GVSU wrestling meets expectations in 2015-16

GVL / Courtesy - Katie Haynes
Eric Dietz

GVL / Courtesy – Katie Haynes Eric Dietz

Josh Peick

Rick Bolhuis, head coach of the Grand Valley State club wrestling team, said early in the wrestling season that he fully expected his team to contend for a national title. Bolhuis’ expectation became reality on Jan. 22 and 23, as the Lakers secured a second-place finish at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association national duals in Dalton, Georgia.

GVSU breezed through pool play and dominated in the round of 16 with a win over Middle Tennessee State, 35-21. The Lakers were up 35-3 and forfeited the final four matches in order to save some of the wrestlers’ energy for the next round.

In the quarterfinals, the extra rest paid off as GVSU won a hard-fought match with Emmanuel College. The Lakers trailed 21-19 with two bouts left, needing to win both to advance to the semifinals. Harun Bogdanic recorded a 10-5 victory to put the Lakers ahead, and Nick Verran pinned his opponent in the final bout to secure the victory.

The Lakers crushed the second seed Liberty University in the semifinals to face off against the top-seeded University of Central Florida in the finals. GVSU gave UCF all it could handle, but fell short in a 32-15 match. The second-place finish was the best finish by GVSU since the team won the tournament in 2009.

“It is important to the program,” Bolhuis said. “Getting over the hump of winning our quarterfinal, winning our semifinal and actually competing for the national championship was important for the program. That is something that can be expected now.”

A second-place finish at the NCWA national duals was not expected this year, with only seven upperclassmen on the team, but the talented young core exceeded expectations.

“We had some guys that were on the fence about how good of a team we really are,” Bolhuis said. “We have been trying to send a message to them that we have a talented group, but they were able to prove it to themselves this weekend that we can compete some of these other programs.”

With the recent success from the young group, the idea of winning the national duals championship in years to come is not far off. Freshmen Brenden Hazelton and Jake Sobeck have made a difference for the Lakers.

“There have been some guys that have come in and made an immediate impact,” Bolhuis said. “We were fortunate that we had a group of guys that came in that were already talented and worked hard to be successful at the college level.”

Sobeck is not the first in his family to wrestle for GVSU. His brother, TJ Sobeck, won a national championship with the Lakers in 2009. Jake uses this as motivation for his own performance.

“It gives me a target to hit,” he said. “It gives me goals and really drives me to improve so I can one day surpass him; and with my team here I feel like my goals are easily in reach.”

It hasn’t just been the young wrestlers. Senior Austin Geerlings has brought some much-needed leadership and experience to the team. Geerlings started his college wrestling career at GVSU, but transferred to Eastern Michigan for his sophomore and junior years. He returned for his senior year, and is competing at a higher level than ever before. He is undefeated in dual-style tournaments this year.

“From my time as a freshman, to choosing to transfer to pursue my dreams, and now with ending my wrestling career back at Grand Valley, (the GVSU staff) has always been there for me, and that support has definitely helped my success this year,” Geerlings said.

Geerlings and the rest of the team are far from finished this season. The Lakers will host a meet on Feb. 6 that will feature teams from the Great Lakes Conference. The following day will feature a youth wrestling tournament, exposing young wrestlers to the campus and the wrestling program at GVSU.

The final regular season tournament will be the GLC tournament, which will determine which wrestlers will compete at the NCWA national tournament in March. The Lakers will have a chance of taking home first place in the national tournament, as they earned 23 points at the NCWA national duals to bring into the national tournament.

The 23 points, added to the team total, is equivalent to having two extra wrestlers compete in the tournament. With strong performances from the GVSU wrestlers competing, the Lakers have a real shot at earning the top spot in the national rankings.