It has been nearly a decade since McHenry County saw a wrestler like Dylan Connell. The Marian Central junior won his third state championship last month, and has an opportunity to elevate himself into even rarer air next year if he were to win a fourth.
Connell won the IHSA Class 2A 170-pound state title in Champaign on Feb. 22. That medal will sit beside his 152-pound title from 2018 and his 160-pound title from 2019.
He became the fourth McHenry County wrestler to win three state titles. He joined Richmond-Burton’s Jordan Blanton (2005, 2006, 2008), Crystal Lake Central’s Trevor Jauch (2009, 2010, 2011) and Central’s Joey Kielbasa (2009, 2010, 2011).
If Connell wins again next year, he will become just the 15th IHSA wrestler ever to win four state titles, and the first from a McHenry County school.
He went 46-0, his first unbeaten season, and rarely allowed a takedown. For his performance, Connell has been named the 2020 Northwest Herald Wrestler of the Year. Connell earns the award for his second time, after doing so in 2018.
Huntley two-time state champion David Ferrante was a close second. Connell’s unbeaten record and his head-to-head win over Ferrante on Jan. 17 put him over the edge. Both will go down as the best wrestlers ever from their respective schools, and two of the best ever in McHenry County. Both will wrestle at Big Ten schools in college, Ferrante at Northwestern next year and Connell at Illinois following his senior season.
Connell recently spoke with the Northwest Herald about his third state title and much more.
What would you say was your best match all season?
Connell: Definitely the Huntley match against Ferrante. Going into that match, knowing that it’s going to be a tough match, we’re going to have to battle, it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be a fun match for six minutes, seven minutes, eight minutes, however long it took. I knew I was prepared and ready for that match. That was the most exciting and fun match of the year.
You’ve wrestled in so many big matches, but what’s it like to have one like that in the middle of the regular season?
Connell: I like getting those types of matches to test myself. I felt like those are what’s going to help me improve for later in the season. That’s where my weaknesses will come out and where I can find problems to fix.
Now that you’ve participated in the Grand March three times, has anything changed about that experience?
Connell: No, it’s all the same. It’s great to go out there and see all the fans, all the wrestlers competing.
What would it mean for you to win four in a row next year?
Connell: It would be a huge accomplishment. It’s just something that I never thought I’d be able to accomplish. Getting it done freshman to junior year is just me showing what I’ve worked for. If I win it next year, it’s going to be an honor.
How has your wrestling style or approach changed from freshman year until now?
Connell: The biggest change that’s helped me improve is learning the art of wrestling. Kids try to go out there and wrestle, but I feel like the kids that are on the next level, they feel their opponent, they know what’s going to happen, they know what moves to do at what time. Just feeling out the art of wrestling better.
Do you watch a lot of film?
Connell: Yeah, I watch a lot of college film and kids that are my age, my weight. Top-ranked kids in the nation.
Who was the unsung hero on Marian this year?
Connell: Elon Rodriguez or Scotty Burke. They’ve come up from not placing at state into this year becoming one of the best in the state, and hopefully soon to be one of the best state champs next year. Definitely one of those two are most improved and most accomplished.
You’ve had some teammates come close (Rodriguez was runner-up this year, Josh Glover was runner-up in 2019), what would it be like to watch one of your teammates win a state title?
Connell: I’ve thought about that many times. Seeing Elon get there and this year and fall short was heartbreaking. I know that next year, we definitely can have more than one if we stick with our training and keep our heads up.
Who’s the funniest guy on the team?
Connell: Charlie Fitzgerald. He’s a jokester, always messing around, throwing jokes out there.
If you had to pick a different sport, what would you play?
Connell: Probably either motocross or hockey. When I was little, I was close to doing motocross, I was just super scared. My uncle did Supercross for a while. Hockey is just a fun sport, a physical sport.
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Connell: Hawaii. I’ve always wanted to go there.
What’s your favorite class in school?
Connell: Does gym count?
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Connell: I have a lot of them. Probably not keeping clean. I’m kind of a clean freak.
What’s your favorite TV show?
Connell: "Criminal Minds."
If you could sit down and have a meal with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Connell: Definitely a top athlete. Maybe a professional boxer like Floyd Mayweather or Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson.