By Steve Millar
Sandburg senior wrestler Pat Nolan enjoyed a slightly better spot on the state podium last season, his fourth-place finish at 132 pounds an improvement from taking fifth at 120 as a sophomore.
Nolan’s goal this season is to continue his ascent, all the way to the top, and conclude his high school career with a state title.
“I’m pretty pumped for this season,” Nolan said. “I worked hard over the offseason to get ready. I put in a lot of work with Izzy Style (wrestling club). I went to Fargo (for junior nationals) and I was able to train at a couple different regional training sites.
“I definitely feel like I’m ready to go this season.”
Nolan can focus on his senior campaign without worrying about what his next step is. He’s signed with national power Michigan to continue his wrestling career in the Big Ten next year.
“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “The coaching staff is awesome. I like (Wolverines head coach) Sean Bormet a lot. He’s probably the No. 1 reason I decided to go there. I think it’s going to be a great place for me.”
Michigan finished fourth at the NCAA Championships last season, its third straight top 10 finish. Bormet, a Providence alum who grew up in Frankfort, is on his first year leading the Wolverines after seven years as an assistant at Michigan.
Nolan is off to a strong start, winning 16 of his first 17 matches and taking the 138-pound title at the Rex Whitlatch Invitational at Hinsdale Central on Dec. 15. He pinned all four of his opponents at the event and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Nolan took second at the Whitlatch last season, losing to Oak Park-River Forest’s Eddie Bolivar in the finals.
“It feels really good to win this one,” he said.
Nolan, ranked No. 2 at 138 by the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association, bounced back well after suffering his first loss of the season Dec. 8, falling 10-8 to Lemont’s Kyle Schickel, a two-time state runner-up in Class 2A.
Nolan almost got a rematch with Schickel in the finals at Hinsdale Central, but Providence’s Josh Ramos beat Schickel in the semifinals.
“I trained hard because I was hoping to see Schickel again,” Nolan said. “That loss, though, you need something like that.
“You can’t just keep winning because then you lose focus, like I obviously did when I wrestled Schickel last week. It was a nice realization that I need to keep working hard.”
Nolan has developed a flair for the dramatic, with a knack for pulling off close matches late.
He demonstrated that again in the finals at the Whitlatch Invitational. Down 3-1 to Ramos, he got a takedown with just six seconds left to force overtime. He then pinned Ramos 14 seconds into the extra period.
“His matches are exciting,” Sandburg coach Clinton Polz said. “If I was a spectator, I’d love watching them. As a coach, it kind of gives me a headache with how stressful they are.
“He usually finds a way to come out on top in those close matches because he keeps wrestling until the end. That’s something I want all our kids to learn from and follow his lead, wrestle until the final whistle.”
Polz said Nolan’s intensity and desire to compete is something he wants the Eagles’ younger wrestlers to emulate.
“Pat goes out to win every match,” Polz said. “He definitely sets a great example. He’s a big-time leader in the room.”
While Nolan is certainly intent on reaching some major individual goals, a major priority for him the last few seasons has been to help build a stronger team.
Sandburg is 10-0 in dual meets and ranked No. 14 in Class 3A, and the team success is fueling Nolan to push himself even harder.
“The team gets along so well,” he said. “Everyone is always cheering each other on. The energy in the room is awesome. I love it.”