On Dec. 10, as Wheaton students were studying for their upcoming final exams, the Thunder wrestling team made a short trip to Naperville, Ill., to participate in the North Central College Invitational. The team finished the tournament in fifth place out of 10 teams.
Three of the Wheaton wrestlers finished in the top four of their weight class. Senior Jared Fekete was first in the 184-pound weight class. Senior Stephen Aiello also performed well, finishing third in the 165-pound weight class. Sophomore Max Gierke was fourth in the 285-pound weight class.
One week later on Dec. 17, while many of the other Wheaton students travelled home for the holidays, the travel continued for the team as they drove to Dubuque, Iowa, to compete in the University of Dubuque Jim Fox Duals. In the first match, Wheaton bested the University of the Ozarks by a score of 47-6. Every Wheaton wrestler competing in the match won their matchup, highlighted by junior Carlos Fuentez in the 125-pound weight class by a score of 22-5 and senior Frank Aiello with an 18-6 victory in the 157-pound weight class.
In the second match, the Thunder were again victorious over Dubuque by a score of 38-9. Fekete won his 184-pound weight class matchup by a score of 17-9 and junior Tim Blickle won his 174-pound weight class matchup 10-2.
With all the travel, Frank Aiello explained that the team stays loose by sticking to a healthy diet of Subway sandwiches before matches and plenty of Disney and Pixar films on the way to their destinations.
“We also just do a good job of being loose and cracking jokes at each other which I think helps us compete at a high level,” he said. “We are a tight knit group who cares about the guy next to us a lot.”
Due to the holidays, the Thunder took a few weeks off until after the new year. Last Thursday, January 5, Wheaton traveled to Fort Wayne, Ind., for the NWCA National Duals. Overall, Wheaton went 1-3 during the Duals.
The first game saw Wheaton beat Millikin by a score of 27-16. The Thunder then lost to nationally-ranked #1 Wartburg 37-2. In the third meet, the team was defeated by Mount Union 30-16. Finally, the Thunder just missed out on upsetting nationally-ranked #13 New York University by a score of 21-17. The victory against Millikin was the Thunder’s first in its three National Duals appearances.
Even though seven of the team’s 10 starters are ranked within the top 20 in the country, the team was unable to perform as well as they hoped since one of the team’s starters broke his hand at Duals and was unable to compete. Therefore, the team had to forfeit the weight classes and start every competition down 12 team points.
Numerous Thunder wrestlers still performed very well during the Duals. In the 125-pound weight class, Fuentez was 3-1 during the Duals. Frank Aiello was 3-1 over the course of the weekend. Senior Stephen Aiello also went 3-1 and was the only Thunder wrestler to win against #1 Wartburg. Senior Logan Walkup went 2-2 against the Thunder’s opponents. Seniors Jared Fekete and Mikey Swider, as well as sophomore Max Gierke, all went 3-1 during the Duals.
“The team has been performing well,” Frank Aiello explained. “We have a solid group of guys who are all continually getting better and have been competing at a high level.”
The Thunder will be back in action on Saturday when they travel to North Manchester, Ind. to compete in the Manchester University Spartan Mat Classic.