Alejandro Lopez is kind of in awe of himself on the wrestling mat.
The recent graduate of Alton High became a varsity wrestler as a sophomore, now he's a Class 3A state qualifier as a senior and earned a Division II scholarship to McKendree University.
“Two years ago as a sophomore is when I first got my experience in varsity wrestling and I got beat up,” Lopez said. “I lost so many times. I talked to my mom and she said, 'Stick with it, it can help with college.' I said flat out, 'There's no way I'm going to make it to college wrestling. There's no way I'll be good enough.' Now two years later as a senior, seeing how much I've improved is amazing. I'm going to go to a Division II college, it's great.”
AHS head coach Eric Roberson points to Lopez's tenacity, discipline and work ethic for his rapid ascension in the circle. He thinks he can accomplish even more with the Bearcats.
“He only came out his freshman year and he wasn't even varsity. He had to work his way through the system and work his way up,” Roberson said. “We're so proud of him. He's kind of what you build your program on. He's kind of a model as to what you want your program to look like.
“He didn't come in as a superstar, he worked his way through and he's got a good work ethic. He didn't get that state medal he wanted, but he achieved a goal he had for a long time, which was get to the state tournament.”
Lopez believes setting surmountable goals is the avenue for success in athletics. He continued to take those stepping stones and it helped immensely in his progression. Ultimately, it led him to becoming a state qualifier, which was one of his biggest goals as a prep wrestler.
He wasn't able to get a win during his state tournament experience, losing to Grayslake North's Jake Wright in a tough 4-3 match. He finished his senior campaign with a 38-8 record and won a regional championship.
“My goal from the beginning of my senior year was to be a state qualifier. I would tell my teammates to set goals for themselves,” Lopez said. “My highest goal was win state, be the best wrestler in Illinois, when I couldn't reach that, it was be a state placer, when I can't reach that, just qualify. I told everybody, 'When you go out to the mat you should be 0-0. Have the goal be to win the match, get the first takedown.' Definitely achieving goals is what I see that pushed me to become a state qualifier this year.”
He believes he can accomplish even more at McKendree. It's the perfect institution for him, as far as wrestling and academics. He will major in engineering, wanting to find a career in mechanical engineering one day.
Lopez had some support in his decision to become a Bearcat. Former teammate Qiante' “Stump” Wagner just completed his freshman season there and AHS coach Wade Lowe won a national championship there while McKendree still competed at the NAIA level.
“Talking to Wade and Stump, they told me that McKendree is a big athletic school,” Lopez said. “I also have some friends from band that go there and they said they treat their athletes like gold. It's a great school, close to home so my family will still be able to come watch me wrestle.”
Roberson said there wasn't an extra push for Lopez to wrestle for McKendree, but agrees that it will be a great fit for him.
The Bearcats are getting not only a talented athlete, but a quality student.
“I think McKendree is a really good choice for him, it's a good fit for Alejandro,” Roberson said. “It's a NCAA Division II school and he's strong academically. He got like a 30 on his ACT. I think McKendree's going to get a good student and a real good wrestler. I think he can develop his skills there.”
As for leaving behind his Redbird duds, Lopez admitted it won't be easy. He plans and remaining a part of the Alton program when he can and he definitely won't forget his time with the Birds.
“I'll miss the coaches, the staff and all my teammates,” Lopez said. “I've spent three years with these underclassmen, working with them everyday in the wrestling room. You form a bond, it's like a family. My home away from home is the wrestling room. I spent two to three hours everyday after school there for three straight months. We've bled together, sweat together, cried together and wrestled together. We've done everything together and it's going to be sad to leave them behind and not be there to watch them progress and hopefully onto college wrestling, but I'll definitely be back in the wrestling room to help.”