Wrestling: Hubs eager to build on historic 28-win season

Junior Xavier Villalobos is one of several state qualifiers back in action for the Rochelle Hub varsity wrestling team this season. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Senior standouts Metzger, Tourdot headline returning varsity athletes

ROCHELLE — The Rochelle Hub varsity wrestling team achieved historic marks last winter, finishing with a school-record 28 dual victories while winning both the Interstate 8 Conference tournament and the Interstate 8 Conference regular-season crown. With nearly his entire lineup back this season, head coach Alphonso Vruno has high hopes for the 2023-24 campaign.

The Hubs held their first practice of the season on Monday. Rochelle will begin the season with a nonconference meet against Dixon and Burlington Central on Nov. 21. The Hubs will compete in several tournaments this season including the Giardini Invitational at Rockford East along with the Don Flavin Invitational at DeKalb, the Sycamore Invitational and the Marty Williams Invitational at Mahomet-Seymour. Rochelle will host an IHSA 2A Individual Regional on Feb. 3.

“We’re really excited and now that we’re back in the room, we’re hoping that the kids are just as excited,” Vruno said. “We have a lot of wrestlers returning, but we have a lot of new wrestlers as well. Our goal is to keep building our program and carry our momentum over from last year.”

Rochelle returns several IHSA state qualifiers from the 2022-23 roster. Seniors Tommy Tourdot and Brock Metzger both reached the state meet for the first time, while juniors Xavier Villalobos, Kaiden Morris and Grant Gensler have all been state qualifiers. Sophomores Brenden Voight and Roman Villalobos are also back after carving out varsity roles for the Hubs last season.

“We have a squad that had success on the football field this year and we’re expecting them to have success on the wrestling mat,” Vruno said. “We’ve talked about being vocal leaders and I love what I’ve seen from them in terms of their work ethic and how they’ve grown. I want them to teach our next group of wrestlers how it’s done and what it means to be a Rochelle wrestler.”

Sophomores Freddie Hernandez and Keagan Albers are two lightweight wrestlers who could see bigger roles on the varsity team this winter. Rochelle will open the Interstate 8 Conference schedule with a home meet against Ottawa and LaSalle-Peru on Dec. 7. The Hubs will work through a tough nonconference slate that features opponents such as Lena-Winslow, Dakota, Erie-Prophetstown, Harvard, Princeton, Stillman Valley, Marengo, Sterling and much more.

“If our individuals are wrestling well, then the team will wrestle well,” Vruno said. “We’re focusing on what we can control so we can make sure our individuals are where they should be before the end of the season… I can’t say enough about our kids’ ability to pin people. Their skills from the top position are second to none and they’ve honed their craft. It was fun to watch last year.”

In addition to the returning boys, Rochelle will have multiple girls back in the wrestling room this winter. Junior Dempsey Atkinson is back after reaching the IHSA State Championship meet last season, while sophomore Cammyla Macias also returns to represent Rochelle on the girls side.