H-F wrestler takes silver medal in state tourney

  H-F High's Jeff Griffin, in red, stands on the medals platform
  after receiving a silver medal in the IHSA individual wrestling
(Provided photo)
Jeff Griffin lost only one bout in the recent IHSA state wrestling tournament  and a wager with himself.
“Since sophomore year, I knew that I wanted to be in the state finals. I told myself that if I didn’t win the state championship, I would wrestle in college,” Griffin joked. “Now, I guess I have to wrestle in college.”
Not a bad consolation prize for the Homewood-Flossmoor heavyweight, who took home a silver medal from the state meet in Champaign Feb. 15, 16 and 17. Griffin finished his senior season with a 41-2 individual record, an IHSA sectional title and other tournament hardware. He plans to enroll at Northern Illinois this fall on a football scholarship.
“I knew that you need to work hard until you get to where you want to be,” Griffin said. “You want to use what got you there. That’s what I did in the last few weeks.”
Griffin became the first Viking wrestler to medal at state since Donnie Bell placed second at 182 pounds in 2013. The only other state silver medalist in H-F wrestling history was Shelly Resensez (130 pounds) in 1989, according to H-F Athletic Director Dan Vosnos.
“Input equates to outputs. The amount of time that Jeffrey put forth this year put him in a position to have many successes,” Vosnos said.
Vikings head coach Shannyn Gillespie pointed out that Griffin moved up a weight class from his junior year, after falling short of qualifying for the state meet. Gillespie credits a stronger mental approach for Griffin’s success as a senior.
“Jeff really was on a roll the entire year, after the first match, which I think was a wake-up call,” Gillespie said. “After his first match of the season, his belief in his ability seemed to soar.”
In the 16-wrestler heavyweight bracket at state, Griffin got past senior Anthony Greco of Elk Grove with a 10-3 decision in the first round. Then came a matchup with Wheaton-Warrenville South senior Jon Cooper, which Griffin won with a pin in 1:41.
The key match for Griffin was his 9-4 win in a semifinal against Justin Hull, a junior from St. Charles East. Hull (41-4) eventually finished third in the tournament.
“Winning the semifinals to get to the finals or gold medal bout, in any competition, is impressive to me. There is a lot of pressure to deal with. Jeff was able to deal with the pressure, wrestle well and make it to the finals,” Gillespie said.
Then came Anthony Cassioppi, a senior from Hononegah High School in Rockton.  Cassioppi finished third in the USA Wrestling national tournament last summer and walked into State Farm Center with a 40-0 season record. He dispatched all four of his state meet opponents with first-period falls. Griffin was the last to take him on, but Cassioppi claimed the state title with a pin in 1:45 – Cassioppi’s longest bout of the meet.
Griffin credits Lincoln-Way East senior Devin O’Rourke (30-5) for pushing him to improve.  O’Rourke, the South West Suburban Conference heavyweight champ, finished fifth in Champaign and is headed to Northwestern.
“He gave me an extra boost to help me peak when I needed to,” Griffin said.
Griffin said he’s also tried to set an example in the wrestling room all year, as one factor in an expected rebirth of wrestling at H-F.
“I tell the younger guys that it’s not easy and if you don't put the work in now, you won’t get there,” Griffin said.  “Coach Shannyn has shown me the right way to motivate teammates, to lead by example, to never show weakness and encourage others to do better.”

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