By STEVE KRAH
Colin Kwiatkowski has experienced highs and lows on the wrestling mat and the Valparaiso High School junior says he is better for it. As a 160-pound freshman, Kwiatkowski went into the Vikings varsity lineup and faced a schedule that includes the tough Duneland Athletic Conference and more.
“It was an eye opener,” says Kwiatkowski. “My freshmen years wasn’t the greatest year. My sophomore year, I started beating kids and realized I can actually do something with wrestling.”
“It was an aha moment. I can go far in this sport.”
Kwiatkowski placed first at the LaPorte Sectional, second at the Crown Regional and third at the East Chicago Semistate and qualified for the IHSAA State Finals as a 170-pound sophomore, finishing 32-9.
Not making it to the second day fueled Kwiatkowski’s off-season and has fed his desire during the 2019-20 campaign.
“Losing Friday night (at the State Finals), it hurts,” says third-year Valparaiso head coach Jake Plesac. “It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. He has used it as something to learn from.”
“He took the loss hard. He came in this summer willing to work hard.”
Valparaiso has a young squad this season with many underclassmen in varsity roles.
“I’m helping them,” says Kwiatkowski. “I know what they’re going through. My freshmen year was the same thing. You have to get through the ups and downs.”
With a young squad of 25, including freshmen who came up through the rejuvenated Valparaiso Viking Wrestling Club, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson middle schools, Kwiatkowski finds himself throwing kids into the varsity that could use some more experience at the junior varsity level.
“We all want to get better,” says Plesac. “Sometimes you have to take your lumps to do that.”
“Our goal for us is grow them as young adults and better wrestlers along the way.”
Last fall, Kwiatkowski was a starting linebacker and backup quarterback for the 2019 Class 5A state runners-up.
“That experience in football was like no other,” says Kwiatkowski. “It was really fun.
“But there’s big difference between football shape and wrestling shape. (In wrestling), you’re going all-out as hard as you can the whole time.”
He performed on the gridiron around 195 pounds.
“It met with (Plesac) before went to state,” says Kwiatkowski. “We came to the decision that I’d be wrestling at 182. Last year, I did a lot of cutting weight. It took a big toll on my body. This years, I’m more energized with more strength and I’m quicker.”
Kwiatkowski has been eating mostly vegetables with some lean meats like chicken.
“That stuff has helped,” says Kwiatkowski. “I’ve felt better since I’ve been on the diet.”
Where does Kwiatkowski shine brightest on the mat?
“Defense,” says Kwiatkowski. “That’s what I’m best at. I need to work more at my offense.”
“My coaches always emphasize that I need to take more shots. I agree with them.”
While several different VHS grapplers practice with Kwiatkowski to give him different looks, his main workout partner is 195-pound sophomore Pierce Pine.
“We want to hardest training we can give him,” says Plesac. “If all else fails a coach will jump in and try to give him the better workout.”
Plesac describes Kwiatkowski as a pure wrestler with raw athleticism.
“He’s relentless neutral to top to bottom. He’s a big move guy. He’s known for his throws. It makes him really dangerous. He executes (throws) more than anybody I’ve ever seen in my coaching career.”
“He has great hips and is able to use his body in a way that has made throws successful.”
Kwiatkowski, who is 31-1 this season and coming off a runner-up finish at the DAC meet, says he sometimes relies on his physical gifts more than his moves.
“My athleticism gets me out of situations where I could be using technique or other things to get out of,” says Kwiatkowski. shooting is the side of offense I need to get more out of. I need to be quicker on my feet.
“Those throws aren’t always going to be there.”
Then there’s the Colin Kwiatkowski, the person.
“The thing that makes him special is his humble personality off the mat,” says Plesac. “He’s polite to anyone and everyone. He’s a leader in the school. He’s a quiet kid.”
“When he speaks people listen. That’s what he does for our team. We’re glad he’s taken on more of a leadership role this year.”
There are 25 athletes on a squad coached by Plesac (a former Hobart wrestler and Purdue University graduate), Eric Ledbetter and Irving Hernandez.
One of the younger Vikings is Colin’s brother, Dylan Kwiatkowski. He broke his arm during the football season and just recently was able to compete in wrestling in a dual against Portage.
“He did very well,” says Colin. “He’s my buddy when it comes to everything.”
Michael and Miranda Kwiatkowski have three children — Colin, Dylan and Brooklyn. The little sister is a seventh grader at Ben Franklin Middle School and is a volleyball player.
Colin Kwiatkowski says he would like to wrestle in college or attend Indiana University to study business. His current favorite school subject is science.
“I’ve always found that interesting,” says Kwiatkowski.
As a sophomore, he was a peer tutor. During his study hall, he helped special education students, eating lunch with them and a football teammate and working with them on their assignments.
“Next year I’m going to do that again,” says Kwiatkowski. “I had a lot of fun doing that.”
Valparaiso has one more home dual meet (Jan. 22 against Crown Point) before the state tournament series.