Wrestling coach of the year: Hanover’s Nick Petrov
BY JOHN O’MALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent March 24, 2012 11:34PM
Hanover Central coach Nick Petrov, photographed Friday March 2, 2012 in Cedar Lake, Ind., is the Post-Tribune Wrestling Coach of the Year. Petrov has coached at Hanover Central for eight years. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 26, 2012 8:28AM
It was an incredibly tumultuous season for Hanover Central’s wrestling team.
The Wildcats’ athletes, coaches, and fans experienced a myriad of emotions.
The 2011-12 season was marked with great sadness and despair following the sudden and tragic death of longtime assistant coach John Willems.
Willems, whom all the athletes and coaches loved, died of a massive heart attack in late December.
Less than two months later, Wildcats senior Paul Petrov, along with sophomore Stevan Micic, were crowned state champions — finishing memorable seasons with identical 47-0 records.
Petrov won at 120 pounds, while Micic took the 106-pound crown.
“Coach Willems always said this year we were going to have two state champions,’’ Paul Petrov said. “He knew me and Stevan could do it. He believed in us.’’
After Willems died — he was virtually a co-head coach with Hanover Central boss Nick Petrov — the Wildcats were left with an impossible void to fill.
Nick, however, wanted to maintain some sense of normalcy for his athletes.
Willems, who planned organized practices down to seconds, always modified practice plans to coincide with what the Wildcats needed to work on most.
“We wanted practice to continue as if nothing had changed and to be consistent — even though everything really had changed,’’ said Petrov, the Post-Tribune’s Wrestling Coach of the Year.
A few days after Willems died, Petrov, and assistant coach George Petrov, his son, were going through some of Willems’ personal belongings. They found some files with practice plans stored in his computer and printed them out.
“We tried the best we could to run our practices the same as if John was there,’’ Nick said. “We wanted to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible. We referenced John every day. We brought up things he said and did. It was important John not be forgotten.
“When John died, it was an extremely difficult time for us all. There were a lot of people looking at me for strength, leadership, guidance and direction. My role was to help guide our wrestling family through this. It wasn’t my choice. I just did the best job I possibly could.
“We wanted to always remember who John was, what he stood for, and how important he was to all of us.’’
Petrov credited Hanover Central assistant coaches Eric Howe, George Petrov, Mark Meyers, Zac Stevens and Todd Staples, for all their help during a very difficult, yet rewarding season.
“It was a tough year, but everything is tough, life is tough,’’ he said. “It was a season about adversity and overcoming. It’s an honor for me to be the Coach of the Year but this season was more of a testament to the program John Willems and I have built and to our assistant coaches. We couldn’t have accomplished what we did this year without them. It’s also a tribute to our alumni, the families and parents of our student-athletes. It’s a total package of things coming together.’’
Nick Petrov provided a shoulder to lean on and incredible leadership when people needed it most.
“I couldn’t believe how strong my dad was,’’ Paul Petrov said. “He was a real leader. He took charge. He didn’t really show any emotion. We knew he was upset with John’s death, but he picked everyone up. He knew we were all down. He wanted to make sure we carried on with what John would have wanted us to do. He made sure everything was the same.
“He wanted us to get back out there, stay focused, wrestle hard and to continue to pursue and achieve our goals. If I was in that position, I don’t think I would have been able to carry on like he did. He was so focused. It was great. It was really unbelievable.’’
Micic was impressed with his coach’s leadership, too.
“When John left us, he had to do twice as much work,’’ he said. “Coach did such a good job — I can’t really even begin to say. He pushed everyone, especially the freshmen, to reach new levels. He pushed all of us harder in the wrestling room. He did a great job. He did exactly the kind of job a coach is supposed to do. It was awesome. He did a phenomenal job.’’