The commitment needed to succeed, even at the high school level, is extraordinary. That alone makes the run of success for the Grand Haven and Fruitport wrestling programs that much more impressive.
Both the Buccaneers and the Trojans boast a long-standing history of putting wrestlers in the state meet and competing for state championships. This season, however, the two programs are in a youth movement with underclassmen outnumbering the upperclassmen on both rosters.
For Spring Lake, a coaching change at the head of the program has sparked a new energy. Former coach Dan Robinson returned toward the end of the season last winter to attempt to rekindle a fire under a roster that dropped to just eight wrestlers.
With a full offseason to recruiting kids back to the program, the Lakers now have more than 20 kids on the roster and are hoping some fast learners will help Spring Lake be competitive in the O-K Blue Conference.
With the continued drive for greatness ever present, the teams now look to build future champions by making the most of every opportunity on the mat.
Here's a look at how the Bucs, Trojans, and Lakers stack up this winter:
Head coach: Vince Gervais
Last year: 12-10 record; finished fourth in the O-K Red; won district title; lost in regional semifinals
Grand Haven might have a slew of underclassmen learning the ropes, but they won't have to look far for senior leadership and experience, as the Buccaneers have three talented upperclassmen steering the ship.
Senior team captain Daniel Guillen, who placed eighth overall at the state meet last season with a 38-7 overall record, headlines the Grand Haven lineup.
Joining Guillen at the captain ranks this year will be senior Collin Monsma, who also qualified for the state meet last season with a 26-14 record; and junior Cody Miller, who is a two-time regional qualifier.
Senior Hunter Spangler is a three-year varsity performer who adds experience and depth to the lineup, while sophomores Riley Rhone and Trevor Rademaker will be names to watch as the season progresses.
Quoting Coach Gervais
"We currently have 38 guys on the team this year, which is more than last year. We want to continue to move up the ladder in the always-competitive O-K Red, repeat as district champions and improve and compete every time we step on the mat.
"I'm incredibly excited about this group of athletes. They are embracing the grind of wrestling and what it takes to be successful in this sport. We return two wrestlers with experience at the state tournament in Daniel Guillen and Collin Monsma, along with a very competitive Cody Miller. They will be the leaders of this team.
"Of our 38 wrestlers, 20 of them are sophomores, which shows a promising future for the program. We've also added three coaches to the staff who have made an immediate impact on the program."
Head coach: Rick Sykes
Last year: Third in the O-K Black Conference
Zach Sykes leads the Trojans this winter after qualifying for the state meet last season. He will anchor the team's 112-pound class. Senior Dallas Rogers also returns to the heavyweight ranks and looks to have an outstanding senior season.
Sophomore Crue Cooper will be a key performer for Fruitport after learning the ropes as a freshman last season. Cooper will likely be in the 171-pound division and make a run at a possible state-meet appearance.
Another name to watch out for is Christian Straley at the 145-pound division.
Quoting Coach Sykes
"It's a young team this season. We have seven sophomores and three freshmen that are all going to play big roles in our lineup. We have a few kids that jumped weights, so I have kids that have grown up a bit. Chris Hutson jumped up about 30 pounds and he's a tough kid. I know he's going to compete no matter where we put him.
"We have a solid lineup. What we lack in experience, we are going to make up for in determination and grit. I think the freshmen and sophomore classes across the West Michigan area are filled with promising young wrestlers. These are kids that have been wrestling their whole lives and fine-tuning their mechanics at this stage instead of learning the whole sport.
"We're excited about this group's potential. We know we have to focus on getting better each day and really putting in the hours on the mat. Our hope is that we are peaking by end of the year and everyone shows steady improvement from December to January."
The team will test itself against Division 1 schools over the next month with meets at Grandville and Grand Haven.
"We play at Grandville on Saturday," Sykes added. "We'll see some eastside schools there, so that's always a competitive event. We get a different look when we go up against schools like that.
"The Grand Haven Invitational on Jan. 6 is always a big event. There will be plenty of high-quality programs there and we get a lot out of that particular event.
"In our conference, Reeths-Puffer is always a contender, and I think it's going to be a very competitive in the O-K Black this season. Jenison was tough last year and Mona Shores is starting to build their program, too."
Head coach: Dan Robinson
Last year: Finished fourth in the O-K Blue Conference
Despite low numbers last season, the Lakers do return plenty of key players this winter.
Senior Sam France at the 189/215 weight classes will be a major factor on the mat for the Lakers, while fellow senior Hunter Rose at the 171/189 weight class will also be a key performer to watch.
Other wrestlers looking to leave their mark for the Lakers are senior Caleb Swenor (152), Schafer Bailey (125/130), Connor Montgomery (112/119) and Jamie Holt (119/125).
Quoting coach Robinson
"For us, as a team, it is a different type of squad this year. When I came back last year, we were down to eight athletes, but now, our numbers are back up to 25, so we are just trying to catch guys back up to speed.
"I think we will surprise a lot of people and have several wrestlers who will have outstanding individual seasons. Team-wise this year, we want to be competitive and let teams know they are in for a fight when they wrestle us. We would like to improve on our fourth-place finish in the conference tournament, win team districts, and have several wrestlers advance in the postseason.
"We only had Josef Hissom get out of districts last year. We know that is a tall order, but we are setting big goals and are striving to reach them."
"I really like our mix of guys on the team from veterans to rookies. They are coming together great. We are trying to bring a new mentality out and guys are buying in and pushing themselves. I think some guys will make a name for themselves this year with their performances.
"We have a lot of new guys who are really pushing the pace in the room and even though they are green, they are what is going to give us depth and push us to be better in the future. I'm excited about this year and what the future holds for this program."