Most Improved Wrestler Award
(originated in 1984)
The Coaching Staff in the late 80’s felt like a wrestler could come a long way in one wrestling season, that the only thing holding our wrestlers back from making great progress was their own limits. In 1989, how far we felt a wrestler could come in a season got extended even more. Gregg Broege was a very active wrestler in Junior High at Highland Junior High. Although he was behind his classmates in physical maturity, he was a fighter and very interested in the sport. Although not overly technical, Gregg was a good rider on top and a headlocking head-hunter on the feet. He came out freshman year and had a good week of practice. After practice that first Saturday, he was involved in a car accident and hurt his neck. He sat out of practice for a couple of weeks before it became obvious he would not be able to participate any more that season. He couldn’t get the doctor’s okay his sophomore or junior year either as he sat out all sports. By his senior year, he wasn’t certain his neck would hold up. But he was real tired of not being in sports and he knew this would probably be his last chance at wrestling. He got the doctor’s okay to come out. By now though, he was heavy (around 220) from his freshman weight of 155. And he was very out of shape. But he still had his headlock and he could still ride on top. He split time early in the season with another senior 275 who was on the short and light side as well. Gregg was 2-2 on Varsity after two weeks along with winning the JV Championship at Glenbard North. He clearly beat out his rival for the 3rd week of the season and held on to the starting position the rest of the season. He went 4-0 over the next two weeks and could now start to see how some extra effort in conditioning would allow him more success than he thought possible at the start of the season. He became a regular morning conditioner focusing on pummeling work and bike riding. His weight started dropping while his conditioning went up. He lost a match in the first round of a Holiday tournament, and another one during the first week of duals after the Holiday break. But that was it until the State Tournament. He went undefeated through the last two weeks of duals before the post-season tournaments. He won the Conference, the Regional, and the Sectional, all against some huge opponents. His transformation from just a regular student, who hadn’t participated in sports for 3 years, to a State Qualifier was unbelievable. We decided to begin an award for the wrestler who makes the most progress from the start of the regular season to the end because of Gregg’s story.
2021 Co-Most Improved Wrestlers:
Matt Kubas - Cole Matulenko
Two first year varsity wrestlers shared the Most Improved Wrestler Award. Freshman Matt Kubas took the 152 spot and went 28-9, taking second in the Regionals, 3rd in the Sectionals to qualify for state. Then at state he won three matches including knocking off a returning All-State wrestler to finish 6th, becoming the first Libertyville Wrestling Freshman All-Stater. He was named to the All-Conference team.
Sophomore Cole Matulenko filled in at 182, 195, and 220, where ever he was needed. At the Regionals he took the 220 pound spot even though he only weighed 180. He was able to finish 3rd to qualify for Sectionals where he won a match. He put together an 18-9 record and was named an All-Conference Honorable Mention.
2020 Most Improved Wrestler:
Josh was in his first year of varsity for his sophomore year. He was 14-0 on the Frosh level in 2019, 9-4 on the JV level. But he was all in for Freestyle and Greco-Roman in the off-season, earning a spot in the Fargo Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals along with qualifying for the Frosh-Soph State. He started at 160 and went 33-16, winning the Lake County and Regional titles. He lost in the Sectional Quarterfinals but won three straight wrestlebacks, each over seniors, to qualify for the state tournament.
2019 Most Improved Wrestler:
Junior Eddie Downing was in his second year in wrestling. He came out for the first time his sophomore and missed half the year. We needed him as the starting 285. At one point in the season he was 2-9. But then he began turning it around, going 12-7 the rest of the way, taking third in the Lake County Invite and third in the Regionals to qualify for Sectionals.
2018 Most Improved Wrestler:
Senior Josh Groskopf first came out for wrestling as a sophomore. He wasn’t in the best of fitness (a stellar video game player he says). Once out for wrestling, Josh became very diligent in his work efforts. He won 4 JV matches as a sophomore, 17 JV matches as a junior, then won 20 varsity matches as a senior, taking 3rd in the Regionals to qualify for Sectionals. And in the process of his three years involved in wrestling he completely transformed his physique.
