso Vruno (right). (Courtesy photo)

Rochelle sophomore records top-12 finish in Bloomington

BLOOMINGTON — Dozens of friends and supporters lined both sides of the Purple Pass on Thursday, when sophomore wrestler Dempsey Atkinson and her coaches departed from Rochelle Township High School for the IHSA State Championship meet in Bloomington.

Friday marked a historic achievement for Atkinson, who became the first female student-athlete at RTHS to compete in an IHSA State Championship meet for girls wrestling. Thursday evening marked the beginning of the festivities, however, with Atkinson and her coaches receiving a special escort from the RTHS campus courtesy of the Rochelle Police Department.

“It was great to see the support,” Atkinson said. “Seeing all of the kids from the wrestling club cheering for me was a really cool experience. It was really cool to see how many girls were there because I’ve never been at a wrestling tournament with that many girls participating.”

One of three girls who competed for the Rochelle Hub wrestling team this season, Atkinson earned her way into the IHSA State Championship after finishing second in the 145-pound weight division at the IHSA Geneseo Sectional, where the sophomore went 3-1 over four matches with two victories coming by fall. Atkinson (18-13) concluded her season on Friday, when she went 1-2 over three state bouts to secure a top-12 finish in her weight division.

“I was really nervous before my first match and I definitely felt like I could’ve performed better in the two matches I lost,” Atkinson said. “I’m looking forward to working hard during the spring season and throughout the next wrestling season. Seeing how good the other girls were and knowing how good I can be will really motivate me for next season. I enjoyed watching the grand march at the state meet and I want to be a part of that experience next season.”

Atkinson faced Olympia’s Jordan Bicknell in the opening round of the championship bracket, scoring the first takedown but conceding a fall toward the end of the first period. Atkinson bounced back in the first round of the wrestlebacks, where she pinned Oak Forest wrestler Maya Corea-Funes to earn at least a top-12 finish. Atkinson battled Homewood-Floosmoor’s Alima Toheeb-Lawal in the second round of the wrestlebacks, taking the match into the second period before a pin by her opponent ended the sophomore’s historic wrestling season.

“I’m hoping to place at the state meet next season,” Atkinson said. “I definitely want to bring more girls out for wrestling next season. I think that qualifying for state and having that shared online all over social media has made more girls interested in coming out for the team.”