CHICAGO | Thornton Fractional South wrestler Joe Young will occasionally break into a smile during brief respites from action on the mat.
The facial expression runs counter to the grim, stern looks from opponents as they try to figure out a way to score against the muscular 182-pound junior, who has built an impressive 26-7 record along the way.
On Saturday, Young kept his carefree expressions in check, despite having every reason in the world to smile. Young decisioned his way past two worthy foes at the Class 3A Marist Regional to reach the finals, which guaranteed his trip to this weekend's De La Salle Sectional.
The sectional tournament begins Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. and will conclude with Saturday's finals at 4 p.m.
"I am very, very amped to make sectionals," Young said. "I was sure I could (make the sectional tournament) this year. It's going to take a lot of hard work and some work on my shots to make it out of there."
Just as Young's smile runs counter to the typical demeanor found on a wrestling mat, his confidence in making it to the De La Salle Sectional his first year with the Rebels varsity runs counter to the path he chose to get there. Young said he sustained a lower back injury while executing a throw his freshman year.
With lingering concerns about his back and established Rebels wrestler Dion Crowder in his weight class, Young decided to take a break from wrestling last year. The hiatus gave Young some time to think and realize he wanted to return to the sport this season without reservations.
In addition to his second-place finish at the regional tournament, Young also took second in the South Suburban Conference meet.
"He's got the ability, he's got the strength to be a very good wrestler," Rebels wrestling coach Mike Tisza said. "He has to keep working at it, get more technique, and he'll do real well."
The path less taken by Young now runs head on into a superhighway of a sectional. The De La Salle Sectional features four state-ranked wrestlers in Young's weight class -- top-ranked Sam Brooks of Oak Park-River Forest, fifth-ranked Ethan Benoit of Marist, seventh-ranked Jamie Jones of Lyons and ninth-ranked Jameer Thurman of Proviso West.
Young, who lost to Benoit 9-3 in the regional finals last week, will need an upset or two to finish in the top four this weekend at De La Salle and thus qualify for the state tournament.
"Every sectional is tough," Tisza said. "You still have to wrestle your opponents, no matter who are what they are. If you don't come ready to compete, you'll go home."