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Barrington 11/23/12 Lake Zurich's Gresh Henderson, checks with the coach while wrestling Marion Academy. | Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media
Wandering around Champaign’s Assembly Hall last February, Lake Zurich wrestler Gresh Henderson felt as though he was at Disneyland.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Henderson said. “Everyone is like a movie star.”
Instead of Disney characters such as Goofy and Mickey Mouse, Henderson was on hand to watch Bears teammates Scott Hoff and Sean Lynch. Both were competing in the state tournament. A junior, Henderson had not advanced past sectionals. Before he left the arena, he made a vow to himself.
“I saw our guys compete against some of the best guys in state,” Henderson said. “I said, ‘This is what I want.’ A little extra motivation.”
Almost right away, Henderson, a 5-foot-7, 132-pounder, put his plan into action. He trained at the popular wrestling school Izzy Style, located in Schaumburg. In the summer, he attended a camp, in Ohio, held by Jeff Jordan, a former Wisconsin All-American. He immersed himself in the sport, his vision of the state tournament never far from his daily thoughts.
In order to make it to Champaign this year, Henderson felt he needed to work on being a freestyle wrestler. Excellent in the down position since he arrived at Lake Zurich as a sophomore after his family moved from Colorado, Henderson was not as skilled standing up.
“First wrestler I’ve coached that was so good on the mat but wasn’t great on his feet,” Lake Zurich assistant coach Shane Williams said. “A very defensive wrestler. Against a very talented kid, you need to be more offensive.”
Added Henderson: “No one ever told me I had a weakness. I had to feel it out myself. That’s part of getting better as a wrestler, finding weakness and getting better at it.”
Early this season, Henderson got his first test. Lake Zurich was wrestling in a 28-team invitational at Barrington Nov. 23 and 24. Henderson won his first two matches in the championship bracket, setting up a battle with Marmion Academy’s George Fisher. Ranked No. 1 in the state by Illinois Matmen, Fisher hadn’t lost to anyone inside the state. Henderson wrestled like he didn’t know who Fisher was.
Fisher lost a tight 6-4 decision, his closest match this season. Losing aside, it proved Henderson was applying all he had learned in the offseason.
“It showed all the work has prepared him to be able to hang with the best kids in the state,” Williams said.
Added LZ coach Dan Strickler: “He’s diversifying his skill set to work on his feet, getting into positions to score. He’s strong for his weight class, thirsty for knowledge.”
That’s now translating into results. Ranked No. 10 by Illinois Matmen, Henderson is now winning matches by scores of 9-0, 6-0, 8-3. A year ago, those scores would have been 3-2 or 2-0.
The now offensive-minded Henderson is putting himself in position to be a contender for the state tournament in February — right where he imagined he would be about a year ago.
“That’s where I wanted to be since I started wrestling,” Henderson said. “When I was there, it meant that much more to see it. I’m working every day to get towards that goal.”