Saturday, Nov 18, 2017

Wrestlers send three to state meet

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Harvard Hornet Josh Fiegel wrestles in the 106-pound weight class at the IHSA Class A state meet. Fiegel earned medal honors by placing fifth overall in his weight class. HML photo by Neil Schultz

A whirlwind season for the Harvard High School wrestling team ended Feb. 24 with a 45-17 loss to Dakota High School in the IHSA Class A dual sectional meet at Polo High School.

The Hornets opened the season Nov. 25 under new head coach Mark Payne and immediately became the second team in the state of Illinois to collect 1,000 dual-meet victories with a 49-16 victory over Belvidere North.

The Hornets went 22-8 during the regular season. In the post season, they won their 26th consecutive IHSA Class A regional title Feb. 7 at Rockford Lutheran High School. The Hornets amassed 235.5 points and claimed eight first-place titles.

In the IHSA Class A sectional tournament at Oregon Feb. 13 and 14, the Hornets qualified three wrestlers for the state meet – sophomore Josh Fiegel in the 106-pound weight class; junior Reiss Bielski at 126; and junior Zach Martin at 195. Fiegel, who finished the season 45-4, earned medalist honors by finishing fifth at the state meet Feb. 19 to 21.

The Hornets graduate three seniors – Joe Quinn, who finished the season 17-12 at 132; Christian Kramer, 28-10 at 145; and Christian Popoca, 22-17 at 220.

Payne said the seniors were key to the success of the team.

“I could really see the Harvard tradition in the three seniors,” Payne said. “I really hope that we have someone who can take over that type of leadership role next year. … They are going to be very hard to replace.”

Quinn and Popoca said they were impressed with their new coach.

“He’s a great guy and a great coach,” Quinn said.

“Coach Payne helped us out a lot and made everybody do a lot better,” Popoca said. “I think he’s going to take [the program] further in the future.”

Although the season ended with a tough loss, Quinn said the team knows they left it all on the mat.

“Of course we’re not happy about the way the season ended, but we know we wrestled our hardest out there in the last couple of meets,” Quinn said.

Looking back on his first year, Payne said he was most impressed with the community support for the program.

“It’s second to none,” Payne said. “In my coaching career, I have never seen a town that rallies behind the sport of wrestling as much as Harvard does. I’ve just had so much more that I was able to do with the team because of the community support.”