Like completing a chore or making satisfactory grades, winning has become expected of J.J. Filipek.
Anything less than a first-period pin could strike concern among those anxiously watching the Warrenton senior wrestle.
He hasn’t been invincible. In fact, Filipek lost tournament championship matches over consecutive weekends during January. But his only two setbacks have come against defending state champions outside of his class, including a Tennessee grappler.
“I’d always get a little nervous before each match when I was undefeated,” said Filipek. “But now I don’t feel that pressure.”
Critics excused Filipek’s losses, keeping him atop the Class 3 rankings all season. This weekend he will have to prove that it’s where he belongs.
In another dominant performance, the Warriors’ 182-pound competitor became one of three Warrenton wrestlers to advance to the MSHSAA Championships on Saturday.
“I’ve beaten some of the top-ranked kids in the state, but that doesn’t matter now,” said Filipek. “I want to beat them at state, where it counts.”
Filipek finished first, with senior Ryan Sherry placing second and junior Dakota Werner taking third.
Last winter Filipek entered the state tournament as a No. 2 seed with an eye injury that required him to wear a protective mask during matches. The district meet had taken its toll, but it didn’t prevent him from a third-place finish at state.
Saturday’s Class 3 District 2 Tournament at Westminster wasn’t as taxing for Filipek, who pinned all four opponents en route to the title. Only two of those challengers made it past the first period. Chris Cacciarelli, Filipek’s foe in the finals, lasted just 47 seconds.
Now Filipek is facing his moment of truth. Can he become Warrenton’s first-ever state champion, in any sport?
“He’s wrestling well, and his confidence is up,” said Coach Kevin Fowler. “He’s got one goal, and he just keeps plugging along toward it.”
Anything less would be a disappointment, he acknowledges.
“It’s all that’s on my mind right now,” said Filipek. “It’s what I’ve been training for since the summer, and I’m ready for it.”
A promising top half of the bracket awaits him, with only one top five competitor threatening prior to the finals.
SHERRY SETS SIGHTS ON TITLE MATCH
Ryan Sherry will be looking for his third state medal, after finishing sixth last winter.
He found himself facing a familiar nemesis on Saturday, losing another close match to Marvin Nelson in the 120-pound championship bout.
Sherry says a risky move on his part made the difference against the sixth-ranked wrestler in Class 3.
“He didn’t want to tie up,” said Sherry. “I wanted to drag him in, so I took far shots and one cost me. A bad shot in a close match comes back to bite you.”
The two evaded each other for most of the match, perhaps out of respect for one another’s talent.
“It was a positioning battle,” said Sherry. “I would try to hit a move, but he would always block me.”
Despite the loss, he says Saturday’s competition provided the preparation he was seeking.
“I wanted a close three-period match before I went into state, and that’s what I got,” said Sherry. “Yeah, I didn’t win it, but it’s still probably good for me.”
His sights are set on reaching the championship match, but Sherry will face an immediate challenge in the opening round.
“With it being my senior year I want to get into the finals,” said Sherry, who will battle top-ranked Noah Teaney. He enters the tournament as a third seed after being upset at districts.
Last year Sherry lost his first match, before battling his way through the wrestleback rounds. He suffered an injury during his final match that forced him to forfeit the fifth-place match.
“He turns it on when he gets to Columbia,” said Fowler. “He’s placed the last two years, and he’s never even won a district title.”