CALUMET CITY | Marian Catholic's Jose Champagne didn't have to wrestle to claim a win over Washington's Orlando Rivera in the 152-pound championship at Saturday's T.F. North Class 2A Regional.
Consider Rivera's injury default evidence that, at last, things are going easier in the former national champion's high school career.
"They thought he was going to be a four-time state champion when he went to Montini," Marian coach Dan Jordan said of Champagne. "But he just didn't fit in there."
Champagne, a Lowell native, moved with his parents to Naperville from Griffith last year. They're back in Griffith now, and Champagne is a sophomore at Marian, his second choice when initially searching for a high school.
The jump from a Class 2A power to a team that fielded only eight wrestlers Saturday might seem odd, but it was necessary from Champagne's point of view.
"It was kind of hard to move on, but I've got to do what's best for me," the sophomore said. "I've already made a bunch of new friends, I'm getting good grades, everything's great."
Especially on the mat. With the default win, Champagne improved to 24-0 and is ranked No. 2 in the Class 2A state rankings by Illinois Matmen at 152 pounds.
Champagne will be joined in the Feb. 14-15 De La Salle Sectional by several area wrestlers.
Marian qualified its entire contingent including champions Jake Domke (138 pounds), Addison Klausner (160) and Justin Avant (220). Washington had five qualifiers including winners Raad Hejazin (170), David Montes (182) and Oscar Moreno (195). Thornridge qualified five and T.F. North three.
Evergreen Park won the team title with 154 points, edging Marian (146).
However, many Marian wrestlers advance from the sectional to the Feb. 20-22 Individual State Tournament. Champagne figures to enjoy the proceedings more than he did as a freshman.
Last season, he struggled to a 37-17 mark and failed to place after qualifying for state as a 132-pounder with Montini. That was hardly what was expected of a nine-time Indiana State Wrestling Association champ who as an eighth grader won national tournaments in freestyle and folk style, and finished fifth at the Greco Roman nationals.
"My coach wasn't what we thought he was going to be," Champagne said. "He tried to change the way I wrestled, to make me a different wrestler than how I became who I was."
For example, Champagne said, Montini's coach forbade him from using a sweep single, his favorite takedown. It's back in his arsenal.
"He said the moves I was doing were grade school moves and they weren't going to work once I got to high school," Champagne said. "But the results show. Since I left that school, I've only lost twice so far."
Both those losses came en route to a third-place finish in a national tournament in Fargo, N.D.
At Montini, Champagne cut nearly 30 pounds to wrestle at 132. At 152, unlike in the lighter class, he isn't taller or longer than many of his foes, yet he feels more dominant.
"For me, I think I'm mentally tougher than my opponents," he said. "Mostly, I'm just aggressive. Take him down, let him up, take him down, let him up.
"Try to make him quit."
Some might apply that last word to Champagne's exit from Montini.
"No," he said. "I think it was the right decision."
Besides, he did take something away from the Montini experience.
"My eighth grade year, I wasn't really good on the bottom," he said. "That school really helped me on the bottom.
"On the other hand, I actually got worse on my feet. Now I've got that back, and plus what I've learned, I feel I'm more well-rounded."