Aj Henkle had to credit teammate Sam Spencer’s mother, Carrie Spencer, for putting the idea in his head.
At a tournament earlier this season, Carrie Spencer asked the Huntley senior, “Don’t you miss wrestling?”
The more Henkle thought about it, the more he did miss it. Henkle grew up wrestling but gave up the sport after his freshman year to focus on baseball and football.
“I was playing three sports,” Henkle said. “It was taking up a lot of time, and I had to focus on my education, too.”
He found himself at more Huntley wrestling meets and tournaments this year because his brother, Sam Henkle, is a freshman on the team.
Huntley coach B.J. Bertelsman said Aj Henkle approached him when the Red Raiders traveled to Rochester, Minnesota, for “The Clash” over winter break. After missing two and a half full seasons, Henkle was ready to return to the sport.
“I said, ‘Ask the wrestling team,’ ” Bertelsman said. “They all said yes.”
The decision couldn’t have worked out better for Henkle, who qualified for the IHSA Class 3A state tournament at 195 pounds Saturday, barely more than a month after returning to the sport.
Bertelsman recalled being impressed by Henkle as a freshman and being disappointed when he gave up the sport.
“The next year he never came out, and I was bummed,” Bertelsman said. “I talked to him. He wanted to concentrate on baseball and football.”
Bertelsman isn’t surprised to see Henkle find success on the mat this year because “he’s always been an athlete,” the coach said.
Henkle is an outfielder on the Huntley baseball team, which finished as Class 4A state runner-up last season, and a defensive back on the Red Raiders’ football team.
Still, wrestling can be a different animal. Henkle said he struggled to keep up in his first few practices back, and he felt sick after his first match.
“I was so gassed,” Henkle said. “After a couple more weeks of training in the room, my conditioning has gotten better. I’ve still got work to do.”
Henkle qualified for state with a pin over Loyola’s Sam Schierloh in the consolation semifinals Saturday, and finished fourth in the sectional at 195.
Hurricane season: Marian Central qualified eight of its nine wrestlers for the state meet from the Class 2A Antioch Sectional, and only one of them, 285-pounder Thor Paglialong, is a senior.
“That’s a very successful day,” Marian coach David Silva said. “That’s the best we wrestled all year.”
Daniel Valeria (132, junior) and Dylan Connell (160, sophomore) were sectional champions. Josh Glover (106, freshman), Elon Rodriguez (113, sophomore), Bryce Shelton (138, sophomore), Kaden Randazzo (152, sophomore) and Mason Schwalbach (220, sophomore) were the other state qualifiers.
Silva lauded Valeria for his effort in a tough 132-pound bracket. Shelton lost in the 138 championship to Carmel’s Riley Palm, 7-0. Palm, a senior, has lost only one match in the past two seasons.
Big Finish I: Glover was 11 seconds from seeing his season finished Saturday before scoring a late takedown to beat Harvard’s Bryce Fiegel, 6-5, in their 106-pound consolation semifinal.
Winners in those matches are guaranteed state berths, while losers are done. Fiegel, who pinned Glover at the regional a week earlier, took a 5-4 lead when Glover was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Silva was upset at the call, but got reassurance from Glover.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I got this,’ ” Silva said. “He gave me a thumbs-up. He is a very special kid. He rose to the occasion.”
Glover scored a takedown, and the Hurricanes wrestlers, coaches and fans went wild.
“I knew I needed a takedown if I wanted to accomplish my goals, and I made it happen,” Glover said. “I was so happy. All I wanted to do was see my dad (Jason). He’s been working with me ever since I was a little kid to help me out. He’s my No. 1 supporter.”
Big Finish II: Prairie Ridge’s Jace Sparks also came up with a dramatic consolation semifinal victory, beating Wauconda’s Colin Husko, 10-8, in overtime.
Sparks almost pinned Husko early and grabbed a 7-1 lead, but Husko rallied to tie the score at 8 in the third period, forcing overtime.
“It was about mental preparation,” Sparks said. “I was like, ‘All right, we’ve got one minute. That’s all we need to do.’ He shot the shot, and I used my defense [to get a takedown].”
After Sparks had the early lead, he said Husko made a good shot that caught his knee, causing some pain. Sparks forfeited the third-place match to Harvard freshman Nik Jimenez to rest for state.
Big Finish III: At Barrington, Huntley’s Jeremy Jakowitsch captured his own dramatic victory in the consolation semifinals at 138 pounds.
In double overtime, Zion-Benton’s Jaylen Beals scored an escape to break a 1-1 tie. Needing to score in the final seconds, Jakowitsch recorded a takedown as time ran out to take back the lead and qualify for state.
Bertelsman called it “a huge match.”
• Sports reporter Joe Stevenson contributed to this report.