Photo: Tyler Zeman in action at Art Kraft Memorial Tournament Dec. 14
TRIO OF TROJANS LEADING WRESTLING TEAM TO ANOTHER STRONG SEASONIn his quest to develop more All-Americans, Triton College head wrestling coach Tim Duggan is tapping into a multi-generational thread of Trojan achievers on the mats.
Veteran Tommy Russell is ranked No. 1 in the 125-pound weight class early on, newcomer Sean Kelly is ranked No. 5 in the 197 pound-class, and Duggan also can celebrate the breakthrough of fellow newcomer Tyler Zeman to No. 10 at 157 pounds. He transferred to Triton after starting at a Minnesota community college.
Zeman has the genes and the family training to go even higher than No. 10. The Lyons Township graduate is the son of Matt Zeman, a Triton All-American wrestler in 1995. In 1997, he was an assistant coach under former head coach and current Triton athletic director Harry McGinnis when the Trojans won the NJCAA Division III national championship.
Zeman’s wrestling bloodlines run even deeper. Grandfather Otto Zeman was an All-American at Northwestern before he became Lyons Township’s wrestling coach. Meanwhile, Matt Zeman’s brother, Billy Zeman, was a two-time all-state wrestler at Lyons before earning honorable mention All-American honors his junior year at the University of Illinois.
“I’ve known the Zeman family for many years and coaching Tyler is very easy,” said Duggan. “He has been trained well by his family and coaches, who did a great job.”
Tyler Zeman knew how far his kinfolk went. For him, No. 10 is just a starting point. And winning the championship at Triton’s 30th Annual Art Kraft Memorial Tournament Dec. 14 may propel him higher in the rankings.
“There’s always room for growth,” he said. “It’s great to go up against top wrestlers. The ranking means a lot, but at end of the day, it’s just a number.”
No way is his son just a number while Matt Zeman watches him compete. Backing away from day-to-day coaching in high school, he now has to restrain himself from shouting out advice and competing with Duggan and his staff while Tyler is entwined with an opponent.
“It’s hard to have that disconnect when he’s in front of you, but I’m getting better,” Matt Zeman said.
As a former coach, the elder Zeman knows well to let his son continue to grow in his own wrestling skin.
“Our styles are different,” he said. “Tyler scores points on top, where I never did. I was real good on my feet.”
Some of that Zeman wrestling tradition rubbed off on Russell.
“Tyler grew up down the block,” Russell said. “He’s a tough kid who grinds. He has the ability to be ranked No. 1 himself by the end of the season”
In turn, Russell’s achievements serve as a kind of role model for Zeman. He was a national qualifier in his first Triton season and was a two-time state qualifier at St. Rita. More recently, Russell snared the championship at the Yellow Jacket Open Nov. 2 in Rochester, Minn. and a third-place showing at the Ben McMullen Open Nov. 9 in Muskegon, Mich.
Like Zeman, Russell is not obsessed with high rankings. He is at the top of his game. But any momentary setback can cost the No. 1 rating. Russell suffered a close 3-2 loss in the championship bout in his weight class at the Art Kraft Memorial Tournament.
“It’s just keeping up the hard work,” he said. “No. 1 is hard to achieve. It’s a tough spot to get to, everyone is chasing you. If you put your mind to it, you could do it.”
“It’s always nice to be ranked early in the year,” said Duggan. “But we are not worried about rankings right now. We are focused on getting better and being the best team we can be in March.”
While Duggan, an aggressive recruiter and teacher, has assembled the talent, he delegates much instruction to assistant Jameel Carter, credited by Russell for his rise to the top.
“Coach Carter pushes me,” Russell said. “He wants me to finish my takedowns harder.”
Smack dab in the middle of the Top 10 rankings is Kelly, a Maine South product. Also not worried about specific rankings, Kelly still acknowledges “my record is better than what I expected it to be.”
The freshman Kelly has placed at all five events this season including a runner-up finish against a strong field at the Grand View Open Nov. 16 in Des Moines. Kelly was also runner-up at the Art Kraft Memorial Tournament.
Carter also boosted Kelly’s work ethic. The nursing major tries to achieve discipline in both class, on the mat and in workouts.
“They pushed us hard,” he said of the coaching staff. “They’re very good with our technique. They urge us to work out on our own, run on our own.
“My hand-fighting is better, and creating pressure between me and my opponent. I’m good on the bottom. I can escape. As you go along and gain more knowledge, you think more outside the box.”
Zeman started well after coming to Triton. Placing twice this season, he took third in the Nov. 23 meet at Concordia University-Wisconsin, going 5-1.
“I’ve gotten a lot better on my feet, and with conditioning,” Zeman said. “I definitely feel stronger. I did a real good job in off-season in running.
“I really like the coaching staff. Tim Duggan works with me individually at practice individually. You could tell he really cares.”
The development of Zeman and Kelly and the continued excellence of Russell could make those All-American rankings a reality for Triton going forward.
“We have a great chance,” said Kelly. “All my teammates have a great shot. We’re close-knit. If we keep it going, we should have multiple All-Americans.”