Wrestling: Hubs conclude IHSA State Championship action

Morris finishes second and Villalobos takes fifth to earn medalist honors

By Russ Hodges, Sports Editor
Posted 2/17/24

Junior Kaiden Morris had his moment under the lights as wrestling fans from all over Illinois united at the State Farm Center for the IHSA State Championships on Saturday.

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Wrestling: Hubs conclude IHSA State Championship action

Morris finishes second and Villalobos takes fifth to earn medalist honors


CHAMPAIGN —  Junior Kaiden Morris had his moment under the lights as wrestling fans from all over Illinois united at the State Farm Center for the IHSA State Championships on Saturday.

Morris was one of the many state finalists who circled the floor during the traditional Grand March that begins each championship session. The Rochelle 215-pounder then took part in the face off at the center of the mat, where he met opponent Michael Calcagno from Elmhurst IC Catholic for a brief shake of hands. Roughly two hours after the ceremony, Morris was in his finals singlet ready to enter the ring for a chance to win his first-ever state wrestling title.

“That was an awesome experience and I’m glad I was able to be a part of that,” Morris said. “I’m glad that I worked hard enough to earn that experience. My goal is to be back next year.”

Morris finished second in the 215-pound weight class, conceding a second-period fall to the now two-time state champion Calcagno. Although Morris didn’t come away with a state title, the junior did make history as Rochelle’s first state finalist in two years and the program’s third state finalist in seven years. It’s also the first state medal for Morris, who qualified for the tournament as a sophomore and won an IWCOA Fresh-Soph State Championship title as a freshman.

“I look at this as a stepping stone for next year,” Morris said. “This isn’t where it ends for me and I know I can work harder. There’s so much more for me to learn and I’m looking forward to putting my head down so I can start working again. I want to win a state championship.”

Morris (41-4) began his run to the state finals on Thursday, when the standout junior recorded back-to-back falls against Mt. Vernon’s Jhymear Smith-Henson and Tinley Park’s Sebastian Sanderson to reach the semifinals. Morris showed minimal difficulties on Friday, when he scored two takedowns and two near falls to earn an 11-5 decision over Jacksonville’s Oliver Cooley. 

“My confidence going into my matches has improved,” Morris said. “I know I can beat the opponent across from me. I know that I’ve trained and prepared hard enough to do this. My offense has also improved and I’m scoring more points instead of settling for tight matches.”

Morris was one of four Hubs wrestling in the state tournament in Champaign. Junior Xavier Villalobos (43-3) medaled in fifth place at the 126-pound weight class, winning three of his five bouts over the weekend. Villalobos reached the championship semifinals after a first-round fall over Mahomet-Seymour’s Justus Vruno and a 3-2 decision over Deerfield senior Luke Reddy, who Villalobos took down in the final seconds of the third period in the quarterfinal round.

“This is the toughest tournament in the state,” Villalobos said. “We’re competing against the best wrestlers in the state and it feels good to get a medal and to get back onto the podium. My confidence has grown a lot and I’ve learned how to let things go and not get in my head too much. I achieved so much as a freshman and I was in my own head too much last year. I’ve learned to let it fly and wrestle like I have nothing to lose. I have to thank my family, my coaches and God because He’s been there for me through every step, both mentally and physically.”

After two tough losses including a 14-4 major decision against Triad’s Colby Crouch and a 1-0 decision against Civic Memorial’s Caleb Scott, Villalobos finished his tournament strong on Saturday, scoring a 6-2 decision over Providence Catholic’s Tommy Banas. Villalobos becomes Rochelle’s first two-time state medalist since Alex Harvey (2017 and 2018) and Rochelle’s first three-time state qualifier since his older brother Eddie Villalobos (2017, 2018 and 2019). 

“[Eddie] has pushed me to where I'm at right now and it’s an awesome feeling to make it down here three times,” Villalobos said. “I’ve always wanted to be as good as my brother and I’ve always wanted to accomplish the goals he accomplished… I’ve been preaching since my freshman year that I want to come down and win a state bracket. I want to come back and dominate the state tournament and represent Rochelle, both individually and as a team.”

Senior Brock Metzger (35-8) wrestled in the 190-pound weight class for the Hubs, finishing 1-2 over three bouts in the tournament. Metzger’s victory came during the first consolation round on Friday, when the senior scored the decisive takedown to secure a 5-3 sudden victory against Hinsdale South’s Alec Miller. Metzger concludes his high school wrestling career as a two-time state qualifier and a three-time sectional qualifier with over 100 bout victories on his resume.

“It’s always been my dream to come down here and compete at the state meet,” Metzger said. “I grew up watching kids like my cousin Ehren [Metzger], Eddie Villalobos and Alex Harvey. I looked up to them and I wanted to be just like them. I felt like I became more mature and I realized how much hard work it takes to become a great athlete. We have a great wrestling community and we all love being with each other. It’s been an amazing experience to have.”

Junior Grant Gensler (37-8) rounded out Rochelle’s foursome of state qualifying wrestlers. Gensler competed in the 165-pound weight class, conceding two tough losses despite pushing through an injury. Now a two-time state qualifier and a three-time sectional qualifier, Gensler said his goals for next season include returning to Champaign and finishing on the podium.

“It’s been a great experience coming here and I feel like we’re putting Rochelle wrestling on the map,” Gensler said. “It didn’t do exactly how I wanted it to, but I was glad to be down here. I felt like I grew a lot from working with coach [Alphonso] Vruno in the wrestling room and we drilled a lot. He taught me a lot of new stuff and I really progressed as a wrestler this year. I definitely want to be down here again next year. I want to win more matches and hopefully place.”