Entering his final season at the helm of Harvard’s wrestling program, Tim Haak faced some tough challenges.
The Hornets got moved into Class 2A for the first time since wrestling went to three classes in the 2008-2009 school year. While Harvard had a good group of experienced wrestlers, how they would fare up a class was a question mark.
After struggling early in the season, in part because the football team made it to the state quarterfinals, Harvard began to build momentum as the year went along to finish 22-6 in dual meets. Three of those losses came against Class 3A teams and five came in the first two weeks of the season.
In what can only be described as an upset, outside of Harvard anyway, the Hornets upended Crystal Lake Central, which had just won the Fox Valley Conference Tournament, to win the Hampshire Regional.
Haak said the goal this year was to build depth, even if that meant sacrificing some team points at tournaments. He credits that focus for their regional success where 13 of 14 wrestlers placed and 11 qualified for sectionals.
“We gave up the fact that we weren’t going to place high in tournaments,” Haak said. “That paid off in the regional. That depth really made a difference.”
The regional win advanced Harvard to the Antioch Dual Team Sectional where they beat Lakes, 63-12 and earn a trip to state as a team.
For these accomplishments, Haak is the Northwest Herald Wrestling Coach of the Year, as selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
Also given very strong consideration was the Tigers’s Justen Lehr. Central qualified seven wrestlers for sectionals and seven for state where they all earned place medals.
While Haak did not want to focus on this being his last year, he understood that it was a big deal for his team who wanted to do well for him.
“At times maybe it did,” Haak said of the impact of his last season. “I know we wrestled awfully well in the regional. Our kids are going to give great effort.”
Christian Kramer said that even though Haak didn’t play up his departure, it was certainly at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
“We definitely wanted to wrestle the best for Coach Haak’s last year, and stay focused,” Kramer said.
Maybe even more of an impact was the camaraderie of the close-knit team.
“The biggest thing is they’re such a close group, they didn’t want it to end,” Haak said. “They’re disappointed in the loss but not nearly as disappointed in the finality of it.”
Part of building depth, Haak said, is developing wrestlers from an early age. That means helping kids get better regardless of their skill level.
“I really think that’s been one of our strengths, we have unselfish coaches from the club on up,” Haak said. “Sometimes coaches only want to work with the good ones.”
And while Haak did not start the wrestling program in Harvard and it will certainly continue to excel after he’s gone, for the past 27 years he has been the one constant in the program.
“It’s been my honor to coach there; to love the sport as much as we do in a community that loves the sport,” Haak said.