It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Success in wrestling seems to follow Eric Siebert.
A three-time high school state place winner at La Salle-Peru, Siebert won the only state title in L-P wrestling history when he won the Class AA 145-pound weight class in 1993.
Five years later, he won an NCAA national championship at 150 pounds at the University of Illinois.
So when Siebert took over the Carl Sandburg High School wrestling program five years ago, expecting him to do anything but succeed as a first-time head coach seems a little foolish.
Currently in his 15th year as a teacher and a coach at the Orland Park school, the now 38-year-old Siebert led Sandburg to a Class 3A team dual state title last season.
It was the fourth team dual state title for Sandburg since 2004, but it was Siebert’s first as a head coach and came after the Eagles finished second in 2010 and third in 2011 under his guidance.
“Winning a team state title is the ultimate goal for a coach,” Siebert said. “Individually, it’s of course nice to see your guys do well, but collectively when you do it together … It’s always more fun when ‘we’ win and not ‘you’ win. It just gives you that much better of a feeling because everybody gets to share in that.”
It was just another accomplishment for the former L-P star, who again this season has one of the top 2-3 teams in the state and a top 10 team in the nation.
His Sandburg squad was ranked No. 1 in Class 3A by IllinoisMatmen.com before Saturday’s 27-24 loss to No. 2 Oak Park-River Forest, which Sandburg beat for last year’s 3A team dual state title.
“Where Sandburg is located, when you look nationally at the sport, there is no question that a hotbed for wrestling really exists in the west suburbs of Chicago and in the south suburbs,” Siebert said. “It’s a case where our kids’ dads wrestled and their grandpas wrestled. It’s just a popular sport in this area.”
After spending 10 years as an assistant coach at Sandburg, Siebert inherited the program in 2008 from longtime coach Mike Polz, who became his assistant.
Since, Siebert has coached 12 Class 3A state place winners. He currently has two No. 1-ranked 3A wrestlers by IllinoisMatmen.com and 11 other wrestlers ranked or receiving honorable mention.
“It’s a tough crop of people where their forefathers were also pretty tough,” Siebert said. “We get a decent amount of talent and some raw toughness, and it’s a big school (with 3,406 kids), so we draw a lot of kids because we’ve had a lot of success. There are a lot of kids who are interested in trying the sport. Success breeds success, and I think we’ve been pretty fortunate with keeping that ball rolling.”
Siebert and his squad showed just how tough they are at The Clash, a national wrestling dual in Rochester, Minn., held Dec. 27-28.
With a collection of top teams from around the nation, Sandburg finished fourth out of 32 teams.
“We finished fourth, which is good, but we lost some really, really, really heart-breaking matches,” said Siebert of Sandburg’s only out-of-state event. “We lost to a team from Minnesota who is ranked No. 5 in the country 26-26 on a tiebreaker, and we lost 25-23 to the No. 1 team in Florida who is ranked sixth in the country.”
Not a bad finish for Siebert, for whom wrestling is a family affair.
His younger brother Tony was a three-time state placer at L-P and an NCAA Tournament national qualifier at the U of I and is an assistant coach at Sandburg.
“It’s a blessing to be in a situation with not only your brother but with people you consider family,” said Siebert, who has a one-year-old daughter.
In addition, their father Mark coached the L-P wrestling team for 22 years and has spent the last few seasons as the defensive coordinator for the St. Bede football team.
“We talk quite a bit, multiple times a week,” said Siebert, who has attended multiple Bruin football games over the years to watch St. Bede and his father. “He’s real familiar with our team, and he comes to watch us a lot. He’s still very passionate about the sport and still has a great understanding of the sport. No matter how long it’s been, (wrestling) is still in his blood and he’s a coach at heart, and that starts with me; he’s always coaching me. He’s certainly an integral part of who I am.”
Just like wrestling — and success in it — is an integral part of Siebert.
Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.