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updated: 12/5/2013 1:46 PM

Eggert, Libertyville reaching new heights

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  • Libertyville's Minnesota-bound Steve Polakowski, left, wrestles Joliet West's Jared Sims in the 120-pound semifinals at the 23rd annual Moore/Prettyman tournament at Barrington last Saturday.

      Libertyville's Minnesota-bound Steve Polakowski, left, wrestles Joliet West's Jared Sims in the 120-pound semifinals at the 23rd annual Moore/Prettyman tournament at Barrington last Saturday.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

By John Bumbales
Daily Herald Correspondent

With 57 years of excellence behind it, there are very few high school wrestling programs with as rich a winning tradition as Libertyville.

The Wildcats were pioneers in the North Suburban Conference as they competed in the first-ever NSC meet in 1956 along with five other original member schools.

And while there were some minor growing pains in the early years of the Libertyville program, things have really taken off for the Wildcats, who have a record 16 NSC championships dating back to their first one in 1973.

But no matter which way you slice it going back over the decades, the current 2013-14 Libertyville team stacks up very well with some of the best Wildcats teams.

This season will also mark a major milestone for veteran coach Dale Eggert, who is about to become a member of an elite group of IHSA coaches.

Last season was somewhat of a breakout year for the Wildcats individually as five juniors and a senior reached the Class 3A state meet in Champaign.

And while the Wildcats fell to rival Grant in close regional competition last season, they got some great experience downstate to build around this season starting with 170-pound senior Kayne MacCallum, and 120-pound senior Steve Polakowski, who are both two-time state qualifiers.

It's never easy to win regional titles or reach the Elite Eight team tournament even for great teams. But this group of Libertyville wrestlers could be ready to accomplish both feats as many of them have been competing with and against each other since their early days in the sport at Oak Grove and Highland.

Besides Polakowski and MacCallum, Libertyville is also turning to senior state qualifiers Kevin Barbian (220), Chris McDermand (285), and Austin Koziol (182) for great leadership this winter.

"We've trained so hard to the point where we shouldn't be able to lose and we really push each other," said MacCallum, who is ranked third in the state at 170 and will wrestle at Eastern Michigan University. "We really hope to place in the top four this year and we think we can do it. Our main goal is to get five all-staters (top six in state) and we have the potential to get five."

Besides the five senior state qualifiers, junior 152-pounder Joey Gunther has re-emerged as a potential state qualifier for the Wildcats after missing regional competition last season due to illness.

Seniors Tyler Brooks (138), Tim Grote (195), Nick Andrews (145), and Colton Bast (160) will also play big roles for the experienced Wildcats this season along with key sophomore Joey Locascio at 106.

Polakowski was pretty disappointed after having to settle for second place last weekend at the powerful Barrington tournament. But like many wrestlers, the third-ranked Polakowski has his eye on a much bigger prize later this season at the Assembly Hall.

"I've just got to keep pushing forward and not let little things bother me," said Polakowski, who will wrestle at the University of Minnesota next year. "The sole goal this year is to win the (individual) state championship. Our goal is to definitely get top four as a team, we have the talent and it's going to take a lot of work to do it."

It has been a long and successful road for Libertyville over the years, and the current team is reminiscent of some of the outstanding Wildcats' teams from the past.

Eggert pointed to two similar, senior-dominated teams that were strong at the upper weights in 1989 and 1991 which were among its best squads ever. The 1989 team reached the Elite Eight, the 1991 squad barely lost in the sectionals to a Waukegan team that went on to take second place in the state.

In more recent years, the 2002 squad was a great dual-meet team that reached the Elite Eight while the 2008 team really went the extra mile in getting to the Final Four teams downstate.

"I feel we have a very talented senior class, juniors too, and we're a really close-knit team," said Barbian after winning the 220-pound title at Barrington. "We've known each other since sixth grade and we wrestled against each other a lot when we were young. We can go as far as we work, I think everybody wants to put in the effort, and we will."

Mike Baumann was the third in school history and most recent Libertyville wrestler to win an individual state title in 1991. Eggert was the state runner-up for the Wildcats at 126 pounds in 1974.

Eggert's coaching career has been stellar by any measure as he heads into this weekend with a career record of 491-110-2, beginning his 27th season.

When he does hit that magical milestone with career victory No. 500 coming up pretty quickly this season, Eggert will join a small fraternity of IHSA coaches to reach this lofty plateau.

According to the IHSA website, Eggert would become only the eighth coach to reach 500 career victories. Former Mt. Carmel coach Bill Weick holds the all-time record with 687 wins. Once all IHSA records are updated, there could be a few more coaches joining the "500 win club."

"It (500 wins) means I've been in the position a long time," said Eggert, who wrestled at Southern Illinois University. "I have a lot of great memories from past teams and I can tell you right now I never forget any of them."

As for the current team, Eggert has known they have the potential to be something special for quite awhile. Now it's just a matter of putting everything together at the right time and getting the job done.

"We knew these guys were coming for a long time and since these guys were eighth graders we knew they had a lot of talent," said Eggert, whose team placed second to powerhouse Marmion Academy at the Barrington tourney. "Every year we would like to find a way to get to the state tournament and there is a lot of work ahead of us."

"At the end of the season we are going to go as far as we can go," added Eggert, who has coached 86 state qualifiers and 19 all-staters overall. "The varsity is very young at the lower weights, but they all won matches (at Barrington)."

The one constant for Libertyville for more than a decade now has been its ongoing rivalry with Grant ever since the Bulldogs joined the NSC in 2001. Grant has been the Wildcats' main nemesis in the NSC with eight conference titles in 13 years. But overall, the rivalry has definitely been a good thing for both programs to help push each other to the limit.

"Dale (Eggert) has set up a program, especially with a public school that a lot of other coaches look to as a model to follow," said Grant coach Ryan Geist. "One thing that sticks out about Dale is his work ethic and that's just hard to match. That's why they're so successful and their longevity is a special thing."

So the stage is set for the team predominantly from the Class of 2014 to go forward and earn their rightful place in Libertyville wrestling history.

The task ahead is a daunting one, but you can bet the Wildcats will always be ready for the challenge!

"The focus is on developing this team right now," added Eggert. "And when they're done I'll never forget them and I'll get ready for the next season. All I can say is when you've been in a position for this long you've got some great memories."

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