By JARED BELL
Over the last 20 years, there are things that you can always count on in life.
Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will always be in the playoffs.
The Bachelor will always be looking for love.
Betty White will still somehow remain relevant.
And the Dakota wrestling team will be a factor at the IHSA State Wrestling Tournament.
For the past two decades under 20th-year coach Peter Alber, the school in northwest Illinois has remained a small-school powerhouse.
Year after year, the Indians – who are once again ranked No. 1 in the Class 1A GO EARN IT Wrestling Apparel team rankings – always have multiple wrestlers in the conversation for a state title and medals.
“When I took over as head coach, were pretty low on numbers, but we always had a way to coach state champions,” said Alber, who was a two-time state medalist and a 1981 state champion himself. “We could always get one or two champions even though we may have only had eight guys out. But then the little kids’ coaches started building their program and that helped us develop into a full, well-balanced team.”
Since the 1973-74 season, Dakota has had 43 state placer winners, including 38 state titles and two four-time state champions (Josh Alber, 2011-14; Seth Milks, 2006-09).
Since 2000, the program has churned out 24 state placer winners who have won a combined 26 state titles, or 1.625 state champions every year since Y2K.
“We have a pretty good blueprint on how to do it now, and we just keep following it,” Peter Alber said. “But we also try to keep tweaking things and learning. We constantly watch and talk to other programs and see what they are doing.”
After all these years, the Indians are continuing to do it right.
After Dakota had nine state medalists including six state champions last season, the program has four kids who will wrestle for a Class 1A state title Saturday night and three more who were alive for a medal heading into Saturday’s wrestlebacks.
“I get all the publicity and every talks to me, but it’s really an effort among all the coaches,” Alber said. “We have such good assistant coaches who are better technician coaches than myself. And we have some great little kid coaches and some great parents. Really, our success is all of that put together.”
On Saturday evening, Dakota will have three wrestlers looking to repeat as state champions as 113-pound senior Alec Henze, 145-pound senior Greg Krulas and 160-pound senior Nathan Olsen are all in the finals, while 170-pound junior Andrew Wenger will wrestle for his first state title.
“It’s been great and wonderful,” Alber said. “What can you say about these kids? Last year, we had seven kids in the finals so to be able to follow it up in this way is great. I’m so proud of all of those guys. They just wrestle tough, wrestle hard and wrestle their hearts out.”
While the focus this weekend is on individuals, those individuals have allowed Dakota to have plenty of team success.
In addition to wrestling the best in the state – regardless of classification – as well as the Midwest, the Indians will face Aurora Central Catholic on Tuesday in the Class 1A Sterling Newman Dual Team Sectional.
To get to the sectional, the Indians had to survive a dogfight at the 1A Polo Regional when they beat No. 3 Byron for Dakota’s fourth-straight regional title and seventh since 2004.
“It was very intense,” Alber said. “They were in front of us all day, but (in the finals) at 152 we finally broke through and took the lead. Our 220-pounder needed to win to seal the deal and he did.”
If the Indians advance to state, they will be looking for their fourth straight dual team state championship and fifth overall.
“I think for these seniors, it’s very important to them,” Alber said. “It would be their fourth ring and, from what I understand, in single A there has never been a public school that has won it four years in a row. A lot is on the line. It’s going to be brutal and not a walkthrough, which is the way it’s supposed to be.”
After years and years of success, the Dakota train keeps on churning and hopes to continue to do so for much, much longer.
“When I took over, I never thought we would be competing with the top teams in the state,” Alber said. “Last year, one thing I was really proud of was at the end of the year we were tied for No 25 in the nation in one poll. That’s unbelievable for us. That was a huge deal and showed us that ‘You know what? We can get there.'”
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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