Retired wrestling coaching legend Barry Bernstein led Germantown to five North Shore Conference titles from 1996 to 2001, but he can't remember the last time the Warhawks won a WIAA regional title.
It's simply been that long.
But the 2017 edition of the Warhawks finally had a full lineup going into the Feb. 11 regional meet at Cedarburg and they built a lead and held on through the emotionally and physically exhausting final wrestlebacks to record an historic championship in the eight-team meet.
It was an important moment for coach Jeff Szohr and the Warhawks as the 2016 North Shore Conference champion Germantown team came up a match short of achieving this particular feat.
It came close to not happening again at Cedarburg.
"We had a 20-point lead with about eight matches to go and then we lost five of them in a row," said Szohr. "We had a half-point lead with about four matches to go."
Szohr said he was almost frantic, getting on his cellphone with his assistants, figuring out the status of certain matches.
Then Eric Abel at 132 pounds (pin in 1:28), Jack Pluta at 220 (5-4 decision) and Dominique Bennett at 285 (pin 1:34) all came through with important final victories and the Warhawks came away with 201.5 points to edge the host Bulldogs (193) and North Shore champion Port Washington (188) for the title.
Those final victories were all part of a simply philosophy that Szohr and his staff instilled in the Warhawks last week.
"It was one word, 14," he said, "as in '14 strong, 14 weak.' We had a full lineup (for the first time in quite some time) and everyone stepped up. Even our weaker kids stepped up and helped out."
The team victory advanced the Warhawks to a WIAA team sectional dual against Wisconsin Little 10 Conference champion Slinger on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at Oshkosh West. The winner of the dual meet advances to the WIAA State Team Tournament March 3-4 in Madison.
Germantown will also send 10 wrestlers to the WIAA individual sectional Saturday, Feb. 18, at Slinger. The top two in each weight class will advance to the state individual tournament Feb. 23-25 in Madison.
Szohr knows it will be a difficult challenge to beat Slinger, but he said that if the Warhawks go down, "they will go down swinging."
Individual sectional qualifiers include Colton Birkigt at 106 (22-7 overall), Jeff Brezonick at 113 (14-15), Kevin Tamboli at 120 (29-11), Isaac Riddle at 126 (35-8), Abel at 132 (25-12), Mason Wheeler at 138 (39-4), Waymon McNeal at 145 (39-2), Jerry Bagley at 160 (23-16), Pluta at 220 (7-5) and Bennett at 285 (36-6).
Wheeler, McNeal and Bennett are considered to have the best chances of advancing to state, though others have strong opportunities too, said Szohr.
But those final wrestlebacks were huge. Abel's win earned him the fourth and final qualifying spot in his weight class, while Pluta's victory allowed him to hold onto second place and Bennett's allowed him to stay in second after he got upset in the final by a Cedarburg opponent.
Earning class titles for the Warhawks were Isaac Riddle at 126 (6-2 decision over a Manitowoc opponent in the final), Wheeler at 138 (19-7 major decision over state-ranked opponent from West Bend East), and McNeal at 145 (pin over West Bend West foe at 1:00).
As noted by Szohr, everyone contributed to this victory, including wrestlers who didn't qualify for sectional. Asher Anderson at 152, Andrew Seramur at 170, Carson Bognar at 182 and Kashawon Milton-Hollins at 195 all recorded a pin on the day, earning valuable team points.
"All four of those kids helped us put a presentable lineup out there," said Szohr.
All-in-all, it was a great day, said Szohr.
"Everyone knows that we have six or seven pretty strong kids and they did what they were supposed to do," he said, "but everyone else on the team also had big win,s too. We put 14 kids on the mat and all 14 gave it their all. We only had a few moments where the kids weren't giving their absolute best all the way through."