There was a solid number of established veterans around to lead the two-time Southeast Conference champion Oak Creek wrestling team this winter.
However, veteran coach Matt Sommerville knew there were still enough holes in the lineup to potentially derail any plans of a third league title and a coveted berth in the WIAA state team tournament.
But newcomers like Joey Colla, Nolan Parr, John Wright, Jordan Garivey, Brycen Hakes and others have helped fill in the gaps and have once again made the Knights a force to be reckoned with, just as they were on Jan. 22 when they repeated as champions in the 19-school Homestead Highlander Scramble, their second major meet title in as many weeks.
'We started with a lot of young kids, but those young kids are starting to believe that they can beat top-level varsity talent,' Sommerville said. 'That gives us a lot of confidence going forward.'
The Knights will try to take a major step forward toward a third SEC crown when they look to complete the league dual-meet schedule unbeaten with a 7 p.m. home dual against Kenosha Indian Trail.
'We know Indian Trail has four really solid kids so we're not looking past anyone right now,' said Sommerville. 'Our only goal is to win the next match.'
Which the Knights did often at Homestead, scoring 461.5 points to outdistance a very good Menomonee Falls squad (398.5).
Oak Creek had four individual champions on the night, including Mitch Landgraf at 113 (31-2 on the season), Matt Berlin at 120 (31-2), Andrew McIntosh at 138 (30-3) and Ross Agg at 195 (32-2).
McIntosh had the most spectacular effort on the night. He pinned Kettle Moraine and Milwaukee King opponents and overpowered a New Berlin opponent on a major decision before Burlington powerhouse Josh Bird on a third-period injury default.
McIntosh was up 6-4 when the injury happened.
'A lot of times guys go into matches against guys with names (like Bird's) and get intimidated,' said Sommerville, 'But Andrew didn't. This was not a fluke. Andrew took the match to him.'
Meanwhile, down in the lower weights, Landgraf and Berlin remain completely unstoppable. Landgraf recorded pins over Kettle Moraine, Bradley Tech and Racine Horlick opponents and then beat a Homestead foe on a major decision before edging his old youth wrestling pal Matt Anderson of Falls by a 3-2 count.
Berlin pinned Racine Horlick and Catholic Memorial opponents before beating a Kimberly opponent on a major. He then downed Falls' Austin Lasanske, 11-2, in the final.
Agg pinned Bay View, Grafton, Whitefish Bay and Homestead opponents before edging a Port Washington foe, 4-3, in the final. Sommerville said Agg got caught up in a 'strength on strength' match in the final. He said Agg would have been better relying on his technique a little more.
Taking seconds were Parr at 160 (4-1, 22-10) and Jesse Kovnesky at 152 (4-1, 25-7), while taking a third was Isaiah Robinson at 126 (4-1, 20-10). Fourths went to John Wright at 182 (3-2, 24-12), Ethan Kaschak at 170 (3-2, 27-7) and Colla at 132 (3-2, 17-7). Garivey was fifth at 220 (3-2, 10-5).
Sommerville said the team looks forward to this tourney every year.
'They love the idea that they get the weekend off after a Friday night tourney,' he said. 'We can't do that much in a season. I think if we had more Friday night meets, I think we'd keep more kids out.
'Right now, our focus is to get better. If we can get 1 percent better each day, that should help us reach our goals.'
Homestead coach Ernie Millard sees little stopping the Knights in that regard.
'Matt (Sommerville) does a fantastic job with those kids,' he said. 'He has just excellent continuity on his staff. It is an impressively run program.'