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The Lakeland College wrestling team must have been good this year, because it looks like Santa has paid a visit to the Muskies a little early.
For the first time in the history of the program, the Muskies are nationally ranked. Lakeland is at No. 30 in the latest Brute-Adidas National Wrestling Coaches Association Division III rankings, which were released Tuesday. Senior Paul Hartt (Port Charlotte, Fla.) vaulted from the No. 10 spot to No. 2 wrestler in the country in the 197-pound division, which is the highest ranking ever for an individual Lakeland wrestler.
Head coach Pete Rogers said it's a fitting honor for a team that has distinguished itself in his six-year tenure both on and off the mat.
"This team is different than any team I've ever coached, training-wise and off the mat," said Rogers. "They are willing to put the time in on the mat and they do well academically. They are willing to put in the time to get better and know what they have to do to get better. They are very self-motivated. I think it helps that they care about each other on and off the mat."
The team ranking is a testament to a stellar season thus far for the Muskies, who are currently 3-2 in duals. Lakeland started off the season with a pair of losses at their own Lakeland Duals to Coe College, which is ranked No. 7, and No. 27 St. Johns (Minn.), before rebounding to register a pair of wins over UW-Eau Claire and UW-Platteville that same day. The team also went on to earn a big 31-11 upset on Nov. 13 over UW-Stevens Point, which is ranked No. 13 in the nation.
Hartt, who individually ranking is also a huge boost for the program, is 8-0 this season and has proven himself by defeating two nationally-ranked wrestlers. He scored an 11-0 win over Coe's Rob Kramer (ranked No. 9 at the time), and a big 4-2 win over the current No. 3, Craig Bollig of UW-Stevens Point, on Nov. 13. On Nov. 21, Bollig beat top-ranked Wartburg College wrestler T.J. Miller, 5-3, to give Miller his first loss to a Division III opponent since the 2005-06 national meet.
"The ranking gives me even more motivation to work harder this season," said Hartt. "I have been doing extra work during the season, and this ranking makes me want to push myself even harder."
"He is consistently working to get better," said Rogers of Hartt. "He did the right things in the off-season to get to where he is now. He is so passionate about the sport"
Even more amazing, this is only the sixth year Hartt has been wrestling - he began wrestling his junior year at Charlotte High School.
"He had a great high school coach, Evan Robinson, who wrestled at Purdue," said Rogers. "He trained him right. Since Paul started wrestling so late he didn't have time to pick up bad habits and is very teachable. Paul will just keep improving. Since he started so late, he is never going to reach a plateau and he's just going to keep getting better and better."
While Rogers admits both rankings are a huge confidence boost and a great honor, the Muskies aren't content.
"It is a huge step for us, but it's not where we want to be at the end of the year," said Rogers. "It's just a ranking and our season is far from over. What will determine what kind of season we have will be decided by where we stand at the end of the year."
For the complete list of NCWA Division III national and individual rankings, please click here.