Niko Ivanisevic caps wrestling career with runner-up state finish

4 minute read

Gary Larsen

A Hinsdale Central heavyweight wrestler has now reached the state title mat in seven of the last eight years, thanks to Niko Ivanisevic.

The Red Devils senior placed second in Class 3A on Saturday, finishing the year with a 39-3 record after a title-mat loss to Hononegah's Anthony Cassioppi.

"I'm not proud right now, obviously. I'm a little upset about the loss," Ivanisevic said. "But as I go along, I'm sure I'll look back at it and be happy with what I was able to do."

After winning regional and sectional titles, Ivanisevic opened the state tournament in Champaign with a first-period pin before winning a 7-4 decision over Fremd's Zach Nemec (42-3) in a quarterfinal match that guaranteed him a place on the podium.

Nemec went on to place third in state.

"It was a relief," Ivanisevic said. "(Nemec) was a tough, big kid. I had to wrestle smart and wrestle all six minutes. It definitely felt good when the final seconds ticked off."

In his semifinal match, Ivanisevic won a 2-1 decision over Lockport's Ronald Tucker (29-4), who went on to place fifth. Ivanisevic earned a single-leg takedown in the first period.

"He was a lot bigger than I was, and I knew going into that match it would be a one-takedown match, and I ended up getting it," Ivanisevic said. "Then I wrestled smart and kept my lead."

On Saturday night, Ivanisevic got to be one of the 28 Class 3A wrestlers in 14 weight classes marched out for a spotlight introduction inside the State Farm Center.

"It was awesome," Ivanisevic said. "(Assistant coach) James Leavell went out with me. He really stuck with me in the offseason and worked a lot with me, so I wanted to give something back to him. It was pretty cool walking out in front of all those people. Even in football, I've never competed in front of a crowd like that."

Ivanisevic didn't get to compete in Champaign last year because he backed up the Red Devils' 2016 state heavyweight champion, Matt Allen. Allen and older brothers Jack and Brian each won a state title and appeared twice apiece on the state title mat.

Without an Allen in front of him this year, Ivanisevic made the most of his opportunity.

"Pride, perseverance, resilience — his story is pretty remarkable," Red Devils coach Jason Hayes said. "He was wrestling JV last year and he could have hung it up, but he didn't."

Ivanisevic went into the state finals ranked second at heavyweight by Illinois Matmen, behind the wrestler he faced on the title mat: Cassioppi.

Cassioppi won by fall early in the second period to complete a perfect 48-0 season.

"He's a tough kid, and he beat me earlier in the season. He gave me two of my three losses this year," Ivanisevic said. "I give him all the credit because he deserves it. He's a strong kid, and he has a good offense."

Ivanisevic, who will play football at Princeton next year and leave his wrestling career behind, said he appreciates what wrestling has done for him as a football player, beyond the footwork and hand-fighting skills that transfer between the sports.

"On the mental aspect, wrestling definitely made me a lot tougher," Ivanisevic said. "I started wrestling when I was 5, and I didn't start playing football until I was 10 or 11. Wrestling made me tougher and meaner on the football field.

"I'll miss it. Definitely not the practice room, but I liked competing against the good (wrestlers). That's what I'll miss."

Hinsdale South wrestling notes

Four Hinsdale South wrestlers qualified for state in Class 2A, but none medaled over the weekend. Junior Easa Aristizabal (145 pounds), junior Julian Kinsey (160), senior Tyvell White (182) and freshman Derrick Singleton (106) all competed for the Hornets.

Gary Larsen is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

Twitter @Pioneer_Press