After losing three state qualifiers to graduation, the Lakeland Union wrestling team had their work cut out for them in the 2018-2019 season to maintain the program’s momentum.

Though they were unable to send a wrestler to Madison this year, a young, core group of Thunderbird wrestlers got invaluable experience on the varsity mat this year to keep Lakeland wrestling in good shape.

“We lost our three state qualifiers from last year,” said Lakeland head coach Adam Bremer of the loss of Jack Scandin, Deejay Nordrum, and Tate Olson. “That’s like three guys who had 30 win seasons. That’s 90 wins that the team lost with those three guys.  And it was cool to see people step up and pick it up. It’s really exciting to see us building, growing.”

As a team, Lakeland finished the Great Northern Conference season in fifth place at 1-4.

They lost to Tomahawk, Antigo, Rhinelander, and Medford, and beat Mosinee. 

In the non-conference season Lakeland beat Crandon and Three Lakes. They also took third of 13 teams at the Antigo Invitational and seventh out of 15 teams at the Barron Invitational.

Five different T-Birds had winning conference records this year.

Sawyer Duir was 4-1 wrestling at 106 and 113, but mostly at 106. Harry Nemcek was 3-2 wrestling at 113 and 120. Jason Hilgart at 145 was 4-1. Xavier Burgess at 170 was also 4-1. And Henry Evenhouse, at 195 was 3-2.

The conference meet was highlighted by Harry Nemcek’s first place championship at 113.

“Definitely a good growth year in terms of the success that Harry had,” said Bremer. “We’re really proud of the season he put together.

Sawyer Duir took second at the conference meet at 106. Nazar Lenz took second at 132. Hilgart took second at 145. Burgess took second at 170. And Evenhouse took third place at 195.

With all those second place finishes, Bremer knows that his team is close to being where they want to be, which is at the top of the podium.

“It’s got to make us hungry. It’s got to make us feel like we left something on the table. That we have something to grind for and work hard for next year,” said Bremer. “We’re right there. We got to keep building. We got to keep working. Keep trying to get better. We’re really excited about the underclassmen we still have.”

Tim Burnett, at 126, and Jason Hilgart at 145 made it to sectionals. Though they didn’t advance to state, Bremer said that experience alone will be help the two out next year.

“That’s something for us to build on. You’ve seen what that level looks like. You’ve seen what you want to aspire to and what you want to be part of.”

Moving forward, Lakeland will lose Xavier Burgess and A.J. Starynski to graduation and the loss will be felt.

“If you look at Xavier Burgess...30 wins in a season,” Bremer said. “That’s a lot of wins to try and replace. A.J. Starynski I think had 20 wins on the season. So we’re losing a lot of quality in our seniors.

A.J. is a hard worker. Great attitude. Loves to learn on his own. And that was a piece that he really brought to the practice room. And Xavier just shows a willingness to be successful and be good. He set the single season pin record. You have a dominance there and the killer instinct that is really tough to model with anybody else. Those are difficult things to be able to replace and we’re definitely going to be missing those things.”

With the majority of his line-up returning, Bremer is pleased that when the season resumes next year, he won’t have to start all over to get back to where they finished this year.

“When you have 14 weight classes and you’re only losing two or three seniors who have consistently been in the line-up,  it’s a great feeling because you know you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to try to get back to what you were working on. It is really exciting to have a core group of kids that had success. You’ve got both your sectional qualifiers coming back,” he said.

In addition to the young core of this year’s team Bremer is also looking forward to next year’s class of new Thunderbirds.

‘We probably have a half dozen kids coming up to the high school next year who when November rolls around they know it’s wrestling season and they’re going to be committed to the wrestling program.”

Medford won the GNC at 4-1 with 20 conference points. Antigo was second at 4-1 with 18 points. Tomahawk as third, also at 4-1, with 16 points. Rhinelander was fourth, at 2-3, with 10 conference points. Lakeland was 1-4 with six points. And Mosinee was 0-5 with two points.

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.