Lakeland Union High School has a goal to finish as one of the top three teams in the Great Northern Conference wrestling standings at the end of the season.
That goal is a possibility, but there is still some work to be done, starting with a dual meet last Thursday night against Tomahawk. It was senior night. It was parents' night. It was also against a team they haven't beaten in more than a decade in a dual meet.
After six matches, the outcome didn't seem promising, as Lakeland suffered five pins. Then things took a turn, the T-Birds' six of the next seven matches, with the lone loss coming on a forfeit, tying the meet at 36 apiece heading into final match of the night.
Sophomore Jason Hilgart squared off against Tomahawk's Matt Turkiewicz at 152 pounds. Hilgart fell behind early, trailing 7-5 entering the third period.
Hilgart scored a takedown to tie it. Then he earned three back points to take a 10-7 lead with a little more than a minute left. All he needed to do after that was ride out his opponent to secure a win, 39-36.
"It wasn't about me anymore. It was about the team," Hilgart said. "If I would have lost, the team would have lost. I care way more about them than I care about myself. I just knew I had to win the match. I had to do something."
With the meet starting at 160 pounds, it meant the inexperienced portion of the lineup would be due up first for Lakeland.
Early on, that inexperienced showed, as a few missteps turned into a pins in five of the first six matches, with the exception coming on a pin by Xavier Burgess at 170 pounds.
"One bad position ends matches. That's the piece that we just can't afford to have," LUHS head coach Adam Bremer said. "There's some inexperience in that lineup, but there's a lot of kids in that lineup so I'm really excited for what the future holds. Those upper weights - even though they weren't the ones tonight - are going to be the ones in the future that are important for us."
Although the T-Birds found themselves in a 30-6 hole, the heart of the lineup was coming up. A forfeit at 106 pounds cut the lead to 30-12, with Harry Nemcek coming up against Austin Snow at 113 pounds.
Nemcek fell behind and Snow looked in control. All of a sudden, with a quick turn of his hips, Nemcek reversed it, putting Snow on his back and securing a pin that ignited his team for the remainder of the night.
Lakeland would not lose a match on the mat the rest of the meet, with the lone loss coming on a forfeit at 120 pounds.
"I'm just so proud of the heart. I mean that's all it is, it's all heart," Bremer said. "When you get down like that to a kid who's handling the match like that and he never, ever quit. You saw Jack Scandin come flying off the bench. You saw Dejay (Nordrum) just start pacing unbelievably in the background. It just created so much energy so Harry definitely gets a big nod for us tonight."
Dejay Nordrum took the mat next and jumped out to a 9-1 lead heading into the third period, but got caught and Tomahawk's Luke Knight scored five in a row. Nordrum was able to hold on though, to win the match by decision, 9-6. Tate Olson won his match at 132 pounds, besting Alex Bishop, 8-3, in a match he dictated for the duration.
With three matches remaining, Lakeland trailed 36-24, which meant pins in the next two matches were crucial.
On senior night, two seniors were due up and they delivered. Jack Scandin pinned Isaiah Scheffler in 45 seconds, while Robert Burgess took a 16-3 lead before finally pinning Tom Rigney in the second period to tie the team score.
"Having two seniors get pins brought a lot of emotion. Jack Scandin wrestled smart and got a pin close to the end of the period," Bremer said. "Robert had a chance to get a (technical) fall, which would have been five points, but it wouldn't have mattered because we had to win the last match anyway. But I think getting that pin brought a little extra energy in that last one. It got our team excited."
Tomahawk coach Bob Garrou bumped Wyatt Wenninger up from 152 pounds to 160 pounds for what was believed to be a more favorable matchup, meaning the Hatchets had to shuffle the rest of the lineup, which was to the advantage of the T-Birds from 132-152 pounds.
Lakeland (4-3, 2-3 GNC) now has one final obstacle to finish in the top three in the GNC. Since Antigo won the dual meet between the two seasons, the T-Birds must finish third or better at the conference meet - which is held at Lakeland - and Antigo must finish behind them.
"This season we've really benefited from being a good tournament team. We've got a little over a week now and it's in our home gym," Bremer said. "So all of those are factors that play into our favor, but the big thing is, nothing is given to us right now. Next week we're going to have to go take it and I think you're going to see a team that has a lot of energy and a lot of fire that's going to try to do something at that tournament."
Lakeland hosts the Great Northern Conference tournament Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.