2017 Most Improved Wrestler:
Senior Ryan Cleary was in his second year as a regular starter as our 182 pounder. But in his junior year he had just 5 wins. This year he raised his win total to 17, placing 4th in the Lake County Invite and 6th in the Glenbrook South Invite. His top win was a 14-13 win over a Hononegah wrestler despite being down by 6 points heading into the 3rd period.
2016 Most Improved Wrestlers:
Mike Hogan & Brian Vickers
There have been ties in the voting before but I would always break them in the past. This year there was a tie between seniors Mike Hogan and Brian Vickers. But since they were both first year varsity wrestlers, good practice wrestlers, won some great matches, and were good team members, this is our first team voting tie. Mike was the starting 132 where he won 8 matches. He was the team leader in scoring with the turk move, including two matches where he turked his opponent into pins. Brian was the starting 160 and won 13 matches including the #4 match of the year in the Palatine Invite where he scored 4 points in the last 5 seconds to send the match into overtime, then scored the winning takedown.
2015 Most Improved Wrestler:
Sophomore Alex Mitchell was the starting 106 all season in his first year as a varsity starter. He went 26-13, won the Conference Tournament title, placed 2nd in the Regionals, and won 3 Sectional matches, missing the state tournament by one match. He was a very aggressive wrestler with a good gas tank that could put a lot of pressure on his opponents.
2014 Most Improved Wrestler:
Senior Colton Bast was in his first season as a varsity starter at 160. He finished the season 2nd in the Conference, 2nd in the Regionals (nearly beating the Warren wrestler that placed 2nd in the State), and missed the State Tournament by one match, losing an overtime match in the Consolation Semifinals of the Sectionals. His record was 25-15 with 5 pins. He was an aggressive shooter with a good arm bar series on top.
2013 Most Improved Wrestler:
Junior Austin Koziol was in his second season as a varsity starter. As a sophomore 170, he went 18-21 and qualified for Sectionals. A couple of weeks after his sophomore season ended, Austin underwent shoulder surgery that cost him all possibilities of off-season training and competition. Nonetheless, he went 28-11 this season placing 2nd in the Conference, 2nd in the Regionals, and 2nd in the Sectionals to qualify for the State Tournament. He also developed an arm drag to leg steal single leg that should serve as an example for many of his upper body teammates.
2012 Most Improved Wrestler:
A year ago, sophomore Steve Polakowski was our starting freshmen 112. A year later he was the varsity 113, going 31-10, winning the Conference and Regional titles while taking 4th in the Sectionals to qualify for State, clearly a mainstay on our team. An off-season of 133 matches did the trick. He added an inside step single as well as turning floats into singles that usually got him off to early leads in his matches.
2011 Most Improved Wrestler:
Freshmen Noah Strong was the only 103 we had in the program. But he had very little wrestling experience. He was told he would have to go 103 for some of our Lake Division dual meets, perhaps just try to not get pinned. He did his job as he was asked. But halfway through the season he won a JV tournament including getting a revenge win. From that point on he was in every varsity match and finished with 9 wins including a Conference Tournament revenge win and a Regional win.
2010 Most Improved Wrestler:
This vote could have gone a lot of ways. All the nominees were either wrestlers already on varsity that put in significantly better years, or top notch JV wrestlers from the year before that shined in their first varsity role. In a very close race, junior Luke Gaeth was named the Most Improved Wrestler. After a good JV season a year ago, with minimal varsity experience, Luke was a force in our lineup this year. He held down the 119 spot all season and fashioned a 34-13 record. He placed 3rd at Barrington, 3rd at Hoffman Estates, 7th at Dvorak, 2nd at Conference, 3rd at Regionals, and was one match from qualifying for the State Tournament.
