Lake wrestling rolling early in season

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

LAKE TWP. Every team starts its season with a zero in the loss column.

The challenge is keeping that zero in the L column as long as possible and two weeks into the wrestling season, the Lake Blue Streaks have managed to do just that.

Dominic Artman (top) of Lake defeated Hunter Kurylo of GlenOak in a 113 pound bout at GlenOak on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

With a 7-0 record following dual matches with a series of non-league opponents, the Blue Steaks have generated some important momentum for themselves ahead of the Federal League portion of their schedule. Veteran head coach Mike Mattingly likes what he's seen from his squad so far in what has been an unusual season tucked inside an unusual year.

"I'm really pleased with where we're at. The kids have bought into what we're stressing in the early part of the season," Mattingly said.

The seven wins have come in groups, as a quad match against Mayfield, Tuslaw and Dresden Tri-Valley and another against Cuyahoga Heights, Independence and North Royalton each yielded an undefeated outcome for Lake.

Even in getting those two matches in, the  COVID-19 pandemic has had a say in the schedule. Mogadore was slated to be part of the first quad match, but had its season temporarily paused. It's the sort of interruption teams have been learning to deal with since the preseason and will likely be forced to deal with all the way through the end of the campaign.

Like virtually every team in every sport across the state, Lake has also had situations when one of the team's wrestlers has had to quarantine due to contact tracing after sitting next to or otherwise being exposed to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

"Everything's really about preaching to them (to take it) one day at a time because we don't know if we're going to get to practice or wrestle tomorrow, so be grateful for the opportunity to practice," Mattingly said. "You never know from one day to the other."

In addition to individual athletes quarantining and teams pausing their seasons, another side effect of the pandemic is that many of the larger tournaments that are hallmarks of the Northeast Ohio wrestling scene have been canceled for this season.

Events such as the Hoover Holiday Tournament are typically a focal point of the schedule for Lake and many of its rivals, but without those events, dual and tri-matches are filling in the openings in the schedule. Bringing together hundreds of athletes, coaches and fans in one gym simply isn't possible due to health and safety guidelines, so smaller matches are one solution.

One downside of missing out on larger tournaments is the preparation and training they provide for wrestlers ahead of the postseason by creating the same sort of big-match atmosphere as a sectional or district tournament.

"That's the one drawback, but it is also nice to have duals where the team is all together and they get to watch each other and you're not running from one mat to another to see guys wrestle," Mattingly said. "It helps get the team atmosphere going, but it doesn't get them ready for postseason stuff like getting ready, warming down, sitting and waiting for the next match like you do at a tournament."

A team doesn't start 7-0 without strong individual efforts and for Lake, there have been several. Among them, junior Thomas Cassidy (120 pounds), senior Matt Beard (152 pounds) and Justin Jennings (160 pounds) have been three of the headliners, but Mattingly noted that the impressive starts have come from throughout the lineup.

He pointed to Lake's eight seniors as being a group that leads well by example and although not all of the eight are starters, the 25th-year head coach said they've set the tone in the wrestling room.

"It's not so much using their voices, but leading by example," Mattingly said. "They've done a good job doing what's expected and asked of them and not complaining."

With the pandemic a constant threat to stop or end the season at any point, Mattingly has seen that reality create gratitude and appreciation within the team for simply being able to participate in the sport each wrestler enjoys. While the district gave students a choice at the beginning of the year to either do in-person classes or stick to online learning, he says most team members are attending in-person classes and that has seemed to help them from a standpoint of being in a somewhat normal schedule and around their friends on a daily basis.

One lesson from the pandemic is that everything is subject to change at any moment, but at this particular moment, an undefeated start and an appreciation for the chance to wrestle are two things the Blue Streaks have within their grasp.