Harvard wrestlers fall in dual team state quarterfinals

BLOOMINGTON – Win or lose it was an appropriate ending.

Harvard lost to Oak Forest, 49-12, in the quarterfinals of the Dual Team Wrestling State Finals on Saturday at U.S. Cellular Coliseum. The loss ends the Hornets’ season and the coaching tenure of Harvard's Tim Haak, who is retiring.

The loss to Oak Forest was just a small blemish on a season that saw the Hornets move up to Class 2A but still win the Hampshire Regional, advance to state with a win against Lakes in the Antioch Sectional and compile a 22-6 dual record. Even the loss was more positive than negative in Haak’s ledger.

“What a great opportunity for our kids to compete in the state finals,” Haak said. “It was a great year. [The team] made great strides. That’s what you look for in coaching.”

Heading into the season, how Harvard would fare in Class 2A was a question mark, but the approach to the season was the same. That approach was simple: You can only control what you can control.

The Hornets typically wrestle a tough schedule that includes tournaments and quality teams from all classes. Three of their losses came to Class 3A teams.

“I think there is pride in that,” Haak said of winning the Class 2A regional. “(But) it’s still wrestling. There’s plenty of good teams in Class 1A.”

Against Oak Forest, Harvard came away with only three individual wins. Matt Wheeler got a pin at 160 pounds and Justin Wilcox (106) and Adam Freimund (285) won by decision.

Wheeler, a senior, said that even with the loss no one on the team would trade being there and taking one last road trip together.   

“We made it here,” Wheeler said. “That’s a big accomplishment in itself.”

As a senior, Wheeler was on an emotional roller coaster about the finality of the moment of his last high school match, Haak leaving as the coach and his team’s season ending.

“I was probably going to cry either way,” Wheeler said. “It’s an emotional ride. I wish I could do it all over again.”

Freimund, who placed fifth at the individual state finals a week earlier, said he couldn’t have imagined everything coming to an end without his team around him.

“It’s definitely a lot better to end it as a team, not an individual,” Freimund said. “I couldn’t have thought of a better way to go out.”

Harvard’s success in Class 2A gave Freimund a lot of satisfaction – and maybe just a little revenge.

“A lot of people didn’t believe what we would do this year,” Freimund said. “There’s a great amount of pride in that.”

Haak completed his 27th year as coach and compiled a 635-145-3 record. This was his 12th time bringing Harvard to dual team state, and the Hornets won it all in 1992.

Haak is quick to defer the credit for the team’s success to his assistant coaches – David Abel, Todd Streit, Todd Ramberg and Mike Vest. He said they work to develop all of their wrestlers in the practice room, not just the sectional or state qualifiers.

Harvard principal and wrestling official Rob Zielinski compared Haak to an orchestra conductor.   

“Tim makes all these people better around him,” Zielinski said. “He puts people in a position to be successful.”

And although Haak is done, he leaves behind a program with a good feeder program, quality coaches, community support and the mystique of wrestling for Harvard.

“When Coca-Cola changes their CEO, they don’t change the product,” Zielinski said. “We’ll continue to build on the tradition.”