Wrestling season preview: Rogers' squad looks to build on breakthrough '07-'08 campaign
Athletics - posted on 11/12/2008
After a breakthrough campaign last year, it will be difficult for the 2008-09 Lakeland College wrestling team to fly under the radar this season.
Seventh-year head coach Pete Rogers and his team appear to be up to the challenge.
"Last year, we finally stepped up to where I had envisioned us going," Rogers said. "We got to a level that is good for the time being, and I was excited to get there, and the guys are excited that we're heading in that direction. I think it probably gives them a lot more confidence getting back there again this year, just because getting to some place is harder than continuing to stay there.
"We had people compete at the national level, so I think that makes it easier for the next batch of people who come through to believe that it's possible. It's just creating that kind of environment where we're striving to be one of the top teams."
In 2007-08, Rogers guided the Muskies to a 13-5-1 dual record, including a 5-0 record against teams from the talented Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The team also won the Northern Wrestling Association Tournament title, earned its first national ranking in school history and sent just the second national qualifier in Lakeland history to the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships in senior 197-pounder Paul Hartt.
Even with all the success of last season, Rogers believes the program can take it one step further in 2008-09.
"From an individual and a team standpoint, we didn't quite finish where we were capable last season," Rogers said. "I guess, all in all, it was a real successful year. I think now that the trail's blazed a little bit for us, it will make it a lot easier to get back there again."
At 285 pounds, junior Adam Sutter returns as one of the team's top wrestlers from a year ago. The Gladstone, Mich., native was ranked No. 7 in the nation at one point last season, winning the NWA title and receiving a spot as an alternate in the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. Sutter's season, however, ended prematurely after a sub-par showing at the NCAA Division III Great Lakes Regional.
"I think Adam came off a very disappointing year for himself, beating four of the eight All-Americans, including the national champion, during the season and then not qualifying for the national tournament," Rogers said. "I think he's pretty hungry. He can beat anybody, he's a big guy who is capable of doing a lot and it's just whether or not he can get it done."
Two other NWA individual champions, seniors Jonas Flok and Ben Chapman, return for the Muskies this season.
Flok (157), an Egg Harbor native, finished third in the regional tournament last year and is a wrestler who Rogers has deemed "Paul Hartt from last year."
"At mid-year last season, Jonas figured out how to wrestle at that next level," Rogers said. "Since he's gotten into the room this year, he's impressed me a lot. You can't get him tired, he doesn't break and he works as hard as anybody in the room."
Chapman, a 149-pounder, battled some neck injuries last season. The health of the Plymouth native will be the ultimate factor in how far he can go this season.
"Hopefully this year, we're going to wrestle him selectively, and I think he has a real good opportunity to accomplish a lot," Rogers said. "He's got a ton of talent and a super-hard work ethic."
Sophomore Isaac Roberson, a Chicago native and transfer from Harper Junior College, will also compete at 149 pounds.
At 125 pounds, senior David Copp (Oostburg), a runner-up at last year's NWA Tournament, has been on the cusp of a breakthrough during his first three seasons as a member of the team.
"He's been on the verge of being great for the last three years, he's just right there, but has never quite broken through," Rogers said. "This being his senior year, I think he knows a lot more of what to expect and he's been working a lot harder at it. With that in mind, I think he has a good opportunity to do some big things."
Junior Jake Frias (165) also returns from a second-place finish at the conference tournament. The Oak Lawn, Ill., native was 1-2 at regionals.
"Jake's put a lot of work in the weight room in the summer and worked really hard in the off-season," Rogers said. "He's just a guy I can depend on to do a great job because he's going to give me everything he's got every time he steps on the mat. He's a lot better competition wrestler than he is a practice wrestler."
At 184 pounds, senior J.D. Sylvanus (Johnsburg, Ill.) will look to improve on a third-place finish at the NWA Tournament and an 0-2 record at the Great Lakes Regional.
"J.D. is a 100-percent different wrestler from last year," Rogers said. "He's got that confidence, and you can tell he's starting to believe in himself, and that was one thing he lacked in the past."
Senior Kory Thiel moved up to 141 pounds midway through last season after struggling to keep his weight down at 133. The Crystal Lake, Ill., native placed second at the conference tournament.
"Being at that weight consistently, he's going to be an equally good wrestler at 141 as he was at 133, maybe better," Rogers said. "It kind of hurt him last year going up in the middle of the year, because he just wasn't big enough to compete at that weight. This year, he has an attitude that he's never had before, so it's kind of exciting to see him."
Positions at 133, 174 and 197 pounds remain up for grabs.
At 133 pounds, it appears the starting spot will go to freshman Sam Delain (Sturgeon Bay), who would move up from the 125-pound weight class.
Two wrestlers will compete for the nod at 174 pounds. Freshman Jon Burkley (Dublin, Ohio) currently holds the starting spot, but will be challenged by classmate Josh DeLuca (Ingleside, Ill.) once he becomes healthy.
The battle at 197 pounds, the spot vacated by graduated national qualifier Paul Hartt, will come down to senior Everett Wood (Manistique, Mich.) or junior A.J. Aronstam (Waverly, N.Y.). Aronstam, who transferred from Morrisville State College (N.Y.), will have the starting position until Wood returns from Lakeland's football season.
Rogers believes his recruiting class of nine freshmen and one transfer is one of the toughest he's had at Lakeland. The head coach believes many of them would have been starters earlier in his career, but depth in the returning classes remains high.
"Any one of them have the ability to step in and get the job done, which is something that we haven't had in the past," Rogers said. "Now they're going to have to really work hard to get those spots, which is good because it creates competition on the team."
The Muskies will be tested right away as they host the Lakeland Duals on Saturday, Nov. 15, at 9 a.m. Three teams in the tournament are ranked in the Brute-Adidas National Wrestling Coaches Association Top 30: No. 6 Luther (Iowa) College, No. 7 North Central (Ill.) College and No. 22 St. John's (Minn.) University. In addition, Division II UW-Parkside will participate in the tournament, as well as UW-Eau Claire out of the strong WIAC.
"I guess we're going to find out right away where we're at," Rogers said. "We're going to either come out feeling pretty darn good about ourselves or we're going to get beat up a little bit."
Lakeland's challenging non-conference slate also features a home dual with No. 5 UW-La Crosse, last season's national runner-up, on Feb. 6. The Muskies will also head to Las Vegas, Nev., for the Desert Duals on Dec. 21, which will also feature several of the nation's top teams.
"Our schedule is brutal, but even if it's not a positive thing at the beginning of the season, it's going to be a positive thing at the end of the season, because it will make us better," Rogers said.
"For the first time in my coaching career, I can actually say that I have a whole team. This is the first time I would say that, looking at the starting lineup, we've got a bunch of mature people wrestling; they're not all freshmen and sophomores."
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