Lakeland Union High School is looking to make its move into the top half of the Great Northern Conference wrestling standings this season.
The Thunderbirds have competed with some of the top teams in the conference thus far and had another opportunity to get over the hump Tuesday in a dual meet against the defending GNC champions, Medford.
Lakeland trailed 30-24 with the heart of the lineup coming up, but the Raiders came up with three pins in the final five matches to win, 48-33.
"Multiple times we put ourselves in positions that we didn't need to be in and it cost us points. Medford is a very good team, very well coached, a lot of talent top to bottom of the lineup," LUHS head coach Adam Bremer said. "This is third dual in a row that we've been on the verge of being able to break that next barrier, compete at that next level and we took a step backwards. We don't win the match we need to win, we don't stay off of our back in a situation where we need to stay off our back. I would say in the third period it looked like we got tired. We can't have that if we're going to beat the best teams in the conference."
The slide started in the 113-pound match as sophomore Harry Nemcek started his match against Medford's Jake Brunner fast, but it turned as the match wore on. Nemcek gambled in a few situations and Brunner was able to capitalize, scoring a pin at the 3:23 mark.
Two matches later, Tate Olson found himself in a similar situation and once again Medford took advantage, as Zeke Sigmund secured a pin 4:28 into the match.
In the following match, Lakeland had one of its top wrestlers on the team and defending conference champion Jack Scandin competing against rival Andy Poetzl at 138 pounds. Poetzl got the upper hand and wore down Scandin, eventually pinning him with just 18 seconds left.
"That's a match he should have won. I didn't grow up in the age of social media, but they did, and from my understanding they're two people that like wrestling each other and want to wrestle each other and Andy wanted it more tonight," Bremer said. "You could see at the end, both were tired wrestlers, but Andy got on top and got a big win. That was a big point in the match for us."
Dejay Nordrum was a bright spot during that sequence of darkness for Lakeland, as he squared off with Emett Grunwald at 126 pounds.
Nordrum grinded out a win by decision, 11-4. Anytime Grunwald was able to get a point or some momentum, Nordrum was able to respond and keep him at bay.
"It was a really well disciplined match. The only thing was that the start of the third period wasn't what we wanted, but the difference in that match was that Dejay bore down," Bremer said. "At a time when it could have gone really bad for us, Dejay scored. When you're a leader, when you're a champ, that's the part you have to do. It doesn't have to be perfect, but in the moment you have to have a score, that's what Dejay did to win that match."
Other bright spots in the meet were pins by Robert Burgess, Xavier Burgess and Jason Hilgart.
Robert Burgess began the meet by pinning Isaiah Heil at 152 pounds and two matches later his younger brother Xavier Burgess pinned Clay Bowe in 3:05 at 170 pounds.
Hilgart competed in the final varsity match of the night, pinning Zack Mottle in 3:25.
"Robert went out and wrestled a really controlled match. We're really excited about where Robert is at this point," Bremer said. "It's really exciting to see the job that he's doing and exciting to see the quality of wrestling that he's doing right now. I thought he really set the tone for us to build off of. Xavier was a little sloppy at the beginning, second period he settled right down and had one of the tightest pins of the night, which was awesome to see."
Of the 11 matches wrestled on the night, 10 finished with a pin. Unfortunately for Lakeland fans, Medford picked up seven of them.
Pins garner major points on the scoreboard and in the end, it was the difference between winning and losing the dual meet.
"That's a mat awareness piece. When it comes to mat awareness, one of the pieces that we need to get better at is feeling that moment where we're about to go to our backs," Bremer said. "Coach (Ryan) Heath would call it hip swing, I call it reversing your hips so that you can get the side that's about to go over, down. Just seeing us feel a little bit better. I would say, often it's our kids with inexperience that put us in that position. Our more experienced wrestlers, that's hard. You have to hate getting pinned. That has to be one of the worst feelings in the world. Too many times this year we're seeing kids with experience going to their back and getting pinned easily."
Lakeland (2-3, 0-3 GNC) looks to bounce back at the Ashland Invitational tomorrow.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.