2/13/2018 7:29:00 AM T-Birds win first regional title since 1979
Pete Hartzheim/Special to the Lakeland Times
Lakeland’s Tate Olson competes in the WIAA Division 2 Regionals on Saturday, Feb. 2, at Almond-Bancroft High School.
Lakeland poses after winning its first WIAA Regional championship since 1979. Pictured, front from left, are Tate Olson, Sawyer Duir, Harry Nemcek, Seth Gonzalez, Jack Scandin, Dejay Nordrum, Robert Burgess, Tanner Wildes, manager Nina Starynski and Jason Hilgart; back row, coach Adam Bremer, coach Ryan Heath, Henry Evenhouse, AJ Starynski, Delsin Flemming, Noah Wingo, Xavier Burgess, coach Mason Nafzinger, coach Mike McClintock and coach Bill Hilgart.
It had been nearly four decades since Lakeland Union High School won a WIAA Regional wrestling championship.
On Saturday, a drought that had lasted since 1979 came to an end as the Thunderbirds won the WIAA Division 2 championship at Almond-Bancroft High School.
Lakeland earned four champions and four runner-ups en route to besting second place Tomahawk by 26 points.
"We're going to have kids walk back in this high school and point at that (plaque) and say, 'We did this.' We got acknowledgements from a few of the new alumni and they are really the foundation of this," LUHS head coach Adam Bremer said. "This actually started two or three years ago with us building our program, improving the numbers, being more competitive, taking more kids to sectionals, last year having two state qualifiers and a state place finisher. All of those are pieces and this is really exciting because it's not individual. This is a team piece and that's a really new accomplishment for us. That's something that we've really been working for."
Last week at the Great Northern Conference meet, Lakeland came up short of finishing in the top three. Part of that was largely due to not having enough wrestlers finish first or second.
At regionals, the T-Birds had eight wrestlers in 14 weight classes finish in the top two.
Dejay Nordrum, Jack Scandin, Jason Hilgart and Xavier Burgess all placed won their weight classes, while Seth Gonzalez, Delsin Flemming, Tate Olson and AJ Starynski all took second place.
"We talked a lot about matchups. Unfortunately with the way our regional worked, we didn't have many of the quarterfinal matchups so we really focused on the semifinals," Bremer said. "We matched up with Tomahawk and Nekoosa several times and we knew they were going to push us the hardest. We saw that for us and the seeding that we were going to have, we knew that the seeding was going to be very important. We had an excellent semifinal round and that really set us up."
Nordrum and Scandin were expected to perform well, but it was about qualifying for sectionals and they couldn't without taking care of business.
At 120 pounds, Nordrum beat familiar foe, Lance Knight of Tomahawk, via pin in 3:18. Meanwhile, Scandin won 138 pounds by pinning Brant Hall of Nekoosa/Assumption/ Port Edwards in 3:37.
"One of the things we constantly reminded them was you can't be a state qualifier without being a sectional qualifier and you can't be a sectional qualifier without taking care of each individual match at regionals," Bremer said. "One of the things we talked about with Jack was last year he had never been to the sectional before, but now it's just not looking too far ahead. We had to be focused and stay on the present and they a great job of that today."
Hilgart and Burgess are both regional champions for the first time.
At 145 pounds, Hilgart beat Matt Turkiewicz of Tomahawk once again, while Burgess only had to wrestle once at 170, beating Jaydon Cherek of Mosinee by pin in three minutes.
"Xavier's first match was actually in the finals and sometimes that can be tough because those first matches get your wrestling in, you start feeling good and we had a little hiccup early on, but we came back strong," Bremer said. "Xavier is just the kind of kid that refuses to lose. I think we're starting to see an evolution and growth in Jason as a sophomore. His match with Matt Turkiewicz of Tomahawk was back and forth. We were the aggressor. One of the things we talk about is constantly being on the attack. Matt wrestles a slow-down type of style, which can be frustrating and in conference we put ourselves in bad position trying to score. Today, Jason did a good job of staying in position and not getting frustrated."
Now Lakeland wrestles against Ripon in a dual meet at Freedom High School at 6 p.m. tonight, with the winner facing the winner of Freedom and Luxemburg-Casco at 8 p.m. for the right to advance to the state team meet.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter@SabatoNick.