Seniors Robye Williams (left) and Brian Ingram hope to lead a Vikings wrestling program in transition this winter. (David P. Funk/HF Chronicle)
Sports

H-F wrestling believes culture prevents rebuilding years

Don’t expect Homewood-Flossmoor boys wrestling to call this a rebuilding year, even if the team did lose maybe the best senior class in school history. 

Seniors Robye Williams (left) and Brian Ingram hope to lead a Vikings wrestling program in transition this winter. (David P. Funk/HF Chronicle)
Seniors Robye Williams (left) and Brian Ingram hope to lead a Vikings
wrestling program in transition this winter. (David P. Funk/HF Chronicle)

Coach Jim Sokoloski believes, in his fourth year at the helm, that his program has developed an atmosphere that allows it to be perpetually competitive. The big names and Division I recruits may not be there, but Sokoloski thinks this group may actually be a better dual team.

“Our depth is way better. We have a pretty solid, full lineup,” Sokoloski said. “More kids want to wrestle and more kids are serious about wrestling. They’re not just wrestling because it’s something to do. It’s a destination sport. The culture has completely changed.” 

The Vikings advanced eight individuals to the sectional a year ago. Six of those wrestlers are gone, with only Brian Ingram and Robye Williams returning. 

No one in the room has a number next to his name in the preseason Illinois MatMen rankings. Only Williams is listed as an honorable mention at 132 pounds. 

The loss of unique talent like Vincent Robinson, who now wrestles for North Carolina State, will hurt the most. Coaches hope the guys still in the room don’t try to be Robinson but instead take the lessons he left and put them to use.

“Leadership’s been an issue because Vincent was such a rock. We’re trying to figure out who will be there. You can’t really force a kid to be a leader. You just kind of become that,” Sokoloski said. “I always tell them ‘Our voices wear thin. Eventually, you’re going to tune me out.’ I don’t care how good you are or how bad you are. One of them needs to step up.”

Ingram and Williams say they can be that voice. Williams is entering his fourth season on the varsity roster, so he was around and able to learn from that group for three years. 

“We lost some dogs. They were just big brothers to me,” he said. “If somebody’s down, we need to just pick them up. I’m very much lead by example. If I see somebody not working hard, I’ll get on them, make them work harder.” 

The schedule doesn’t get any easier. H-F’s slate is about as loaded as any in the country, with trips to the Walsh Ironman and Powerade tournaments in Pennsylvania, along with the Carnahan Invitational in Crown Point, Indiana. The Vikings will see some of the best competition in the country. 

All three of those events are in December.

“We need to go into tournaments and just show people that H-F is still the same team even without the same seniors,” Ingram said. “When you go to something like the Powerade, even if you don’t win, you get to see what it takes to get there. You might think that you work as hard as you need to but you go to a tournament like that and finish in last place and you learn that you don’t.” 

Sokoloski hopes that experience will sharpen the Vikings by the time the state series arrives.

“Just because you don’t have a guy who’s top five in the country doesn’t mean you don’t want to expose them to that. I think that’s important to show that you can be there if you want to put in that work,” Sokoloski said. 

There are between 120 and 130 wrestlers in H-F’s two wrestling rooms, Sokoloski said. That’s a not-insignificant improvement from last season and a huge jump from four or five years ago. It’s especially impressive because H-F doesn’t quite yet have a proper feeder system, which is in the process of being built. 

There are eight or nine year-round wrestlers on the roster, though. That’s more than there were last season. 

“I think we’ll be a much more complete team. I don’t know what that’s going to mean in (the Carnahan). I don’t know how many guys are going to make the finals,” Sokoloski said. “I’m excited but I’d be lying if I said I knew what was going to happen. We’ve just got to start competing and seeing what these guys do against guys in other colors than our own.” 

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