ROCHELLE — The Rochelle Township High School wrestling program has qualified at least two competitors for the IHSA State Championships in each of the last four seasons. Six different individuals have represented the Hubs in Champaign during that span, with three of them (Alex Harvey, Eddie Villalobos and Ben Harvey) bringing home medals and top-5 finishes.
Other than wearing purple and white, what else do Rochelle’s recent state qualifiers have in common? Five of them, including the three state medalists as well as qualifiers Gavin Ansteth and Ehren Metzger, started wrestling long before high school, competing with the Rochelle Wrestling Club, which has blossomed into one of the Hub City’s premier feeder programs.
The Rochelle Wrestling Club recently capped off a successful 2019-20 season, qualifying six individuals for the IKWF State Championships and taking home two Senior Division trophies during the postseason. The Junior Hubs recorded 78 first-place finishes across five divisions this season while advancing 19 individuals to the IKWF Sectional in Rochelle.
“Our kids competed very well throughout the year and we saw improvements every weekend,” club president Derek Johnson and head coach Joe Tourdot said. “Wrestling is a tough sport, both physically and mentally, so dedication and improvement are all we ask from our kids… We do our best to teach our kids the basics so they can go out and be competitive every weekend.”
Over 80 athletes registered with the Rochelle Wrestling Club this season, and the club has doubled its number of volunteer coaches. The club has doubled in size over the last seven years, and the club has formed a stronger connection with the RTHS wrestling program, which had coaches attend at least one practice a week this season to work with the young kids.
“The reason for the growth and success is due to the countless hours that our parents contribute by taking kids to and from practice and traveling to tournaments every weekend,” Johnson and Tourdot said. “We have doubled the number of volunteer coaches, and that allows us to get more one-on-one time with groups to teach new moves and correct mistakes.”
2019 marked a historic moment for the Rochelle Wrestling Club, as middle-schooler Kaiden Morris became the first IKWF state champion in program history. Morris was one of six state qualifiers (Tommy Tourdot, Xavier Villalobos, Erich Metzger, Lauro Cabral and Roman Villalobos) this season, and with dozens of champions battling and improving at the lower levels, the future of wrestling in the Hub City looks brighter than ever before.
“We’d like to see them compete through high school and hopefully see some wrestle in college,” Johnson and Tourdot said. “We believe the more successful our club is, the better our high school team will be. The real reward of coaching in the club is seeing the success in our high school program and knowing that all the hours we put in were all worth it.”