Rantoul's Smith trying to avoid losing feeling
CHAMPAIGN — Rantoul senior Demarius Smith watched the final wrestling match of his junior season over and over.
It would have been one thing to simply lose the state Class 2A 145-pound third-place match against a better opponent, he said.
But Smith, who was undefeated heading into last year’s state tournament, didn’t think he wrestled his best in a match in trailing 5-0 before losing 9-4 to Crystal Lake Central’s Michael Petersen.
That’s why the ever-critical Smith watched it repeatedly, taking pain to note the feeling in the pit of his stomach that hounded him last year.
“Every single time, I think of the feeling I had,” Smith said. “That’s something you never want to go back to. Coming into this tournament, I haven’t even thought of what it would be like if I did not go to the top of this tournament. I don’t ever want to have again.”
Smith could have been perfectly happy with a 14-4 win over Chicago St. Patrick’s Dan Baker in Thursday’s opening-round 152-pound bout in 2A despite deficiencies. But that simply isn’t his style.
“My match, personally, is not at all how I wanted to come out,” said Smith, who is ranked No. 2 at 152 pounds by illinoismatmen.com. “I came out a little slow and a little lazy. Hopefully that improves over the next couple of days.”
Smith’s road to a state championship may hit a speed bump Friday.
In the quarterfinals, he’ll have to face No. 1 152-pounder Jake Kirkman of Lemont, consequence of Smith’s loss to No. 3 Trent Rakers of Highland in the championship of last week’s 2A Mascoutah Sectional.
But Smith is not worried, because he rightfully considers himself one of the top grapplers in his weight class.
“When you’re close to the top, Number 1, Number 2, Number 3, you’re all close together, so it’s a match between all of them,” Smith said. “I’m not too worried, but I’m just going to go out there and wrestle my match.”
Smith won’t be alone among Rantoul wrestlers in Friday’s quarterfinals, which has been a rarity for the Eagles over the last few decades.
In his state debut, Rantoul sophomore Peter McCusker won his opening match at 138 pounds with a third-period pin of Plano’s Ivan Garcia. This was after missing last year’s postseason because of a bout with mononucleosis.
“I was a little nervous to begin with, but I tried to stick to what I knew,” McCusker said. “It’s my first time, and I didn’t really know what to expect.”
McCusker and fellow Rantoul state qualifier Nolan Roseman, who lost his opening-round matchup at 132 pounds to No. 1 We Rachal of Chicago Washington, are integral to Smith’s success. The trio has wrestled together for years, with McCusker and Smith beginning in the Rantoul kids’ club a decade ago and Roseman joining a few years later.
While their backgrounds overlap, they’re different wrestlers. Roseman is a faster, stronger grappler, whereas McCusker is more defensive. And that’s a boon for all three, Smith said.
“Our wrestling styles are stark opposites,” he said. “Watching us wrestle, you’d never know we were practice partners or came from the same place. … I get two different-style looks every day at practice.”
While Rantoul doesn’t have a rich wrestling tradition, Smith doesn’t think it’s irregular for this group of Eagles to envision success.
“It’s expected,” he said. “We’ve been wrestling since we were kids. To have all three down here, it feels pretty good, but it’s also expected.”
Smith anticipates success more than anyone. And come Saturday, he doesn’t foresee himself feeling that horrible sting of defeat.
“I want to get my hustle up,” he said, “so I never have to feel that again.”