Wednesday, Aug 16, 2017

Figueroa joins Hornets wrestling staff

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Harvard High School assistant wrestling coach Sergio Figueroa watches on as the Hornets wrestle Belvidere North Nov. 25. Figueroa, who won the IHSA Class A state championship in the 112-pound weight class in 2009, joined the team before the season. HML photo by Jay Schulz

The retirement of Harvard High School wrestling coach Tim Haak left the Hornets short a couple of coaches this winter as Haak’s long-time assistants Todd Streit and Dave Abel also stepped away from the team, leaving new head coach Mark Payne with only Mike Vest and Todd Ramberg on his staff.

One of those openings was filled right before the season as former Hornet standout Sergio Figueroa joined the team as a volunteer coach. Figueroa, who graduated in 2009, won the IHSA Class A state championship in the 112-pound weight class his senior year and finished second at 103 his sophomore year. He qualified for the Illinois Elementary School Association state tournament in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, and qualified for the IHSA state tournament in all four years of high school.

“[Payne] reached out to me and asked what I thought about joining the program,” Figueroa said. “Obviously, having wrestled for Harvard, I have always wanted to give back [to the program], and I have wanted to be a coach, so I took advantage of the opportunity. … I’m really excited to be part of the program.”

Payne said Figueroa has fit in well.

“Being young, he is still able to work with the kids as far as live competition goes,” Payne said. “He works with a lot of our guys. It’s a real good situation for me because of his knowledge of the sport, the success he’s had individually with the sport. I feel very comfortable and confident letting him take a large group of wrestlers and working on technique with them. … He’s been a really nice addition.”

The wrestlers, who are aware of his accomplishments, are not intimidated by Figueroa.

“Sergio is a very, very humble individual,” Payne said. “I’ve never heard him speak about his state championship. Just talking with him you would never guess he’s had that much success, but I really enjoy having that humble attitude in the room because it rubs off on the kids.

“The kids all know his name is up on the board in the practice room. His picture is up just outside [the practice room]. It definitely gives him a lot of credence with the kids.”

“They ask me about [winning state],” Figueroa said. “I get a lot of good feedback from them. I try to tell them don’t just make winning state your goal. Make [your goal] to become a better wrestler.”

Figueroa, who works at Gage Marine in Williams Bay, Wis., said coaching is a different animal.

“It’s a whole new world,” Figueroa said. “I’m on this side of the mat now. I like it. I love helping the kids, helping them become the people they want to be and helping them achieve their goals just like coach Haak and his staff did for me. “I try to help them technique-wise. If they are doing something wrong, correct it. If they are doing something good, help them get better at it.”

The Hornets are 16-7 on the season. They finished fifth out of 32 teams in the Midstates Wrestling Tournament at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Dec. 29 and 30. The team is building to the IHSA Class A regional tournament Saturday, Feb. 7, at Rockford Lutheran High School.

“The goal is to get as close to 100 percent healthy as we can by the time we get to regionals,” Payne said. “Our focus is regionals, sectionals and state.”

Figueroa said he misses the competition but said he is hopeful to continue coaching.

“I definitely miss [wrestling],” Figueroa said. “But it helps that I am wrestling with the kids. … I miss it, but the only thing I can do is coach. I’m here now. I’ve got my foot in the door. Why not? [Coaching] is what I want to do.”