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After winning its fourth straight Northern Wrestling Association Championship as part of a successful 2010-11 season, the Lakeland College wrestling team is "on the attack" again this winter.
The Muskies return to the mats with a talented group of returners and a promising freshman class. The team compiled a 6-9 dual record and placed ninth in a tough Great Lakes Regional last season, and capped the season by sending a grappler to the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the fourth straight year.
Second-year head coach Mike DeRoehn is eager for competition to begin. "We have a lot of ability and untapped talent," said DeRoehn. "This year we are trying to take it one match at a time. We're looking at what we can achieve both academically and athletically as a team and individually in the fall semester."
The team will have to work through a couple of early-season injuries and stay healthy throughout the six-month season. "We need to train hard, but train smart," said DeRoehn. "It's a long season and ultimately we want to compete well every chance we get. Right now our long-range focus is to win conference and do well at regionals and nationals."
Lakeland will build on its rich tradition by depending on senior Robby Frias (Oak Lawn, Ill.) and junior Ryan Renon to lead the team.
Renon is the team's top returner as the Wrightstown, Wis., native placed fourth at the Great Lakes Regional and claimed his second consecutive NWA title at the 165-pound weight class. He tallied a 22-9 record and has received national attention as he's ranked 10th in the National Wrestling Coaches Association Division III Brute-Adidas Individual Ranking. He is also ranked ninth by d3wrestle.com.
"Renon does everything right," said DeRoehn. "I keep telling our younger guys that if they follow in Renon's footsteps, we'll be a great team."
Frias, who placed second at 141 at the NWA Tournament and just missed placing at the Great Lakes Regional, returns as the team's vocal and academic leader. "Robby sets a great example in academics and on the mat," said DeRoehn. "He and Renon have the potential to be All-Americans. The team is in good hands with those two."
Another key returnee for the Muskies is sophomore Grant Franson, who will most likely take the top spot at a highly-competitive 125. Franson placed fourth at the NWA Tournament. The Lindenhurst, Ill., native has bought into the program and is poised to have a successful season.
"Grant has matured a lot," said DeRoehn. "His mental toughness and understanding of the sport has immensely improved. He's put in a lot of offseason work and continues to do the extra workouts and lifts."
Junior Joel Frias, another veteran grappler and Robby's younger brother, will contend at 141. A native of Oak Lawn, Ill., Frias leads the team off the mat and helps monitor the team's study table.
Senior Miguel Luis (Sheboygan) will join the team in the second semester along with North Central College senior transfer Andrew Bradley (Woodstock, Ill.). Luis won the 174 title at the NWA Tournament and lost to the eventual champion in the second round at the Great Lakes Regional. Bradley was a regional place winner at North Central and looks to contend at 197.
"We're going to be a different team second semester," said DeRoehn. "We'll have the experience of two talented seniors to back up our lineup."
While the Muskies' returners play an integral role, the freshman class is expected to make a big impact. With 13 new wrestlers competing for a top spot, DeRoehn thinks about half of the starting weight classes will be freshmen.
Freshman David Galarno (New Holstein) placed third at the WIAA State Tournament twice and looks to contend at 174. Other Wisconsin state qualifiers include Jake Maechtle (Port Washington) and Vince Cardarelle (Saukville). Maechtle will compete at 149, while Cardarelle will compete with Renon at 165.
Freshmen Eduardo Orihuela (Brookfield, Ill.) and Juan Diaz (Park Ridge, Ill.) were sectional qualifiers in Illinois and offer athletic ability to go with hardworking attitudes. Orihuela and Diaz will contend at 133 and 141, respectively.
"We have a raw, but talented group of freshmen," said DeRoehn. "They need to keep learning technique and the fundamentals of our program, but they'll positively impact the team."
Here's a breakdown of the wrestlers competing in each weight classes:
125- Grant Franson and D.J. Pritchett (Hampton, Va.)
133- Eduardo Orihuela and John Wormwood (Menominee, Mich.)
141- Joel Frias and Juan Diaz
149- Robby Frias, Brent Steudel (Hortonville) and Jake Maechtle
157- Logan Gueths and Miguel Luis
165- Ryan Renon and Vince Cardarelle
174- David Galarno and Brandon Garcia (Adell)
184- Jeremy Kroeger (Villa Park, Ill.) and David Castro (Manville, N.J.)
197- Rob Forgette (Menominee, Mich.) and Andrew Bradley
HWT- Tom Phalin (Sheboygan), Andrew Wagner (West Bend) and Andrew Crivellone (Oak Lawn, Ill.)
Lakeland faces a competitive schedule, opening with the No. 19-ranked University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Nov. 8. The Pointers placed third in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last season. Lakeland hosts the Muskie Invite on Nov. 12, where No. 11 North Central College, No. 24 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and No. 19 Point are among the field.
The Muskies will take on nationally-ranked opponents throughout the season, including No. 5 Cornell College at the Cornell Invite on Jan. 14.
The team hosts the NWA Tournament on Feb. 18 and heads to Minneapolis, Minn., for the Great Lakes Regional on Feb. 25. The National Tournament is March 9-10 in La Crosse, Wis.
"We have a great group of guys who are working hard," said DeRoehn. "I'm excited to see what we can do on the mats."