Wrestling - Carnahan Invite 20211218_180120_web
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Depleted H-F wrestling roster shows well at top-tier event in Indiana

Homewood-Flossmoor 220-pounder Justin Thomas stands atop the podium after winning the Carnahan Invite Saturday in Crown Point, Indiana. (David P. Funk/H-F Chronicle)

It wasn’t what it maybe could have or should have been, but a Homewood-Flossmoor roster depleted by non-Covid illness had a respectable showing at the Carnahan Memorial Invitational in Crown Point, Indiana, Saturday. It’s one of the top prep tournaments in the Midwest this season.

The Vikings only brought nine wrestlers, including two bumped up from the junior varsity level, but scored 81 team points to finish 8th against a 15-team field that included three teams ranked nationally and at least eight ranked within their respective states.

“Our guys battled. We didn’t have our firepower, but we’re a deep team,” coach Jim Sokoloski said. “A couple disappointing matches for some of our kids but overall, I can’t complain. To be in the top half with nine wrestlers ain’t that bad.”

Justin Thomas won a 12-6 match against Crown Point’s Paul Clark in the 220-pound final for H-F’s only individual title. Thomas had two takedowns and a nearfall in an 8-point third period to put the match away.

“I’m definitely grateful (to wrestle here). A lot of kids don’t get the opportunity that we have at our school. We have a great staff, our head coach and our assistants,” Thomas said. “I’m definitely happy (to win) but it’s short term. The long-term goal is the state tournament.”

Thomas was seeded fourth in the bracket. Over the course of his day, he beat the wrestlers who finished fifth, third and second.

“This is a kid that I expect to be in the finals. I expect him to be somewhere on that podium in Champaign,” Sokoloski said. “The sky’s the limit for him. I’m so proud of what he was able to do in a very loaded field.”

The semifinal win over top-seeded Carter Blough from Lowell, Michigan, got a bigger reaction out of Thomas than the final. After pinning Blough in the second period, Thomas yelled and excitedly ran off the mat to be congratulated by coaches.

Blough finished third at 215 pounds at the Michigan state championship meet last season.

“Usually I’m not like that but it felt great,” he said. “It’s always good beating somebody that good and not only beating him but pinning him. It’s huge.”

Deion Johnson (106) and Rahmal Graham (195) were the other two placers for H-F. Johnson finished third and Graham sixth.

Graham lost his second match but won the next two to put himself in position to wrestle in the fifth-place match, where he was pinned in the second period by Lafayette Jefferson’s (Indiana) Daeveon Cheeks.

“I feel like I had a good overall day,” Graham said. “You don’t want to be known as a loser. I did not want to go two and out. I didn’t want to lose on my way back to that fifth-place match. Coaches always say ‘Fight.’”

The event was just one of a series of top-flight tournaments in which the Vikings will wrestle this season. Homewood-Flossmoor wrestled in the Walsh Jesuit Ironman tournament in Ohio last week. It will travel to Pennsylvania in a couple weeks for the Powerade tournament. All three are among the strongest available for high school wrestling.

Sokoloski said it’s part of the plan to acclimate the Vikings to the bigger stage.

“When I hired my assistants Vasil Robinson and Rob Palumbo, we knew we had big goals and aspirations that people in this area have never seen before. The state tournament couldn’t be the hardest tournament that we wrestle in,” Sokoloski said. “I know we weren’t at full strength, but the exposure is huge. Really, the state tournament is our third or fourth-hardest tournament now. To get on the podium there, you have to be exposed to these types of wrestlers.”

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