Wrestlers return with optimism after last year’s struggles

GVL Archive / Brian B. Sevald
A past GVSU wrestling meet

GVL Archive / Brian B. Sevald A past GVSU wrestling meet

Kevin VanAntwerpen

Bad luck struck the GVSU men’s wrestling team last season when the team took fourth place at the National Championships as it was the first time the team dropped below second place in the past 10 years. But with two matches behind them in the 2011 season, the Lakers aim to regain their edge and retake the national spotlight.

GVSU head coach Rick Bulhuis said last season was plagued by illness, sickness and deaths in the families of two of the wrestlers. A returning All-American wrestler’s father died mid-season, and the student decided wrestling was too much to handle during the time.

“It affected our lineup,” Bulhuis said. “But it affected the guys on the team emotionally more than anything else. Knowing that somebody you work out with on a daily basis is going through something that is difficult to deal with.”

Andrew Stepanovich and Frank Eastine, two key wrestlers, suffered a broken rib and broken ankle respectively. Both were expected to be on the lineup, and their departure left Bulhuis and his staff with two more empty spots to fill.

“Last year was rough,” said senior Corey Melinn. “Things kept happening, and it set us back.”

While Bulhuis said he was disappointed in losing nationals at first, the team did the best they could given the circumstances.

“Placing fourth last year was actually an accomplishment for what we’ve dealt with during the season,” he said. “It’s not what we trained for or the expectation that we set for ourselves, but given six or seven months to look back at what we’ve dealt with, it was an accomplishment.”

Now that the team has had time to recover, the players find themselves with a sense of brotherhood they hope will propel them back to the top of the leader boards at the 2011 National Conference in March.

“The older guys on the team know that after everything last year, we’re just a tight knit group,” said Katie Haynes, the wrestling club’s manager. “The first-year guys are just getting accustomed to it. We’re family. They fight like brothers, but when it comes down to tragedy, they’re there for each other.”

In addition to a rise in team unity, the team has made an effort to move some of the wrestlers to new weight classes by upping workout routines.

“We’re lifting weights more often, which is something that I as a coach have neglected in the past,” Bulhuis said. “We’ve tried to add some team depth so that we have two or three guys at different weight classes.”

Bulhuis said he hopes the team finds a measure of shelter in wrestling.

“Wrestling can be a refuge,” Bulhuis said. “You can use it in a positive manner to make yourself a better person. (The wrestlers) want to learn how to be a better brother or father or husband down the road, and they’re going to look back to sophomore year in college and think, ‘This is how I handled the situation.’”

[email protected]