2009 Most Improved Wrestler:
Everything about Senior Pat Callan’s career was late. He came out for wrestling for the first time as a freshman. He didn’t become a varsity starter until his senior year. He never got much off-season wrestling in since he was also out for football and track. But once in the varsity lineup, Pat’s game took off. He took 5th at Barrington the first week of the season. He went on to go 39-17 winning the Conference title, the Regional title, and taking 3rd in the Sectional to qualify for the State Tournament. Pat was a scorer and a pinner, finishing with 15 pins and taking 2nd in the Pin/Extra Point Win contest with 56 points. He ran the hurdles in track for Augustana.
2008 Most Improved Wrestler:
Senior Jake Hogan was an above average underlevel wrestler so it wasn’t a surprise that he got some varsity time as a junior. As our 215 starter he went 10-14 with no tournament places. He was a new man his senior year as he went 38-10 with a team high 22 pins. He started early as he pinned 5 guys in a row in the consolation bracket of the Barrington Tournament in taking 3rd place and winning the tournament’s Most Falls award. He also placed 5th at Dvorak, 2nd at Conference, and 3rd in Regionals to qualify for Sectionals along with having some huge wins in helping our team finish 4th in the Dual Team State.
2007 Most Improved Wrestler:
Junior Logan Miller was given the varsity 160 spot his sophomore season. He finished with a 7-18 record. But he learned a lot and got tougher. He put it together his junior year as he finished 31-11, winning the Regional and Lake Park titles, placing 2nd in the Conference, 4th at Stagg, and reaching the semifinals of Sectionals. He did it be getting a solid Russian tie, an elbow pass shot off it, developing a single counter, and getting out on the bottom with a pressure twist stand up. He had excellent conditioning that allowed him to fight guys much more experienced than himself. He had the #3 match of the season when he knocked off a returning State Qualifier from St. Rita that had been ranked #3 in the State at the time of the match.
2006 Most Improved Wrestler:
Junior Alex Petraroli came out for wrestling for the first time as a freshman. He was a 171 backup to a wrestler the ended his wrestling career after his freshman season. As a sophomore, Alex figured to be a winning JV wrestler. But we needed someone to take the 215 varsity spot. Alex was willing despite sometimes giving up 30 pounds. He certainly learned how to fight and was incredibly difficult to pin. But he had a hard time winning finishing just 6-25. His junior year, Alex weighed about 5 pounds more and again took the 215 spot. But this time, he was winning as he finished 26-12 while finishing 3rd in the Conference and 2nd in the Regionals.
2005 Most Improved Wrestler:
Junior Vinnie Sapienza came out for wrestling for the first time as a freshman. He went 5-4 in a season limited by a back injury. As a sophomore, he finished a little above .500 on the Sophomore level. As a junior, he was slated to be a key factor in the varsity lineup as our team was very thin in the upper weights. Vinnie weighed in at 171 each meet and split time at 171/189. He went on to a 29-14 record, much of it at the much higher 189 weight class. He placed 4th in the Conference, Regionals, and Lake Park tournaments and placed 5th at Stagg. He went up to 215 for a key win in the Team Sectional finals against Grant.
2004 Most Improved Wrestler:
Junior Simon Bortz came out for wrestling for the first time as a freshmen. He got the 145 pound starting spot, but went 6-13. He made some strides his sophomore year as he went 15-11 on the Sophomore level. His junior year got off to a slow start as he spent the first 3 weeks of the season with the Varsity Football team as they went to the State Finals. But once he came back, he starting to tear up JV competition at 171. He had developed a lot of strength in the off-season and was putting it to good use. During the second half of the season, Simon was getting some varsity time - and he was winning. After winning the JV Conference, he got the call for the starting spot in the Regionals. He finished 4th but had a key pin against a Mundelein opponent that helped clinch the Regional Team Title. He also had the win the wrapped up our 32-31 win over Conant in the Dual Team Sectional semifinals, beating an opponent 5-0 that had beaten him earlier in the season.
