Spring Lake varsity wrestling coach Dan Robinson said he received a call recently from Spring Lake graduate Andrew Hissom, who is a freshman on the Purdue University wrestling squad.
Hissom expressed his surprise at what the Lakers had already accomplished and what could be in store.
“He was saying ‘Who woulda thought that this team would have a shot (tonight) to win a district title and on top of that, win conference?’ Robinson said. “It’s just a tribute to the kids and the hard work they’ve put in. A lot of these kids didn’t have winning records last year. All of the guys have taken a huge step.”
Although the Lakers experienced several key losses to graduation and most of their key returning wrestlers were underclassmen, they completed a perfect dual meet record in the Lakes Eight, and still took home the league title after finishing second to Tri-County at the conference tournament at Orchard View on Saturday.
“We finished second by just six points,” Robinson said.
The Lakers should also be considered the favorites to capture a Division 2 district title inside their home gymnasium, although opening round opponent Muskegon, and potential finals foes Fruitport and Reeths-Puffer will try to prove otherwise.
“We’re not overlooking anyone,” Robinson said. “We’re going to have to have our best dual meeting performance if we want to win that trophy.”
What makes it a tougher challenge for the Lakers is they enter the district tournament banged up. Senior Kyle Edwards will try to gut through the pain of a high ankle sprain, while junior George Nietering recently had stitches in his foot, but will tape it up and also fight through the injury.
“The kids know what’s at stake,” Robinson said. “They don’t want to miss it.”
Robinson said a key to victory is the Lakers taking care of business in their middle to upper weight classes. Those classes include Al Slajus at 145, Gabe Giddings at 152, Zack Kennedy at 160, Mason Dial at 171, Jared Marod at 189, Shane Skorupski at 215 and heavyweight Billy Belcher.
Belcher, Kennedy and Dial won individual league titles in their respective weight classes on Saturday. It’s been an especially sweet senior season for Belcher, who had to be talked into coming out for the sport by his friends during his freshman season.
He slowly made progress on the mat, going from a dismal two-win season his first year, to a .500 record as a sophomore.
“At the end (of his sophomore year) he beat a really tough kid from Coopersville, and you could tell something just clicked,” Robinson said. “From there, he started going to our team camps and a couple individual camps on his own and just progressively got better and better.”
Belcher, who lost both of his matches at last season’s individual state finals, is a favorite to advance back to the Palace of Auburn Hills to avenge those losses.
Before that, ending a team district drought is first and foremost.
“It’s been five years (since our last district title), and the kids realize that,” Robinson said. “Hopefully we’ll be ending that drought.”