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By GARY LARSEN
Patrick Brucki wrestles the way just about every Carl Sandburg wrestler seems to wrestle: on an even keel, without expression.
That’s the way the Eagles’ coaching staff likes it, especially at a big tournament like this year’s Rex Whitlatch Invite at Hinsdale Central.
“It’s a business trip,” Brucki said. “We can see our buddies from other teams and interact with friends, but when it comes down to it, we’re here for a job.
“Our coaches preach to us the art of composure and focus, which is crucial in a sport like this. It’s important to show nothing because the first thing an opponent sees on you is whatever emotion you show in your face.”
Brucki is the top-ranked Class 3A wrestler at 195 pounds in Illinois Matmen’s Go Earn It Wrestling Apparel rankings.
Brucki was all business throughout this year’s two-day Whitlatch Tournament. He improved to 19-0 and won his second consecutive Whitlatch title with a win over Plainfield North’s Matt Hennessey.
The even-keeled demeanor of the Princeton-bound Brucki isn’t something Sandburg coach Eric Siebert ever had to instill in his senior.
“The thing that sets him apart from all the great athletes and students we’ve had is his level of maturity,” Siebert said. “He does not carry himself as an 18-year-old. He walks around like a 25- or a 28-year-old. That’s just Patrick Brucki. He’s been that way since he was a kid.”
Brucki posted three pins to reach the Whitlatch title mat and built a considerable lead before Hennessey was disqualified in the third period.
Brucki finished third downstate at 182 pounds as a sophomore and second at 182 last season to Marmion’s Nathan Traxler. Brucki gives all credit to Traxler for his state title win but wishes he would have done a few things slightly different last season.
“I trained the hardest I ever trained last year and I burnt myself out,” Brucki said. “I over-trained. But I’ve got nobody to blame for losing in the finals but myself and there’s no one I would have rather lost to.
“(A state title) is exactly the goal this year. I have plenty of motivation, more than I need, to get the job done this year at the state tournament.”
The Sandburg practice room is in possession of one particular motivating factor for Brucki, in the form of a certain former University of Illinois wrestler.
“One of our assistant coaches is Joe Barczak,” Siebert said. “He’s a former wrestler for Grant high school and for U of I. He was a U of I starter at 197 and he’s been in the practice room every day, and every day he and Patrick are wrestling for a minimum of a half hour.
“That has been instrumental in Patrick’s success, so Joe Barczak deserves a mention. Joe provides him with an everyday accountability that Patrick needs because if he doesn’t have a good day in the room, he’s going to get his butt whipped. I really believe that’s going to take him to the next level.”
That next level includes a future college career wrestling at Princeton, where Brucki committed to wrestle before the season.
“My final couple schools were Stanford, Princeton, Northwestern and I was considering the University of Illinois and Michigan,” Brucki said. “Ultimately, Princeton just felt like the best fit for me in terms of the coaching staff and it being a prestigious academic school.”
Brucki’s move up to 195 pounds this year was a natural progression, since he was coming down from roughly 200 pounds last year in order to wrestle at 182. That’s not the only change he’s made, aware as he is of the dangers of over-training.
“I’ll feel guilty if I give myself a day off once in a while,” Brucki said. “But that’s what your body needs sometimes and you’ve got to listen to your body. Last year I was banged up but I wouldn’t even care, and that’s not the right way to go about it. Being as healthy as possible is much more beneficial.”
Brucki’s high school career has played out in a way that seems common to the state’s best wrestlers, having inched closer each year to the top of the awards stand in Champaign.
But even though he’s top-ranked and in position to make arguably his best run yet at an individual state title, Brucki is taking nothing for granted.
“Every year you’ve got new guys who step up as seniors and they’re the best in the state,” Brucki said. “But the truth is, there’s always somebody bigger and better. That’s the humble reality and the sooner that wrestlers accept that, instead of a cocky or overconfident mindset, it becomes more of a hungry mindset. And that’s when the transition can happen.”
That’s some quality analysis and wisdom for a senior in high school.
“We knew when he was young that he was going to be special,” Siebert said. “Taking third and taking second is going to add fuel but he doesn’t really need it. He’s his own worst critic and he holds himself very accountable. He comes off the mat and he’s giving himself feedback before you’re able to do it, and he’s saying basically everything you were going to say, it makes a coach’s life and job that much easier.”