2003 Most Improved Wrestler:
After being a junior high basketball player, and having a solid freshman season (6-1 freshmen record, 19-4 on JV), sophomore David Moosman stepped into the varsity 275 spot and completely blossomed into a state caliber wrestler. He went 39-5 with 17 pins. He won the Conference, Regional, and Sectional titles to earn a trip to the State Tournament. He won the Lyons title, placed 2nd at Stagg, and 5th at the Dvorak. He would play four years of football for the University of Michigan, starting on the offensive line two years.
2002 Most Improved Wrestler:
Two weeks before his freshman winter sports season was to begin, Sophomore Bobby Callen was all set to go out for basketball. But he had a change of heart at the last minute and gave wrestling his first shot. It was a good move. He was the 130 pound starter for the Freshmen team, finishing 13-7, but never winning a tournament. During that off-season, Bobby became totally dedicated to wrestling. He wrestled in over 30 spring matches, went to 4 wrestling camps, and never missed a weight lifting session. His improvement was obvious right from the start. After winning the 119 pound spot from two returning varsity letter winners, he made a name for himself in the varsity lineup immediately. He went on to win the Conference and Regional titles while finishing 4th in the Sectionals, one spot shy of the State Tournament. He beat a two time State Qualifier from Barrington in the process, our team’s #1 ranked match of the season. Bobby’s final record was 29-7.
2001 Most Improved Wrestler:
Senior Sean Weppler didn’t come into his freshman season with a lot of experience. His freshman year he was a part time starter. He started in all the Sophomore tournaments the next year but never won a championship. His junior year, he was a regular on the JV level, but 0-3 on varsity. In the off-seasons, he always worked hard on his weights. But his senior year, he came as far as he ever did. His best weight would have been 135, maybe even 130. But the team needed him at 140. He jumped out to a 14-2 record including winning the Lyons Tournament. He eventually finished 29-8 and finished 4th in the Regionals at 140.
2000 Most Improved Wrestler:
When the season opened up, Sophomore Jeff Reiss was our 112 pounder and not getting many wins in his first season of varsity competition. He saw an opening at 103 and decided to make the huge push to get there. He made it a few times before the winter break, but also missed it a few times. He started making it for good after the break and the wins started coming. He also wrestled a fast and rough pace making him a good wrestler to open meets for us. He eventually won the Conference and Regional Championships and made 103 a strong spot in our lineup. This would be his last year at LHS as Vernon Hills opened up and Jeff was a two year starter for VH, qualifying for Sectionals each year.
1999 Most Improved Wrestler:
One of the toughest weights in our Conference and Regionals was 119. Dave Tajak had been a freshmen starter the year before but didn’t get any varsity experience. He got the call at 119 in this his sophomore year and took on the tough task of meeting experienced opponents just about every meet. He had a tough time getting wins early. But by the end of the season he was right with the experienced opponents. In the second half of the season, he earned impressive wins in our key duals with Antioch and Cary-Grove. In the Regionals he upset a returning Sectional Qualifier from Mundelein in the first round. He made his improvement by developing a good crossgrain and carry on his feet. He got very adept at finding hands on the bottom and well as in counters on his feet.
1998 Most Improved Wrestler:
Angelo Zografos had been in the program since his freshman year. But he didn’t get many matches in. His class was very big as freshmen and he was behind in experience so he didn’t get any starting time. He had one exhibition win as a freshman. As a sophomore he got 4 exhibitions wins. As a junior, he was getting real strong from steady weight lifting and from being a pole vaulter for the Track team. The ability was there but the experience still wasn’t. Our team was having some trouble filling the 125 weight class his junior year. Angelo got some of the time when some of the other guys trying to make 125 couldn’t. By the end of the season, Angelo was our 125 starter. He got a win in the Conference that placed him 4th. He had the key win in our 26-20 win in the Dual Team Regionals over Stevenson. But at the season’s end, Angelo had just 3 Varsity wins, just 8 wins on all levels for 3 years. His senior year, he won the 135 spot. He was even more talented than the year before. He had a lot of strength, a great grip, and great balance. But he was hovering around the .500 mark two weeks before the post-season tournaments. That’s when his conditioning and confidence kicked in. He went 4-0 the week before the Conference Tournament including a win over a Maine West wrestler who eventually qualified for State. The next week, he went into the Conference Tournament unseeded. He proceeded to knock off the #3, #2, and #1 seeds en route to his Conference Championship. He placed 4th in the Regionals but came back in the Team Regionals and knocked off the Stevenson wrestler he lost to in the 3rd place Regional match.
