Rocco Hayes has one heck of a family legacy to live up to at Sandburg, but the sophomore 106-pounder feels he is up to the challenge.
Rocco is ready to follow in the footsteps of his older brothers. Louie was a state champion at Sandburg and an All-American at Virginia. Sammie, a three-time all-state wrestler for the Eagles, is now a freshman at Illinois.
“Training with my two older brothers who are great athletes and great wrestlers has helped me a lot,” Rocco said. “They’re always pushing me to get better.
“Having two guys who wrestled Division I, one All-American so far, has really helped me become a great wrestler.”
Rocco Hayes was a state qualifier last season as a freshman, going 0-2 at state. He’s after bigger things this winter.
Coming off a second-place finish in last weekend’s Illini Classic at Lincoln-Way Central, Rocco Hayes (26-5) is ranked No. 3 in Class 3A at 106 by Illinois Matmen.
“I was 92 pounds wrestling 106 last year,” Hayes said. “Putting on a few pounds definitely helped me. Now, I just need to perfect what I need to perfect, get a little more technique and try to make a run at state.”
At the Illini Classic, Hayes got a taste of what it might take to win a state championship. He took on top-ranked Dom Munaretto of St. Charles East in the finals, putting up a fight before getting pinned over five minutes into the match.
Rocco Hayes pinned his first three opponents at the tournament.
“I think I wrestled really well the first three matches,” Hayes said. “I’m a little disappointed with that last match. But I have work to do and I’m going to get back at it to improve.
“(Munaretto) is a great competitor and just going against guys like that is obviously going to help me get better.”
Rocco Hayes and fellow sophomore Madden Parker, who was also a runner-up at the Illini Classic at 113, make up a formidable lightweight duo for the Eagles.
“I feel like I take stuff from him a lot,” Parker said of Rocco Hayes. “He pushes me in practice and I do the same for him. We have that mutual bond.”
And about that family tradition? It does not end with Rocco.
“I have three younger brothers,” Rocco Hayes said. “We’re just going to get better coming down the line. I’m training them to make sure they’re as good as me or better.
“My older brothers have inspired me so much and I just want to carry it down and make sure we keep the legacy going.”
Warrior strong: Lincoln-Way West had an impressive showing at the Illini Classic, placing third in a loaded 24-team field.
Seniors Karter Guzman (132) and Anthony Sherman (195) led the Warriors with runner-up finishes. Sherman got some revenge with a 6-4 semifinal win over Oswego’s Cruz Ibarra.
“Last year, I was 0-2 against the kid from Oswego,” Sherman said. “I lost to him again last week and my coach (Brian Glynn) got fired up at me. We had the hardest week of practice all year, so I had that mentality.
“I got to face him in the semis and I knew I wasn’t going to lose to him. It was a tough match and I came out on top, so I’m really happy.”
Lincoln-Way West will be one of the favorites at the Class 3A Plainfield North Regional.
“We’ve got four freshmen in the lineup and our seniors are doing a good job leading the way for the younger guys,” Glynn said. “It’s a nice mix.”
At the top: Joliet Catholic junior Dillan Johnson is still undefeated in his high school career, and now he can add a new accomplishment to his resume.
Johnson (29-0) on Tuesday was elevated to the No. 1 spot in MatScouts’ national rankings at heavyweight for the first time.
Steve Millar is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.