RICHTON PARK | There’s no time for complacency, even for the No. 1 120-pound wrestler in the state of Illinois.
With Christmas break underway, Thornwood’s Kris Williams made sure to stay motivated at Saturday’s Rich East Rocket Invitational. The two-time state champ rarely sat still throughout the tournament, bedecked in wool hats with long strings dangling by each ear, and he dominated the field at 120 pounds to win his third consecutive Rocket Invite title and his first Most Outstanding Wrestler award at the tournament.
“I just made sure I stayed motivated all day, and I made sure I continued to not let anyone take me down,” Williams said. “My turns keep getting better, and I know there’s still room for improvement.”
With only three losses on his career ledger, the Thornwood junior pinned Merrillville’s Justin Johnson 30 seconds into the second period to complete his day and move to 10-0 on the season.
“He came out really aggressive, so I had to adjust,” Williams said.
Thornwood was tied for third place entering the semifinal round but fell out of the top three.
Bloom moved up to second with two champions, but no one could hang with Merrillville, which won the event for the fifth consecutive year and had nine finalists and six champions.
Last year’s most outstanding wrestler, T.F. South’s Blake Tisza, now wrestles at Harper College, but he watched as younger brother Jake, a sophomore for the Rebels, won a grueling bracket at 138 pounds.
Jake Tisza threw Indiana top-10 138-pounder Jacob Covaciu in the third period and won 7-3 in the semifinal round and handled Rich East’s Cameron Dean 10-0 in the championship match.
“I just tried to mentally stay in it and not put pressure on myself to score too fast,” Tisza said. “I tried to keep myself in good position and stay mentally strong throughout the match.”
He started the year slow but drastically improved on last year’s fifth-place finish here. Blake often drills with him in practice.
“I turned the corner a bit (Saturday),” Tisza said. “The first meet I got my butt whooped and started building on it after that. I’ve still got to build more.”
Bloom senior Dominique Taylor pinned Rich South’s Tyler Veal in 2:28 to win 160, and teammate Johnnie Foster shocked Merrillville state qualifier Matt Hollins for a pin with 17 seconds left in the first period of their 182-pound final.
“The key was just offense today,” Taylor said. “The challenge was keeping from giving up defensive points. I was third here last year, and I feel like I’m definitely opening up more doors now.”
Merrillville started its run of champions at 106, where freshman Michael De La Pena beat Rich East’s Kevin Radcliff 10-2.
“The competition was really good and helped me with what I need to work on and do better at,” De La Pena said. “I moved my feet and put a lot of pressure on kids.”
De La Pena wasn’t the only fresh face winning a title for Merrillvile, as Derek Scott, a junior transfer from Crown Point, won the bracket at 132.
“It feels great,” Scott said. “It’s thrilling, and it’s overwhelming at the same time. It’s great.”
Merrillville also got championship victories from Clarence Johnson (126), Isaac Rentas (145), Willie Armstrong (152) and Shawn Streck (285).
“We like coming here because it’s a different type of wrestling than in Indiana,” Merrillville coach David Maldonado said. “The kids in Illinois are scrappy and not afraid to bang. Officials allow everyone to be more physical and push.”