HOWARD LAKE – The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted wrestling team isn’t the most experienced team by any means. With several young athletes being relied on at the varsity level this season, their youth is bound to show.
It did just that in the early going of a big matchup with the Kimball Cubs Thursday night on their home mat. Although the Lakers youth and inexperience showed up at times, it’s their resilience and fight that helped them rally back for a thrilling 39-37 victory over the Cubs.
“I just said to them that we didn’t wrestle perfect,” HLWW coach Joe Puncochar said. “The message was that we weren’t perfect, but we were successful. It was a lot of fun, but we got to be better next time. They’re going to come for us now.”
With a lot on the line when it comes to section seeding, the Lakers gambled a bit with their lineup. The Lakers moved some of their wrestlers around, hoping to gain an edge, but in the end, it ultimately backfired.
“We made a move at the lower weights,” Puncochar said. “We thought for sure we could pick up two wins. We lost them both. The gamble kind of failed on us.”
Steven Heber and Wiley Wiegert got the Lakers off to a good start with pins in the first two matches, but that’s when the gamble started to fall apart for the Lakers. Kimball won the next three matches to grab a 13-12 lead.
Trailing for the first time all night, Hunter Decker looked as if he was going to put the Lakers back on top. Decker led in his match nearly throughout, but one wrong move found himself on the wrong side of a pin, and Kimball extended their lead to 19-12.
“We had two matches that we were in,” Puncochar said. “Hunter Decker was winning that match for most of the match. He kind of gets caught there at the end, and gets stuck. It’s a huge momentum swing. Just to have everybody else do their job and not dwell on what happened. The match at that point was not in our favor. We didn’t have any momentum. We slowly gained it back and found a way.”
With their backs against the wall after losing four-straight matches, it was freshman Isaac Busse who stepped up for the Lakers. Busse led his match 2-0 after one period, and finished his match with a 4-1 decision to give the Lakers a much-needed spark.
“We had to come all the way back and get some big wins out of some not so experienced wrestlers,” Puncochar said. “Isaac Busse is a freshman, but he’s only been wrestling since sixth grade. He’s still learning. He’s brand new. He’s really a junior varsity kid out there doing the best he can.”
After Busse gave the Lakers some life, Collin Boese got the crowd going even more. A third-period pin for Boese put the Lakers back up 21-19, and the crowd was right back in it.
“We love the crowd,” junior Quinn Mathison said. “Without the crowd, we’d be nothing. They are the most important thing to this team to get us riled up. It’s just fantastic.”
Just when it looked like HLWW had their swag back, Kimball answered right back with pins at 160 and 170, taking a 10-point lead with just four matches to go.
Joseph Schanus delivered with a first-period pin at 182 to keep the Laker’s hopes alive, but once again, Kimball had the answer with a pin at 195 to push their lead back to 10 with just two matches to go.
A pin at 220 gave the Lakers some life, and it all came down to Mathison, who’s in his first season of wrestling with HLWW.
“He’s a first-year kid who started out the year probably 0-5,” Puncochar said. “In a lot of matches, he was actually winning. He would get the first take down, and then would not be really sure what to do. The kid is a workaholic, though. He works every day. He’s here after practice almost every day. He just soaks everything up like a sponge.”
While in his first year, Mathison is new to a lot of things at the varsity level. Despite all that, the junior found himself in a position that he never thought he’d be in this early in his career.
“Not at all,” Mathison said about thinking he’d be in a moment like this. “I was pretty nervous. It was fun, though. I was very happy with the outcome.”
That hard work and dedication put in by Mathison this season would pay off immensely. The junior delivered with a first-period pin, completing the comeback and handing the Lakers a thrilling comeback victory over the Cubs,
“I’m very happy,” Mathison said about the moment. “I couldn’t have done it without our team, though. They brought us to that point. I was just the closing statement, I guess. Without them, we wouldn’t have won.”
It’s a big win for the Lakers who feature multiple wrestlers who haven’t competed in big matches like this one. With the win, they’ll use it for motivation going forward, and be even hungrier to get better.
“There’s a lot of people over in that group there that have never experienced anything like that,” Puncochar said. “Now, they know what it tastes like. They know what that feels like. Now, they have something to relate to. Before, it was me just telling them they’re good. They’ve got to figure it out on their own, though. They’ve got to still believe in themselves, and I think this one right here is going to put a lot on confidence in our room for us.”
“We love to grind,” Mathison said. “We grind every day. I’m just so happy right now. This was just great.”