1997 Most Improved Wrestler:
Mike Padula had been a solid starter on the Freshmen and Sophomore teams. The only sign that could indicate that Mike could be a little snake bit was in the fact that he had reached the finals of 4 tournaments his sophomore year and came away with 2nd each time. His junior year (1996), Mike was looking tough physically and technically. But he couldn’t beat out the varsity starters in challenges. He was doing well on JV. He was getting some varsity time here and there. And he was looking good against good competition. But he couldn’t win. He was 0-8 heading into the Dual Team Sectionals. He got the starting spot when the starter came down with mono after the Regionals. Mike defeated his Cary-Grove opponent 8-1 in a key win since we only won the meet by 3 points. But it was his only varsity win of the season. His senior year, Mike was the starting 135 pounder all season. He won 3 invitationals, placed 2nd in the Conference and the Regionals, and won the Sectional Tournament in a 13-6 finals over a Lake Forest wrestler that had beaten three times during the season and eventually placed 6th in the State. Although Mike’s apparent progress in a year’s time was tremendous, Mike showed signs the previous year that a major breakthrough was certainly a possibility.
1996 Most Improved Wrestler:
Chris Muraski was a successful wrestler for Highland in junior high. He was real tough on the Freshmen Football field. So it broke our hearts when he decided to not go out for wrestling freshman year because he wanted to lift weights. By his sophomore year, Chris felt he could lift weights and still go out for a sport he had had some previous success in. It was obvious right away that he made the right decision. He was destroying JV competition and was 12-2 through the first half of the season. He got the 145 pound spot when the starter went out with an injury. He ran off 8 straight varsity wins. He kept his starting position the rest of the season and finished 4th in the Regionals.
1995 Most Improved Wrestler:
Matt Hansen spent his 8th grade winter playing basketball, a lot of basketball. He was a starter for the Junior Wildcats Traveling Team. But he was attracted to the individual side of wrestling. We were going to be hurting at 103 on varsity and were already looking towards the Freshmen team for some help. The Freshmen team had about 6 103s, several with some junior high experience. Matt was a good competitor. But he was inexperienced and he was #3 on the freshmen depth chart through the first half of the season. He got the freshmen starting spot about midway through the year though. And he started getting varsity matches near the end of the season. He placed 2nd in the JV Conference. He got the Varsity spot for the Regionals. He went 3-1 with just a semifinal loss in taking 3rd place to qualify for the Sectionals.
1994 Most Improved Wrestler:
Freshmen Sam Valenti beat out some sophomores to win the 119 varsity spot. But since he was a IESA 4th place finisher in the State Tournament, Sam being the starter wasn’t too big of a shock. He was a heck of a competitor. But his lack of varsity physical development was costing him some matches. He still managed to stay a match or two above .500. He placed 4th in the Conference losing a second week in a row against a Lake Forest wrestler. He won an overtime match in the Regionals to reach the finals against his Lake Forest rival. This time Sam beat him handily 8-2. This gave him a good position in the Sectionals. He won two matches against a semifinal loss to reach the Sectional 3rd place match against a returning State Qualifier from McHenry. Sam lost, but it was a 9-8 match that went right down to the wire after Sam had been pinned by this guy earlier in the season.
