When Loyola junior Massey Odiotti stood on top of the podium as a Catholic League champion, he reflected on his journey from the bottom up.
“This is huge,” Odiotti said. “When I was a freshman, I took last at the CCL meet, so I’ve come a long way. I’ve worked hard to get here, and it’s a great feeling.”
Odiotti (32-4) won the 120-pound championship at the Catholic League meet Jan. 22 at Mount Carmel in Chicago, pinning Marmion’s Tyler Aters in 3 minutes, 55 seconds in the final.
After falling behind early, Odiotti got a big reversal and followed it up with a series of takedowns before finishing the match with the fall.
“I think that was a huge reversal there,” Odiotti said. “Once I got on top, I was able to turn him nonstop. I got a few tilts on him. That reversal was big because I started the match a little slow.
“I only had one match before that because I had a bye to the semis, so I didn’t have the best warmup going into it. But I picked it up once we got going.”
Odiotti also pinned his other opponent at the meet, needing just 52 seconds in the semifinals against Montini’s David Hernandez.
The Catholic League championship was the latest accomplishment in a huge season for Odiotti, who was No. 6 in Class 3A at 120 in the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association’s Jan. 24 rankings.
He also won championships at tournaments hosted by Barrington, Joliet Central, Prospect and Glenbrook South.
Odiotti heads into the postseason with a chance to do some big things and get on the podium — perhaps even at the top — at the state meet.
“He’s worked really hard this year — and not just this year, but in the previous years too,” Loyola coach Matt Collum said. “He’s putting 100% into everything he’s doing, as far as wrestling goes. He’s doing two-a-days, he’s putting in all the work. He keeps getting better.”
Odiotti started wrestling in second grade and quickly realized it was the sport for him.
“My dad (Mike) wrestled, so he introduced me to it, and I loved it, so I just kept going with the sport,” Odiotti said. “It’s just the feeling of being on the mat. It’s only you out there.
“In other sports, you’re usually out there with a team. In wrestling, it’s just you, and I like that.”
Mike Odiotti, the principal at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan, wrestled at Boston College and has continued to compete athletically in recent years.
In 2017, he finished second in a World Jiu-Jitsu competition for fighters over 30 years old in Las Vegas.
“I learned a lot from my dad about wrestling growing up,” Massey Odiotti said. “He taught me a lot of things, and he always pushed me to work hard and keep getting better.”
Odiotti finished 18-5 as a sophomore last season.
With the Illinois High School Association’s 2021 postseason canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Odiotti and the Ramblers competed in the IWCOA state series.
In the sectional competition at Joliet Junior College, Odiotti finished fourth at 120 pounds to earn the final advancing spot to the state meet.
He pulled out a thrilling 1-0 win over Barrington’s Brian Beers in the consolation semifinals — also known by wrestlers as the “blood round” because it determines who will advance and whose season will end — to clinch his trip to state.
“It was great to get to state for the first time and get that experience,” Odiotti said. “It felt good to know that every kid I was going to go against was one of the best wrestlers around.”
As a fourth-place finisher at sectionals, Odiotti knew he would be matched up with a sectional champion in the first round at state. He ended up drawing Prospect’s top-seeded Will Baysingar and lost an 11-1 major decision. Baysingar won the state championship.
Odiotti bounced back to win with a technical fall against Neuqua Valley’s Jack Reina in the consolation first round before his tournament ended when he was pinned by Libertyville’s Caelan Riley.
“I had a tough draw down there,” Odiotti said. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted to. It helps because it was like a trial run. Now I really want to get the full IHSA state experience this year and do well down there.”
Odiotti came out of his sophomore season knowing what he needed to work on, both physically with his technique and mentally with finding the right approach to take to the mat.
First, he needed to improve his speed and footwork.
“I worked a lot on my neutral wrestling and doing better on my feet,” Odiotti said. “I’ve been good on top for a while. That’s where I’ve really excelled. I’ve done a good job on the bottom too. So neutral was the weak spot that I needed to improve.
“I worked on that a lot, and I feel like I’ve done a much better job with it this season, and that’s helped me a lot.”
Perhaps more important, Odiotti knew he needed to go into matches without being intimidated by his opponent.
“I used to go out there scared if I was wrestling against someone with a name I’ve heard of, someone in the rankings,” he said. “Now I don’t even think about that. I don’t worry about who I’m wrestling. I just go out there feeling like I’m going to win, and I go out and wrestle.”
Odiotti has trained hard with his teammates and coaching staff.
“I have a few different practice partners, and they’re all good wrestlers who give me different looks, so that helps me a lot,” he said. “I’m obviously getting good coaching. Matt Collum is one of the best coaches you could ask for. So my teammates and coaches are helping me a lot.”
Some other Ramblers have had success this season. Senior Cooper Wettig was ranked No. 3 at 170. Mike Williams, a 195-pounder, is 21-9 and was a Catholic League runner-up.
Quinn Herbert (25-9) and Danny Herbert (22-10) have also topped the 20-win mark and finished third and fifth, respectively, at the Catholic League meet.
“They’re all getting better together,” said Collum, who was named the co-winner of the Lawless Award for Catholic League coach of the year along with Mount Carmel’s Alex Tsirtsis.
“We haven’t put a full team out there this year. We’ll have pretty close to it at regionals, so hopefully that’ll bump us up, and maybe we can steal that regional title. That would be awesome.”
Loyola will compete at the Class 3A Glenbrook South Regional on Feb. 5.
Odiotti believes he and his teammates will be ready.
“In practice, we have to make sure everyone is stacking good days on days and everyone is pushing each other to get better so we can all have success in the postseason,” he said.
Collum has seen the difference in Odiotti’s mentality.
“He’s attacking more,” Collum said. “He’s getting holds and finding openings to score points. He’s not afraid to attack the better kids. That’s the biggest difference.
“In the past, he hasn’t been aggressive against the better kids. Now he’s going after them. That’s good to see.”
Odiotti is wrestling with a greater sense of belief in himself.
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot more confident,” he said. “It’s just picking up the intensity in these matches. Confidence is huge. I have to have confidence in my moves and confidence when I go out there, feeling ready to win.”
There are still things to improve. Odiotti pointed to falling behind early in the Catholic League final, something that also happened earlier in the season.
“I didn’t start out fast,” Odiotti said of that match. “Those first 30 seconds to a minute, I was slow and not hitting on my moves.
“I have to work on the first 30 seconds to a minute of a match and make sure I come out ready to go and ready to start fast. With regionals coming up, I have to be ready from the start.”
Going into the state series, Odiotti has his sights set on the ultimate prize. He now believes he can compete with — and beat — the best wrestlers in the state.
“My goal is to be a state champion this year,” he said. “It’s a big goal, but I think I can accomplish it. I just have to stay focused these last four weeks of the season. I’m excited to see what I can do the rest of this season.”
Steve Millar is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.