Wauconda junior Gavin Rockey has been wrestling with a heavy heart this season.
Rockey is moved not only by last year’s loss in the state championship game, but also by the memory of his father, Matthew, who died Oct. 5 at age 54.
“I think about him before my games,” Rockey said. “I know you’re proud of me.”
Rockey lost to Grayslake Central Anthony Alanis He recalled a moment he shared with his father during the 106-pound weight final at the 2023 Class 2A state meet, when he returned to Wauconda with a second-place medal.
“He couldn’t travel and watched it at home,” Rockey said. “But when I got home we had the biggest hug ever.”
Sophomore captain Rockey (38-9) returns to the state meet this week after finishing second at 106th at the Grayslake Central Sectional on Saturday. Montini lost 9-2 to freshman Allen Woo.
“It was a pretty good game,” Rockey said. “He untied his ties pretty well. I have a few things to work on. Next week is really important. This is a learning experience. I learned that I needed to hold my ties better and finish my shots better. I went up on her legs a few times but couldn’t finish. He was quite strong on his underhooks.
Rockey is one of six Wauconda wrestlers to qualify for state. Bulldogs coach Trevor Jauch, a three-time state champion at Crystal Lake Central, said Rockey will be ready.
“He wrestled a great tournament,” Jauch said. “We’re going to clean some things up. We’re not talking about coming out on top at sectionals, but instead we’re talking about coming out on top at state.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for Rockey, who said he was burdened with expectations after his run at state last year.
“I definitely felt that pressure early in the season,” he said. “My matches were a lot closer. It was pretty tough. It was something I had to learn. I had to get through it, fight through it and move forward, one match at a time.
“I had to sit down and talk to my coach. He said no one would think differently about me if I didn’t do this. I was already a state finalist. He told me to just have fun.”
Wauconda sophomore Nate Randle I can understand Rockey’s position. Randle lost to Glenwood’s Drew Davis at 113 in the state championship match last season. Randle, who advanced to state again with a fourth-place finish at 126 at regionals on Saturday, told Rockey to have confidence in his abilities.
“I basically told him to calm down and that he didn’t need to worry about anything,” Randle said. “Just collect your points and the victories will come.”
Jauch said Rockey has added a few more items to his repertoire, which has helped him this season.
“Gavin is extremely coachable and willing to improve every day,” Jauch said. “He works extremely hard and continues to build on his strengths in his own way. “His attitude and effort in the wrestling room on a daily basis is very positive.”
But Rockey isn’t all business. He joked about how he practiced rapping before the team’s end-of-season banquet last year.
“Our coach told the captains that we had to give a speech the day before the ceremony, and I told him I wasn’t good at it,” Rockey said. “I made a 40-second rap. I wasn’t good at it.
However, he is good at wrestling. Rockey, who puts a penny in his right sock for luck before the matches, said he hopes he can create a different ending for himself at the state meet this time.
No doubt he will be on his father’s mind.
“I know he’s proud of me no matter what I do,” Rockey said.
Bobby Narang is a freelance reporter.