Dec. 5 Oak Creek

First appeared in Journal Sentinel

By Joe Shinners

            Oak Creek Knights wrestling coach Matt Sommerville remembers a conversation he had with Mukwonago coach Jon Wierzbicki several years ago.

            “I said to Jon, ‘I would kill to have 20 kids who really have the motivation for the sport like you do,’” Sommerville said in assessing his team since he took over from former coach Jim Hauerwas in 2009.

            Right now, Sommerville and the Knights have the motivation and the track record of success that points toward one of the brightest seasons the team has embarked on in recent memory.

            “That’s what I have right now,” said Sommerville, who marveled at Mukwonago’s deep pool of wrestlers and their desire to wrestle. “I have those kinds of kids now. Even if they only improve 1 percent, they have the passion for the sport.”

Oak Creek, fresh of its Southeast Conference championship a year ago and scheduled to face Kenosha Indian Trails in the league opener at 7 p.m. Thursday at Oak Creek, is ranked No. 4 in the area. It is the highest pre-season ranking the team has had since Sommerville took over.

            “This is one of the best teams Oak Creek has ever had,” said Sommerville, who was an assistant under Hauerwas, recently inducted into the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame, beginning in 2005. “I can see four or five or six state place-winners on the team.”

            There’s plenty of reason for optimism at Oak Creek, a team that won its first conference tournament title since 1996 and its first dual meet title since 2006 last year and returned to the area top 10 poll midway through the year.

            “Our sights are set on both of those again this year,” said Sommerville, whose team features four returning state qualifiers and a pair of state place-winners from last year. “We have a solid lineup. It will quickly progress. We’re very excited this year.”

            Oak Creek returns 13 of its 14 starters from a year ago from a team that started mostly freshman and sophomores. The most important returnees are its four state qualifiers: senior Ben Hakes, juniors Andrew McIntosh and Isaiah Robinson and sophomore Matt Berlin.

            Hakes finished 45-3 a year ago and in fifth place at 160 in D1. McIntosh finished 40-8 and in fifth place at 113. Robinson (35-9) and Berlin (35-13) failed to place.

            Those four anchored a team that went 7-0 in the Southeast and 13-5 overall last year.

            Sommerville credits the work of Terry Nachtigall and Bill Kahle for helping build the Oak Creek program in recent years. The pair set up a youth program in 2006 and has been running it since.

            “It took a lot of hard work but it is paying off,” said Sommerville. “Plus, the kids go to the clubs – Askren Wrestling Academy and Ringers – and that helps, too. It’s all paying off.”

            Oak Creek’s biggest victories a year ago came against Burlington, the area’s No. 1-ranked team then and now.

            At the Highlander Invitational, Oak Creek beat Burlington by 14.5 points. At the individual sectional at Racine Horlick – the score of which is not official according to the WIAA – Oak Creek beat Burlington by 9 points.

            But in the dual between the teams at the Burlington duals, Burlington posted a 38-25 victory. Burlington, a semifinalist at the state team tournament in D1 last year, is the team Oak Creek will have to beat in the end to earn a trip to the state tournament this year.

            Burlington coach Jade Gribble, who coached Sommerville at UW-Whitewater, is happy to see his former wrestler succeeding at Oak Creek.

            “He’s done a great job,” said Gribble. “Matt’s really an intense guy, and a friend of mine. I know his kids work hard and wrestle hard. You want to beat everybody but if you’re going to lose, you want it to be a friend.”

            Sommerville is just hoping his team can be there in the end come late January to challenge Burlington.

            “We’re hoping that there are no injuries and we have a full lineup by mid-January,” said Sommerville. “We’re ready.”