From an early age, it was pretty clear that Mundelein senior Matt Ornoff was going to be a wrestler.
Unlike some people who they say were “born to run,” Mundelein coach Tom Buenik said that Ornoff was born a wrestler.
This story begins in the earliest days of Ornoff’s wrestling career when he was first introduced to the sport by his father (Gary) and his uncle (Mark Pechter), who is the wrestling head coach at Deerfield High School.
As is the case with many elite prep wrestlers today, Ornoff began wrestling at a very young age as he started in first grade at The Wrestling Factory at Libertyville High School.
He continued wrestling at that high-powered youth program (which is now at Carmel Catholic) through eighth grade before he began his high school career at Mundelein.
The road to success has not always been an easy one, with a lot of peaks and valleys along the way. But heading into this weekend, Ornoff has established himself as one of the best wrestlers in school history with a sparkling career record of 113-21.
That impressive mark leaves Ornoff just 11 victories short of breaking the school record of 123 wins set by Matt Wagemann in 2004.
So just how did the No. 3-ranked Ornoff get to this point of making school history?
It all started with a great freshman season when he compiled a 40-8 record en route to a sixth-place medal at 103 pounds at the Class 3A state meet.
But things would not go quite as smoothly as a sophomore when Ornoff posted a great 38-6 record at 112 only to lose in the final round of the sectionals. That meant not making a return trip to the Assembly Hall in Champaign for a second straight season.
That setback in this increasingly competitive sport served as even more of a motivator for Ornoff to return to state last season as a junior.
And Ornoff (1-0 this season) did just that as he posted a 34-7 record in a tough 130-pound weight class before losing in the first round downstate.
Ornoff’s junior year featured a showdown with eventual two-time state champion Danny Sabatello of Stevenson. Upset-minded Ornoff built an early 4-0 lead in that bout only to see the undefeated and Purdue-bound Sabatello make a late comeback for a narrow 6-5 decision.
Looking back, Ornoff points to quite a few people who have shaped his career and he will always be grateful for the people who have encouraged and guided him along the way.
“My big influence in my wrestling career was Tony Hernandez (at the Wrestling Factory) and I still stay in contact with him,” said Ornoff, who will wrestle at 138 and 145 this season. “He’s always been there for me, and a lot of times as a young kid I had a hard time handling losses and he saw me through some tough times.”
Of course, his father Gary and mother (Susan) have played very huge roles in getting the well-rounded Ornoff to this stage of his career through a lot of hard work and dedication over the many years of training.
“They’ve been dragging me to tournaments every weekend since first grade,” said Ornoff, who is also an established freestyle and Greco Roman wrestler in regional and national tournaments. “He (Pechter) was actually the person who found the Wrestling Factory and he had me and my Dad go to a practice so he helped kind of kick off my career.”
Wrestling runs in the Ornoff family as Gary Ornoff was a wrestler and Matt also has a cousin who is wrestling at Niles West.
Ornoff has certainly had a great mentor in Buenik to guide him at Mundelein. Buenik was a three-time state qualifier at Morton and a state champion at 171 as a senior in 1991.
“Wrestling runs in the family, his Dad was a high school wrestler, and he (Matt) was born a wrestler,” said Buenik, who has a relatively laid back coaching style. “He came in as a very talented wrestler with high expectations from the get go. He could have been battling for third in the state as a freshman and he had been on that stage before from wrestling in his youth program so he was well prepared.”
While the vast majority of wrestlers would trade places with Ornoff in a heartbeat, Ornoff still has the dream of fulfilling his ultimate goal of becoming a state champion in 2012.
“My goal has always been to win a state championship since I was a kid and that has always been my drive,” said Ornoff, whose sister Nicole is a freshman gymnast at Mundelein. “When you feel down you have to remember you’re doing this for a reason. I need to keep my priorities straight and stay focused.”
Keeping that committment has never been a problem as Ornoff has never missed making weight in his career despite all of the temptations of fast food and other distractions that can potentially affect young athletes today.
Wrestling at the next level looks like almost a sure thing for Ornoff. But at this point in time he is waiting to see how his final season shakes out.
“He can get into almost any Big Ten school on his own because he has great grades,” Buenik said. “Academically he can get himself in and it’s just usually a matter of how you do senior year. But we’ll address that stuff later.”
Ornoff knows how lucky he is to have a coach like Buenik and the two have made a great team over the past three seasons.
“He (Buenik) has been there, he’s my counselor at school too, and he’s always been there to push us in practice,” added Ornoff. “In wrestling you always want to do better and you’re never satisfied so you always want to stay hungry.”
Win, lose, or draw, Ornoff can be proud of himself no matter what his final season may have in store for him.
But anybody you knows him well would never bet against him when the chips are down.
“This year he has his goal set high — not to just get there (to state), but to medal,” added Buenik. “He just has to focus on his technique and his tenacity and it’s just a matter of doing it in the match.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.