It’s been a few years since Minooka’s wrestling program was ranked among the state’s best.
But that’s exactly where coach Bernie Ruettiger’s Indians find themselves as they prepare to conclude the 2017 portion of their schedule by competing in the Palatine Invite next week.
According to the latest rankings on the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association website, Minooka ranks sixth in Class 3A, just behind the area’s other top teams, Lincoln-Way West and Lockport.
The Indians are 15-2 in dual meets with their only two defeats coming to No. 3 Mount Carmel and No. 4 Lincoln-Way West. This past weekend, they took fifth place at Hinsdale Central’s Whitlatch Invite, finishing 5.5 points behind third-place Providence Catholic.
During a 10-year stretch from 2003 to 2013, Minooka was one of the state’s best programs, qualifying for the dual- team state finals eight times. That run was highlighted by a state title in 2010 and second-place finishes in both 2009 and 2011.
After winning nine regional titles during that 10-year span, the Indians haven’t won a regional title since, though they fell just short a season ago, losing out on the top spot at Rock Island by a 171.5-169.5 margin to Plainfield South.
Minooka again will travel to the Quad Cities to compete in a regional and the current field looks even more balanced than it was last season with No. 18 Plainfield South, No. 22 Yorkville, No. 23 Moline and No. 24 Normal West also competing at United Township.
The Indians’ Hall of Fame coach likes what he’s seen from his team so far and was pleased with their good showing in their first tournament against a strong field at Hinsdale.
“I thought the kids wrestled pretty well,” Ruettiger said. “We lost a lot of tough, close matches where we were up, but that’s okay since I thought that we wrestled better, and we’re getting better. When we get our lineup straight, we’re going to be in there for the fight. We’re going to need all 14 kids to score points and come up with some big wins to win that regional. I know that we can do it, it’s just a matter of getting the right kids in the right spots in the lineup.
“What’s most encouraging is where we started three years ago and where we’re at today. We’re building that respect back in the state of Illinois where we were five or six years ago. The kids are buying into what the coaches are selling them as far as conditioning and pushing each other. Basically it’s a family atmosphere, that’s what we’ve developed again. They work hard and care about each other.”
The Indians return all of their sectional qualifiers from a season ago, including seniors Connor Briley, Cody Hoshell, Adam McDowell, Zach McDowell, Eli Mondrella, Jake Ryan, Dominic Ruettiger and Derek Wentworth. Noah Boles and Drew Gutknecht also qualified.
“We were missing two weight classes, so I can imagine where we’d be at with those,” Adam McDowell said of the Whitlatch showing. “In the room, our backups are almost just as good as our regulars, and we all push each other in the room. Our goal for the end of the year is to try to get down to state, and hopefully placing. We’ve been working hard for this, and it will feel good if we can get it.”
Top finishers for the Indians in the Whitlatch were Briley (third), Adam McDowell (fourth), Alec Dufour (fifth), Jack McClimon (fifth), Zach McDowell (fifth), Austin Markee (sixth), Michael Ruettiger (sixth), Danny Debow (seventh) and Dominic Ruettiger (seventh).
“We’re all working hard in the practice room, and if we can get our lineup straight we’ll be way better than we are, since we have a few guys out right now,” Dominic Ruettiger said. “We’ve been close with good teams, which was our goal. I like our leadership, and all of the seniors have been leading a lot. And the attitude has been different in the wrestling room.”