1993 Most Improved Wrestler:
We knew we were going to be hurting at 103 when the season opened up. The only upperclass(wo)man to go 103 was Margaret LeGates, the first LHS female wrestler. And she only had one career win on JV to her credit. The only help we could see from the Freshmen team were two 90 pounders. Margaret could beat them but she couldn’t win on the Varsity mat. Ryan Pearson was over 103. But he was close and after a couple of weeks he got to 103. It was his first year of wrestling though. He was a Highland Junior High Basketball player as an 8th grader and needed a lot of experience before we would have thought about putting him in on Varsity. Late in the season, it seemed like time. He was leading in his first match on varsity but was pinned with :10 left. He got the Conference spot but lost first round to the #3 seed and didn’t get a wrestleback. In the Regionals however, Ryan won two matches including a semifinal pin over the #2 seed from Highland Park to reach the finals and earning a Sectional spot.
1992 Most Improved Wrestler:
Bob Paulson went out for wrestling as a freshman. He got a starting freshmen spot at 119 and had a good record. He was hoping to compete with the varsity wrestlers his sophomore year perhaps getting some varsity time. But the varsity was deep around his weight (135). He opened the season after the pre-season challenges as the #4 man at 135. He built up a good record on the JV level. But through the first half of the season, each of the 3 wrestlers ahead of him had vacated the spot due to injuries or quitting. Bob got his first shot at varsity for a holiday tournament. He went 0-2. But the Varsity job was his for the rest of the season. He was well below .500. But we had a tough schedule and Bob was clearly making improvement. He had to sit out of the Conference Tournament due to too many JV Tournaments if he was going to compete in the Regionals. But the week off didn’t hurt him. He came into the Regionals unseeded and he drew the #3 seed from Stevenson. He beat him 9-5 to set up a semifinals against the #2 seed from North Chicago. This was close for awhile, but Bob buried him at the end 16-7 to reach the finals and earn a Sectional spot. He won his Sectional prelim but lost in the first round. He got a wrestleback when his opponent reached the finals. His wrestleback opponent was a 28 match winner from Palatine. Bob wasn’t up to .500 yet. But Bob beat him 8-4 to reach the 3rd place match, one spot shy of the State Tournament. He lost to a Carmel wrestler who eventually placed 6th in the State.
1991 Most Improved Wrestler:
Kevin Wolnik had been a .500 wrestler on the Freshmen team and a little above as a sophomore wrestler in mostly exhibition matches. Before his junior year, Kevin came a long way in his physical development. He won a close battle for the 145 varsity spot. Although he was very physical at this point, he wasn’t winning any of the close matches. He went into the Conference Tournament unseeded. At the time, the North Suburban Conference was a 10 team Conference which meant there were two rag tail matches at each weight. Kevin got one and won a close match over another unseeded Lake Forest wrestler. With the team in the hunt for the team title, we figured those were two big points. In the first round, he went against the 4th seed from Niles North. He won another close match to reach the semifinals. In the semifinals, he met the #1 seed from Fenton. He scored a late reversal to win 4-2 to enter the finals. There he beat the #2 seed from Antioch in his 4th close match of the day. He was the first, and only, rag tail wrestler to ever reach the Conference Tournament finals, let along with the title. He matched his performance the next week and won the Regional Tournament although this time he was seeded #2. A close loss in the Sectionals ended his post-season tournament run. He finished a couple of matches below .500 but had definitely turned himself into a winner through the course of the season.
1990 Most Improved Wrestler:
Benny Cho came out for wrestling for the first time as a freshman. Cross-Country as a freshman had been the only sport he had ever done. But he made friends with classmate Mike Baumann who was a very interested wrestler (and eventual state champion). Mike got Benny to come out. He went 1-8 as a freshman, usually getting hammered by stronger and much more experienced wrestlers. As a sophomore, he was the sophomore starter at 112 in tournaments since no one else was there. He scrambled for exhibition matches in dual meets. As a junior, he was the only wrestler in the program at 112 so he got the varsity job. He was well below .500 through most of the season. But he was a very bright kid and very coachable. He started to win all the matches he had a chance in. He eventually finished 4th in the Conference and Regionals, winning two close matches in both meets which were valuable in our team winning both team titles.