Club wrestling team heads to National Duals
It takes a series of moves — reversals, takedowns, maybe even a pin — to win a bout. It takes a string of bout victories, compiled by a team, to win a meet. It takes an accumulation of wins and points to grapple away a national wrestling championship.
The bigger picture isn’t pinned down on one mat, but the strokes always add up.
As the Grand Valley State University club wrestling team wrestles toward fulfilling national championship aspirations after coming up just four places short last year, the Lakers have saved up their collective experience, points and wins, but detoured through a meet on Jan. 15.
A meet that was not about the points or bouts or meet at hand, or even wrestling at all.
The Laker club wrestling team traveled to Reeths-Puffer High School to compete against Muskegon Community College — a squad that recently took sixth place at the national junior college tournament — in the Rick Stenberg Memorial Wrestling Duals; a fundraiser honoring the recently deceased father of two MCC wrestlers where all the proceeds from the event went to a scholarship fund for a future Reeths-Puffer student.
Hampered by injury and weight class adjustments — namely a gap in the upper ranges of weight class — GVSU did not compile its best performance of the season.
The Lakers lost the dual by a score of 31-18 but notched a pair of victories as sophomore Tyler Dempsey won a 3-2 decision in the 141 weight class while senior team captain Kyle Horr took home a 5-3 victory in the 149 weight class.
“Giving up a weight class and a few other voids, we were pleased with the performance,” Horr said. “It wasn’t our best showing of what we can do, but we’re going to continue to get better.”
Both Dempsey and Horr will wrestle down a weight class in the upcoming National Duals to be hosted in Dalton, Ga. The trip, which will include about 20 other Laker wrestlers, will be started on a bus departing Thursday. The meet, which will take place on Friday and Saturday, will provide the Lakers an opportunity to show almost immediate growth.
“Getting some practice at 141 is nice because when I go down to 133, I feel so much stronger against my opponents,” Dempsey said. “We’ll go in with an expectation of winning every single match down there, and we’re all looking to make an impact for the team.
“To get the job done down there in Atlanta, to get after our goals, to collect all-American status — whatever it takes — and hopefully turn it all in for a championship ring.”
GVSU has participated in the National Duals annually for years, although the tournament has never meant more to the Lakers’ prospective season. New rule changes implemented this year will allow for teams to accrue points from the team duals towards the national individual tournament — and a potential national championship.
The better the finish at National Duals, the more points a team gets to carry into the national tournament. As GVSU discovered in a fifth-place finish at nationals last year, every point counts.
“We’re excited to be bringing great depth down this year because of the increased implications,” Horr said. “It’ll be a big deal for us, and we’re excited for a strong team showing.”
GVSU did not return its fourth-place finisher at 165 (Austin Geerlings), seventh-place finisher at 197 (Carl Worthy) or third-place finisher at 235 (Frank Bastien,) from last year’s fifth-place team, and with teams like the University of Central Florida and Grand Canyon University expected be in attendance, GVSU will be tested to travel beyond the quarterfinals.
If it does, a number of Laker dark-horse contenders such as freshman Miguel Correa, who has been medically unable to wrestle all season, and hungry returners like Horr, Dempsey and sophomores Gabriel Stepanovich and Bruce Rau could all challenge for titles.
“Miguel’s a real solid kid, and once we get him back on the mat, he’s going to be a tremendous help,” Rau said. “And then Kyle, he finished fourth last year, but he was right there. He lost in the semifinal match in the last five seconds and there’s no question what he and guys like Gabe, and myself, that were very close last season, have in mind for this season.”
Mats will be laid across gym floors in Georgia for the Lakers to wrestle upon, creating holds and escapes like artists. Proverbial canvases will be hung for the Lakers to paint as they will, with every stroke, every leg lock and every match.
“We have a young team, but we return a lot of guys that came up just short of all-American status last year,” Horr said. “If we get those guys that lost over the hump this year, we’ll be national champs.
“There’ll be strong competition and we’re not the only team that came close, but we’re excited to make this trip and see where we stand. To set the bar.”