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Old 03-11-2009
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Figueroa Named NW Herald Wrestler of the Year

Figueroa triumphs over tragedy

By ROB SMITH
McHenry County Sports / Northwest Herald

HARVARD – The journey from tragedy to champion was a long and sometimes painful progression for Harvard wrestler Sergio Figueroa.

As an 11-year-old living in Mexico, Figueroa was nearby when his father and uncle were killed. His last memory of his father and uncle is of them arguing with the man who would eventually gun them down.

“I was by my dad, and I was asking him for some money to go play some games,” Figueroa said. “They went around the corner, and all I heard was just gunshots.”

Tragedy followed Figueroa to high school.

During his freshman year at Harvard, Figueroa lost another close family member when his cousin, Ulises Rojas-Figueroa, was killed in an automobile crash. Rojas-Figueroa, a former Harvard wrestler, had been a mentor to Figueroa and got Figueroa started in the sport.

The deaths could have soured Figueroa on life.

Instead, they pushed Figueroa to excel, both in school and on the wrestling mat.

“I use it to keep going,” he said. “I want to keep making my dad proud.”

Figueroa, a senior, accomplished the ultimate individual high school wrestling achievement when he won this year’s 112-pound IHSA state championship in Class 1A. It was the capstone to a career that saw him qualify for state each of his four years and take second his sophomore year at 103.

For his accomplishments, Figueroa is the Northwest Herald Wrestler of the Year, as selected by the sports staff with input from local coaches.

“I think what makes him so special is not only the wrestling but the kind of person he is,” Hornets coach Tim Haak said. “He’s really developed into a tremendous leader.”

Other wrestlers strongly considered for the honor were Crystal Lake Central’s Trevor Jauch and Joey Kielbasa, both sophomores. Jauch won a state title at 112, and Kielbasa was the state champion at 140, both in Class 2A.

During his four-year career at Harvard, Figueroa compiled a 151-26 record. Haak said Figueroa’s win total ranks as the most in Harvard history.

Despite the great individual accomplishments, Figueroa said what he will remember most about high school wrestling are the bonds he developed with his teammates.

Some of that closeness came from competing together, but a great deal came from the hours spent in training and practice. Surviving the grueling practices is both a rite of passage and a bonding experience.

“Our practices are a grind,” Haak said. “If we truly want to improve on the mat, we have to go through it. I think that’s what builds that bond. They don’t want to let each other down.”

Haak said Figueroa and senior Brian Lovell have been practice partners since they started high school and have served as opponents and cheerleaders for each other. Lovell placed second in the state this year at 119.

“I think they’re both very unselfish,” Haak said. “Every tournament, every meet they want each other to do so well. There’s no jealousy between them.”

Lovell and Figueroa often traveled to offseason tournaments together and put in extra time during the season practicing or watching film together. It is those experiences that Figueroa will miss the most.

“Just hanging out with my wrestling teammates,” Figueroa said. “I’m always going to remember that.”

The memories might never have been if not for Figueroa’s decision to try wrestling, in part to deal with the turmoil in his life. Figueroa is certain that wrestling not only provided him the opportunity for tremendous athletic achievement but also, in a real sense, kept his life from spiraling downward.

“I think it would have been nothing,” Figueroa said of his life without wrestling. “I don’t think I would be anywhere I am now."
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Last edited by admin; 03-11-2009 at 10:35 AM. Reason: formatting
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