A judgment call went against him.
His dreams of winning the 120-pound championship at the IHSA state wrestling tournament were dashed.
And Joliet Central’s Trayvon Zabala could have quit on the spot.
Instead, he drew inspiration from a conversation he had with his mother. He battled back to place third in Class 3A. And he is recognized today as Joliet Patch’s Athlete of the Month for February.
Zabala, a senior who finished with a career record of 155-11, twice was penalized for stalling in a 6-3 overtime loss to Sandburg’s Sebastian Pique in a quarterfinal match in the state tournament at Assembly Hall in Champaign. He also was penalized for an illegal body slam.
“Yeah, it was pretty hard,” Zabala said of bouncing back, reeling off four straight victories and capping his illustrious career with the Steelmen on a high note. He defeated Marist’s David Kasper 10-4 in his final high school wrestling match. “I wanted to come out with the state championship.
“I was thinking, ‘I lost. There’s no way I can get it now.’ I was down for a while. My mom had to talk to me to get me back up. She told me, ‘Keep your head in it. You did a good job. You showed us you didn’t give up. Stuff like that.’
“I just went back out there and I showed them I wasn’t going to give up.”
Zabala, with a record of 48-1 to show for a remarkable season, became the first individual to win three state wrestling medals at Joliet Central since Greg Maxey in the mid-1970s. Zabala placed second at 112 as a sophomore and third at 113 as a junior.
He first qualified for the IHSA state tournament during his freshman year.
“Trayvon (Zabala) should have been a state champ,” Joliet Central coach Pat O’Connell said. “He knows that. I think other key people in the state know that. A few rough calls, but he’s one of the toughest wrestlers ever to come out of this room.
“He gave 110 percent every day in here. If you look on the wall down there, that’s our state champs. That empty spot up there—we looked at that. We pointed that out to him every day.
“And, theoretically, he could have been a three-time state champ. He was that close. The call this year—the slam—in college, they call that ‘two, takedown.’ It’s just good, hard wrestling. He’s not lifting people up. It’s just hard wrestling.”
O’Connell expects Zabala to further polish his skills on the next level—he has been receiving mail and calls from interested college coaches almost every day, most recently fielding inquiries from folks at Maryland and Nebraska.
“I think you’ll hear from him again,” O’Connell said. “His best days are ahead.”
Zabala: Definition of 'Mat Rat'
Those who worked closely with Zabala and helped turn him into a Steelmen wrestling legend will remember his tenacity and his will to win.
“He’s quite a hard trainer in the room,” Joliet Central assistant coach Gardner Coughlen said. “He attacks every drill. He attacks every scenario. That’s one of the things that defined him.
“He’s a mat rat—he gets after it in the room very hard. He placed three times (at the state tournament). That’s pretty phenomenal. He had a tough loss this year. But, he’s a winner. That’s the one thing that’s always gong to stick out in my mind. He does not want to lose.”
Zabala is considering a career path that could lead him to becoming a high school English teacher and wrestling coach one day. He’s also interested in law enforcement and has thought working as a police officer. He’ll have some time to figure that out.
He’ll be back in the wrestling fire this weekend, competing with Team Illinois in all-star duals against Team Indiana.
“The coaches have to pick who they think is the best in each weight class,” Zabala said. “It was me and another kid. We’re both going to get a match down in Indiana. There is another (all-star event) coming up. I was supposed to be picked for that. But now it looks like I’ll have to wrestle-off for a spot.”
He is used to doing things the hard way.
Previous Athlete of the Month Winners
SEPTEMBER: JT Central's Singletary is Patch Athlete of the Month
OCTOBER: JCA's Blotnik Charges to Head of the Pack
NOVEMBER: Ivlow Rushes To JCA Football Rescue
JANUARY: Joliet West's Dunnigan a King on His Own Court
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