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Elmwood Park Thursday 1/7/13 Elmwood Park's Joe Stocco and Ridgewood's Jacob Krupa battle during their 138LB Match. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Class 2A’s top 113-pound wrestler is currently Montini senior Tommy Pawelski.
Pawelski is a defending state champion and, as a member of arguably the state’s top program, has wrestled a bevy of quality opponents. Just this year, Pawelski has battled talented wrestlers from Missouri, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Florida.
Pawelski currently sits atop IllinoisMatMen.com’s rankings of the best 113-pound wrestlers in Class 2A. Elmwood Park junior Ben Vazquez resides six spots beneath Pawelski, but hasn’t had the opportunity to wrestle many of the state’s top wrestlers.
Knowing the importance of experience in postseason bouts, Elmwood Park coach Neil Posmer has taken a novel approach to help Vazquez overcome his relative lack of big-time experience. Not only has the Tigers’ top wrestler competed at 120 pounds for the majority of this season, the junior started doing extracurricular workouts the last month.
Still, Posmer and Vazquez both know the vital nature of regionals and sectionals in the junior’s pursuit of a state medal.
“With our team, we don’t have the ability to wrestle a schedule anywhere near (Montini’s),” Posmer said. “(Vazquez) is going to kind of have to learn as he goes. ... We’re hoping that in the jump from regionals to sectionals to state, that he gets really tested and put in some situations where he’s got to wrestle throughout the match to win. If he can do that, adapt and get better as time goes on, I think he’ll be on the medal stand.”
Placing at the state tournament has been Vazquez’s primary goal all season. He’s currently 29-1, despite primarily wrestling bigger, stronger opponents. Posmer has put Vazquez up a weight class to both fill a team need and challenge the junior, and Vazquez has responded by using his ample quickness and improved technique to dominate most of his matches.
“I’ve wrestled a couple (quality opponents) but not enough,” Vazquez said. “It is (frustrating because) the schedule isn’t that good.”
Vazquez’s quality of opponents is about to change drastically, however. Elmwood Park begins its postseason on Feb. 2 at the Fenton regional, which includes Montini. Knowing at least one match against Pawelski is looming, Vazquez has increased his workload.
Vazquez traveled to Villa Park “once or twice” in the last four weeks, according to Posmer, to do more advanced workouts Posmer isn’t able to incorporate into Elmwood Park’s practices. The hour-and-a-half session includes Vazquez practicing with, and against, other wrestlers with a similar skill level.
While Vazquez said the additional workouts have made him “more sore and a lot more tired,” they’ve helped. He said he plans to continue preparing for his difficult postseason matches.
“It’s been beneficial to ... get some extra work in that he needs,” Posmer said.