MARQUETTE - Individual wrestlers with high ambitions may need to adjust their expectations as they prepare to compete in the Upper Peninsula Wrestling Championships today in Marquette.
According to Escanaba head coach Jamie Segorski, U.P. wrestling teams have been hit hard by a recent wave of the flu, affecting various weight classes and throwing projections out of whack.
"I think we have a nice group of wrestlers, but I guess it depends on who is going to be the healthiest going in," he said. "As it stands right now, I know we're healthy, but the flu is going around like crazy and teams are going to be missing some kids. Some good wrestlers will miss the tourney and it's going to be unfortunate. We'd like everyone to come in healthy and throw it out there on the mat, but I don't think it's realistic to believe anyone will come in real healthy."
The Eskymos enter today's tournament ranked No. 1 in the U.P. coaches poll, but said there is little, if any separation between his team and the No. 2-ranked Gladstone Braves.
"It depends on the day," he said. "Gladstone has a real nice team, and there are some fantastic wrestlers in the U.P. from Jake Cronick, James Bruce and Tom Bailey at Gladstone, Travis Heller (Escanaba), Alex Edwards (Iron Mountain). There's going to be a lot of good matches, and we're excited to watch them."
Gladstone head coach Jesse DeBacker confirmed that some of his athletes had recently gotten over the flu.
"We have a couple kids that just got over it," he said. "Everyone is wrestling (today). I don't know how healthy we are, but they're all wrestling.
"I think we've been doing pretty good. We're ranked second in the U.P. coming in and I think we have a lot of kids that could make it to the finals and win it."
DeBacker said the 215 weight class is one that could be especially competitive with Braves standout Jack Cronick, Curtis Labadie from Bark River-Harris, Devin Olson from Escanaba and Nathan LaJoie from Sault Ste. Marie.
"Jack beat Labadie early in the season and then lost to him last weekend (at Kingsford). It's gone back and forth. Him and Olson have beaten each other as well, and the kid from Sault will be in the mix. There's four kids who could win it on any given day," DeBacker said.
At Kingsford, Gladstone's Brayden Williams was a runner-up at 125 and defeated his Norway counterpart who was the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
"He could make some waves (today)," said DeBacker.
Manistique head coach Gary Bowman is heading into today's tournament with realistic expectations of where his team stands.
"I think it's going to be a great battle between Escanaba and Gladstone," he said. "I'm not sure if they're going to be shifting weights, but typically the bigger schools seem to control their own destiny. That will be the battle.
"The key is the effect Sault Ste. Marie is going to have on it, because they have 2-3 real good wrestlers that are going to knock somebody off. That will be interesting. And of course, Norway is really strong and Iron Mountain has some great individuals."
Bowman said his most experienced wrestler, senior Amber Smith who wrestles at 112 and 119, has suffered from declining participation on wrestling teams around the Upper Peninsula.
"Amber has won a lot of matches by forfeit. There aren't a lot of 112's and 119's around here," Bowman said. "I have a kid at 103 also who I don't use too often, but at one time was 7-1 and only wrestled one match. Amber is the best we have as far as experience."
Bowman also weighed in on the expected battle at 215, and said the class has a clear favorite.
"The best guy in that weight class is Nathan LaJoie from Sault Ste. Marie," he said. "Sault also has a kid (Steven Kynds) who placed in the top-six in the state tourney last year. He's wrestled from 145 to 160. Cryderman at St. Ignace at 160, 171 is ranked in the top 10 in the state and Jimmy Spencer from Rudyard at 119-125 placed in the state tournament last year."
Curtis Labadie of Bark River-Harris has been on a roll since last Saturday when he won the 215 weight class at the Kingsford Invite, becoming the Broncos first champion in program history. The Broncos collectively had a solid showing against Westwood and Gwinn, Thursday night.
"I was really happy, especially going into the U.P.'s this weekend. We should have a good showing," said BR-H head coach Mike Labadie.
Curtis Labadie earned third place at the U.P. Championships last year and will have as good a chance as anyone to win a U.P. title at the 215 weight class today.
Segorski is setting the bar high for the Eskymos and said if everything goes right, it could be a banner day.
"I think every kid we're bringing has an opportunity to medal. It's not out of the question for any of our 14 kids," he said. "Out of those 14, we could take 14 medals and place 14 in the top five. Is it going to happen? Probably not, someone will slip on the way and that's just how it goes. I just don't know who it's going to be."