Lakeland Union High School had some uncertainties when it came to filling out a wrestling lineup during the preseason, but it got a good look at how that lineup may look on Saturday in the John Roberts Duals at Antigo.
The Thunderbirds participated in a six-team round robin dual meet and they posted a 4-1 record to place second in the tournament.
Any time a team can have a positive start to the season, it's always a plus.
"We've got quite a few new faces in the lineup despite that fact that we have a really good core of returning varsity letter winners, but the truth is as a coaching staff we talked about that we are most definitely excited about the team that we have and what their potential is, but we have a lot of guys that aren't proven on a varsity mat yet," LUHS head coach Adam Bremer said. "It's hard to say because you don't know what other teams are bringing in. For most of the teams that was their first competition or their second competition, so some kids had maybe one match in before that. Last year we placed in the top three so placing second was a good improvement for us."
Jack Scandin and Xavier Burgess both went undefeated on the day, with each scoring three pins apiece.
Scandin also recorded his 100th career win in the process, winning the first match of the day via forfeit, while also topping Antigo's William Hull by major decision, 9-1, in the final match of the day. Burgess also won his other two matches by forfeit and by a major decision.
Tate Olson, Jason Hilgart, Seth Gonzalez and Robert Burgess also went 4-1 on the day. Each wrestler had at least two pins, while Hilgart had three pins and a major decision and Olson had three pins. Gonzalez and Burgess each had two pins and a major decision on the day.
"The success that they had and the level that they performed at was outstanding and I think it really helped set the tone for the rest of the day," Bremer said. "Tate being a junior now, I think for the first time in a long time, he's filling out a weight class that's really set up for him. He had a great day. Jason Hilgart had a great day as well. We had a lot of success and it was really fun to watch our team compete."
Lakeland managed to have all of its success without 2017 state competitor Dejay Nordrum in the lineup.
Naturally the team is better with Nordrum wrestling, but to put forth a great effort without him is a positive sign for the T-Birds.
"We've got a state place finisher that we didn't even have in the lineup and we were still able to be more than competitive against a lot of quality teams," Bremer said. "It was a great day. We obviously missed Dejay. He was there, he's one of our captains. We just had the conversation about what it's like to see the beginning of the season happen and there's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm on his part to be part of the success of this team moving forward. You'll see him in action soon and he's pretty excited."
The round robin dual meet-style of meet is a different way to begin the season. Success comes as much from filling out a lineup as it does with actually wrestling.
Early in the year, it's important to get guys acclimated with wrestling competitively and that doesn't always happen in this style of tournament like it would in an invitational- style event.
Bremer likes the dual meet-style of meet because it gives almost every wrestler the chance to compete and maintains a team aspect intact.
"If you look at the Bayfield match, we only had four matches that were actually wrestled. They won three, we won one, but if you look at the dual meet score, it looks like we crushed them," Bremer said. "One of the struggles with that one is that we want to get wrestling in, not pad dual meet scores. One of the discussions was possibly changing this from a dual meet to an individual scramble-style, which is going to maximize getting kids the best possible matches.
"From my standpoint, I love the dual meet," Bremer continued. "We have a lot of kids and we had almost all of our JV kids with us and nearly everybody that came with us was able to get a match. So, I love that aspect of the team being able to sit there and watch our team compete, while still being able to get some of those JV kids matches and I wanted to be careful that wrestling doesn't move so far getting matches that we lose the team aspect of our sport. When I was in high school we used to have 10 dual meets and five tournaments and so the majority of our season was us versus another team. Over a decade ago they switched to seven tournaments and seven duals, so the dual has sort of dropped down. A lot of people were doing dual-style tournaments to get more matches. At a dual meet you could get five matches and now at these scramble tournaments you can still get four or five matches and get better competition, so that seems like part of the evolution of the sport. For us, it's a great way to introduce what competing in wrestling looks like and it does it slowly for some of our younger kids."
Lakeland has another dual meet on Thursday as it hosts Crandon at 7 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.