Like father, like son.
Cole Witzig was just four years old when he started wrestling under the watchful eyes of his dad, Triad High School coach Russ Witzig.
Now 13 years later and a junior at Triad, there is little doubt Witzig has inherited both his dad’s talent and passion for the sport.
“What is it like having him as a coach? That’s tough to answer, because he’s always been my coach. He’s taught me everything I know,’’ Cole Witzig said. “He is very good about leaving everything about wrestling at practice. If I have a tough day at practice, he may show me a different move or technique when we’re home. But that’s it. He treats me like he does everybody else on the team.’’
But on the wrestling mat, Cole Witzig is very different and more successful than most of his teammates.
Third in the 160-pound weight class at the 2014 Class 2A state tournament, Witzig came close to joining his dad as an IHSA state wrestling champion when he placed second at 170 earlier this year.
Russ Witzig won the Class A 171-pound state championship while a student at Tremont High School in 1985. Only a 7-2 loss to Jake Warner of Washington in the 170-pound state title match prevented Cole Witzig from adding another title to the family resume.
“It was an accomplishment to get there, but to work for something all year and then come up just short of reaching your goal, that was disappointing.’’ Witzig said of the state title bout. “It’s all kind of a blur now. I don’t remember much about it. He (Warner) beat me three times this year. Obviously he’s a very good wrestler.’’
A champion in the Mississippi Valley Conference Tournament and a regional and sectional champion, Witzig finished his junior season with a mark of 43-5 and the honor of being named the Belleville News-Democrat co-Wrestler of the Year for the 152- through 285-pound weight divisions.
Russ Witzig, who went on to become an NCAA Division II All-American at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, said he thought his son had a very good year.
“I just wish it could have ended a little better,’’ Witzig said. “Any kid, regardless if he is my son or not, that had the kind of year that Cole did, you are very proud of him.’’
Now taking break from wrestling while playing for right field for the Triad baseball team, Witzig credits his dad and teammates for his second-place finish.
Wrestling on a team which had five medal winners and advanced to the Class 2A dual team state tournament quarterfinals, Witzig said that sometimes his best competition came in the Knights’ practice room.
“I think we had five state qualifiers and each of us were able to bring home medals from the state tournament. We had a very good (wrestling) room this year and wrestling with those guys every night made us better as individuals and as a team,’’ Witzig said. “I knew we would have a good team because we had six or seven very good wrestlers.
“As the season went on I saw the wrestlers in the other weight classes also improve and because of that we were able to qualify for the state team tournament.’’
But the one nemesis Witzig couldn’t beat was Warner.
Of Witzig’s five losses, three were to Warner and two came against Belleville East senior Matt Striegel.
“The two losses to Striegel came when I made a couple of minor mistakes and he was able to take advantage and beat me. The last time I think I beat him by five or six points,’’ Witzig said. “Warner, like I said, is just a very good wrestler.
“What do I need to do better to win a state title next year? Everything. I need to improve in all areas of wrestling.’’
Witzig hopes to wrestle at the collegiate level but is undecided on a school.