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Wrestling: St. Laurence makes grand re-emergence

St. Laurence's Johnny Gahagan (left) | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media

St. Laurence's Johnny Gahagan (left) | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 18, 2014 6:28AM



That faint pulse coming from Burbank? That was the St. Laurence wrestling program on life support.

Once a powerhouse in the 1990s, St. Laurence found itself in a recent slump, failing to keep up with the rest of the Catholic League.

Cue Jim Gahagan, a 1995 alum, who has turned the Vikings into one of the most improved teams from a season ago in his first year as coach.

Take the Wheeling Tournament as an example. A season ago, the Vikings finished dead last, totaling just eight points. This year, the team placed fifth with 97 points, sending five wrestlers to championship bouts.

“If there had been a state ranking out of 100, I think we would’ve been ranked 105,” Gahagan said. “I think we’ve been an eye-opener to the rest of the Chicago Catholic League.”

For St. Laurence, an added bonus in the Gahagan signing has been the coach’s son, Johnny, who transferred from state power Oak Park-River Forest for his senior season. The younger Gahagan has been nothing short of dominant. The 138-pounder is 25-0 with 24 pins. He’s also gotten interest from Ohio, Brown, North Carolina and North Carolina State as a standout student.

“Being able to sit in the chair and coach Johnny has been awesome,” Gahagan said. “As a dad, unless you experience it, you can’t explain it.”

Other notables for the Vikings include Brandon Ramos (106), Bill Touhy (113), Josh Smith (195) and heavyweight Frank Tomaskovic. All have flourished in Gahagan’s new-school approach to fitness.

Gahagan’s placed emphasis on core workouts, plyometrics and parkour-style exercises instead of traditional weightlifting programs.

“At the start of the year I tried to weed out the weak,” Gahagan said. “We opened with tough two-a-day practices — I couldn’t get anyone to quit.”

The program likely won’t quit, either. Gahagan also coaches the Southside Stallions, a Hickory Hills-based youth program that figures to be a talent feeder for St. Laurence.

“It’s my job to make us elite again,” Gahagan said.

Judo to wrestling

If the style of Homewood-Flossmoor’s Alec Campos seems a bit unorthodox, that’s because it is. Campos, a 106-pound sophomore, has a background in martial arts.

“Campos has wrestled very well for us,” H-F coach Brett Geijer said. “This is only his second year wrestling. He’s a judo kid, so a lot of the stuff you see him do is from judo.”

Campos and Devion May (220) have been bright spots for H-F in a year rife with injury, though the team is getting healthier.

Connor Bandy recently returned from injury after a month layoff and landed a pin in H-F’s 45-21 win Wednesday night over Tinley Park. Geijer also said two-time state qualifier Mike Burke could return in time for regional action after tearing an ACL.

“(Burke’s) a kid who works his tail off and does what he’s supposed to,” Geijer said. “I’m not going to put him out there too soon and mess up his college career.”

Geijer said Wisconsin-Whitewater, one of the top Division III wrestling programs in the nation, is Burke’s likely landing spot next season.



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