ROCKTON — Tony Cassioppi has accomplished a career’s worth of goals in a little over two years on the wrestling mat.
But the Hononegah junior is aiming for the one thing that has eluded him thus far: An IHSA state title.
Cassioppi finished third in the Class 3A meet last season after missing the postseason his freshman year due to injury.
Currently the consensus top-ranked heavyweight in Illinois and ranked by one service as the second-best in the country, Cassioppi said his eyes are on the prize.
“I’m really confident in my ability to win it this year,” Cassioppi said. “I’ve wrestled the second-ranked guy a few times. The last time, I pinned him in the first period. But at the same time, I’m going to keep working hard and trying to get better every day.”
Hononegah coach Jason Glodowski said Cassioppi has a chance to go down as one of the best grapplers in Indian history.
“I think he’s in the running for it,” Glodowski said. “We’ve only had one other two-time state champion, and that was Grant Miller. He was also a heavyweight. Tony has a chance to do that. I haven’t seen anyone that’s even come close to him so far this season.”
Glodowski said Cassioppi, who committed earlier this year to wrestle at Northwestern following his prep career, has added more moves to his repertoire this season.
“The biggest thing he’s improved on is his setups to his takedowns,” Glodowski said. “He’s getting a lot more fluid on his feet. The last couple of years, he’s gotten it done almost all on his strength. There wasn’t a lot of technique involved. But this year he’s developed a good index of moves that he’s comfortable using at any given time. He’s done a great job of mixing it up.”
Like every great athlete, Cassioppi has a work ethic that Glodowski said is hard to match.
“Tony is just a flat-out workhorse,” Glodowski said. “There is some natural talent he’s been given for sure. But the kid never stops in the weight room and he never stops on the mat. Even when he had the broken ankle, he didn’t miss a day of weightlifting. Ninety-nine percent of kids would have had every reason under the sun not to show up but not him.”
Cassioppi said his desire to be the best heavyweight in the country compels him to give his all.
“I want to be the best,” Cassioppi said. “I’ve been hurt a lot in high school. I broke my shoulder my freshman year, and in the first meet back, I broke my hand. When I was hurt from those injuries, I just ran home from school every day. That’s about four miles. And for me, getting in the weight room is huge. College guys, they all have amazing technique. And so many high school guys struggle to translate their game to the next level because they aren’t strong enough.”
Cassioppi, undefeated and coming off a title in the prestigious Dvorak Memorial Invitational, said he finds ways to challenge himself.
“I’ve been working a ton on my takedowns,” Cassioppi said. “I already have 82 in 18 matches. Last year I had about 90 the entire season. So I’m working on that and getting comfortable trying new moves.”
Cassioppi said the decision to attend and wrestle for Northwestern wasn’t a difficult choice.
“The academics there are great,” Cassioppi said. “For the top schools that are also good wrestling schools, it’s pretty much them and Stanford. And by the time I get there, we’re going to have a really good team. There are a few other great wrestlers that are juniors now that already committed, so there’s a lot to be excited about.”
• NOTES: Cassioppi and the Indians will be back in action Thursday when they travel to Belvidere North.