The season the Lake wrestling team has had would be impressive for any club. Sending eight wrestlers to the Division III District Meet, a second-place finish at sectionals and a third-place finish in the Northern Buckeye Conference Meet are what the Flyers have accomplished this season.
And all this after being picked to finish seventh in the NBC during the preseason.
Behind a first-place finish from senior Chris Salaz and second-place finishes from Damon Keister, Zach Meek, Robert Cruz, Lake set a school record by sending eight wrestlers to districts.
Lake wrestler Chris Salaz bears down on an opponent.
(Photo courtesy of Innovations Portrait Studio)
When asked the reason for his team's success this year, head coach Tom Jackson had this to say.
“I just think (the kids) keep working,” Jackson said. “Preseason, we were picked seventh (in the NBC). We certainly weren't the team we are now. We keep working and keep battling and (the kids) worked hard to try and reach those goals. From about a week before the NBC Tournament, things just really started coming around then. We were feeling like we were at full strength going into the NBC Tournament.”
With the Flyers, it starts with Salaz, who holds a remarkable 43-3 record and serves as one of the captains.
“My three goals before the season,” Salaz said, “were to (1) to be a leader for my teammates; (2) make it to the state tournament; and (3) make sure we did very well team-wise, and we did that by placing second at sectionals. Keister and I want to be leaders for everybody else and have (them) focused. ”
Salaz, who also plays football and runs track and was the NBC Champion at 138 pounds, is set to attend Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. next year on a wrestling scholarship. He attended the Lake Erie College Wrestling Camp and competed in the Ohio Tournament of Champions in Columbus last spring, a sign of his dedication to the sport.
“These last few weeks, I've lived, breathed and ate wrestling, to make it to the state tournament would be everything. All my friends are on me to get to state. If I do, that would be great.”
Keister and Meek have been helping to complement Salaz this season both performance-wise and from a leadership standpoint.
Keister, who competes at 106, finished second at sectionals and at the NBC Meet, losing both times to Woodmore standout Evan Ulinski. A junior, he has gone 37-6 this season. Meek, meanwhile, finished second at 152 while going 30-14. And Cruz, who is only a sophomore, nearly won at 170, falling to Genoa' Mike Snider, 7-5, in overtime.
Keister deciding to drop football and baseball last summer as he refocused his efforts on wrestling last summer
“I dropped other sports to focus on wrestling,” Keister said. “It was definitely worth it — I can see some extreme improvements, both in my style and how I wrestle overall. I'm very happy with my improvement.”
Keister also spoke about the importance of setting an example for some of the younger, more inexperienced wrestlers.
“I think we had about 20 people on the team this year,” he said. “It was a big thing (leadership). We had a lot of young kids and inexperienced kids. We had to show them what is expected and what you need to do help the team. I was really proud of us as a team during the season. I think we were picked to place seventh (in the NBC), so finishing third was a big deal.”
The other four district qualifiers were Matt Church (113), Marcel Bryan (145), Jacob Hankish (285) and Mitchell Adkins (220). Church, Bryan and Hankish, who was the heavyweight champion at the NBC Meet and holds a 35-12 record, each finished in third place while Adkins was fourth.
Despite the fact that Salaz and Hankish will graduate in the spring, this could be the start of a nice run for the Flyers. As for now, though, Jackson is concerned with how his boys will perform this weekend and how many of them will advance to Columbus.
“It gets real tough when you get to districts — it's one step away from state,” Jackson said. “It's every high-school wrestler’s goal to get to state and place. There are a lot of kids that are working towards that goal of making it down to Columbus. As a team, we're hitting that peak at the right time.