With just eight varsity wrestlers this season, third-year Northwood coach Steve
Simok knows all about the numbers game.
"I don't pay attention to the team scoreboard, since we do have so few wrestlers," Simok said. "We just want to go out there and improve to get better before the sectional tournament. We started the season with wins over Cardinal Stritch and Gibsonburg, and I didn't realize until we were on our way home that we had won either of them.
"When you're putting out only half a lineup, to win those dual meets we're looking to have to pin every time we go out on the mat. We have the first four weight classes (filled) and we'll move those other guys around to have matches instead of forfeits."
The Rangers had seven forfeits in a 42-33 loss to Van Buren this season. They beat Stryker 34-18 and lost to Lake 33-21, but they earned a big win over Division II Fostoria, beating the Redmen 44-24 behind six pins and two major decisions.
"Fostoria is a little bit down this year," said Simok, a former Northwood wrestler and 1999 graduate. "They're pretty young and we have quite a few inexperienced wrestlers, but we didn't lose a single match. We wrestled really well that match."
Northwood has two returning Division III district qualifiers in junior Nick Lang, a 103-pounder, and senior Mike Miller.
Miller, who is 15-8, has competed anywhere from 171 to 215 pounds this season.
"He's got a few more losses than he might have because I tend to match him up against the toughest opposition I can," Simok said. "This is his last shot to make the state tournament, so we match him up with better wrestlers. He bumps around to different weight classes. He walks around at about 180 pounds, and he's fine with it. He likes to wrestle the bigger guys better because they don't move around as much."
At 18-2, Lang has the best record on the team. Lang, along with Miller, sophomores Matt Schlicher and Tyler Mack and senior Andy Bloomfield, are Northwood's lone returning lettermen from a year ago.
"Nick Lang put in a lot of work in the offseason to get where he is now, and it's showing," Simok said. "He's made the finals of every tournament we've been in, and he won the (112-pound) championship at the Northwood Invitational, which was our first meet of the year. He's really driven to be a state-placer this year and he's working really hard to get there."
Schlicher has a 15-7 record at 119 pounds, while Mack is 14-7 at 125.
"Matt is more of a laid-back kind of guy but he's also pretty technical, too," Simok said. "When you make a mistake, he's going to catch you on it and put you on your back. We're trying to get him to be more aggressive, but he's tough and he's been wrestling since he was little.
"Tyler is definitely the hardest worker we have in the room, hands down. He leads by example in the room. He showed the improvement he's made already this year. He was 5-7, but he went 9-1 last week and made the finals of the Woodmore "A" Classic last weekend. So far, he's the most improved guy on the team."
The Rangers placed sixth out of 18 teams at the "A" Classic behind runners-up Lang, Schlicher and Mack.
Bloomfield, a 160-pounder, has a 9-5 record but has missed the last two weeks because of a concussion. He is expected back soon.
"He's been wrestling since he was 2 years old and he's at practice every day working hard," Simok said. "You really don't have to worry about him because he's a leader by example for the other guys about how things get done."
The other three wrestlers in the Rangers' lineup are sophomore Cody Dunbar at 145 and freshmen Brandon Kretz (112) and Daniel Prothero (152).
Dunbar, a first-year wrestler, has a 1-3 mark.
"He missed a couple meets from an injury and he went to a jayvee tournament to try to get him a little better competition," Simok said. "He missed out early in the year when we had a couple more wrestlers on the team and he lost in wrestle-offs. He's an athletic kid and he's strong and has natural ability. If he could put in some time in the offseason to dedicate himself to learning technique, he could be really good."
Kretz, who is 12-7, started the season slowly but is adjusting to the competition at the varsity level.
"He was 3-4 and we had quite a few matches last week," Simok said. "Last week he went 9-3 and he's getting a lot better. He's definitely more technical. He's starting to get it. I wouldn't say he's quite there yet, but he's definitely on his way."
Prothero has a 15-9 record and has a team-high 12 pins this season.
"He's quick, athletic and has been wrestling for a long time," Simok said. "He's one to watch out for. He's going to be good. To have the record and success he's having is pretty special."
Northwood is looking for its first state qualifier since Jake Grigson took eighth in the state at 140 pounds in 2007. Grigson is now a Rangers assistant coach, and his brother, Josh, is an assistant head coach.
"Jake is also training as an MMA fighter," Simok said. "With the popularity of that sport, we're trying to use that to help us coax kids to come out for wrestling. Jake's our enforcer. If there is any messing around or a need for attitude adjustment, we send Jake over there to take care of that."
Northwood was to compete in the Spartan Invitational in Lima on Saturday.