In the words of former president Harry S. Truman, “The successful man has enthusiasm. Good work is never done in cold blood; heat is needed to forge anything. Every great achievement is the story of a flaming heart.”
The passion that West Ottawa wrestlers have sines in the “off-season.” The idea of their being space between the seasons is a bit of a misnomer, as you can find a handful of wrestlers on the mat given the day. Of those wrestlers, a few have decided to dedicate themselves to a higher goal and mindset of a state champion. The MHSAA finals are often the pinnacle of any wrestler. But not the Panthers.
“I’ve said it since I was hired in four years ago, “states Ryan Lancaster, the West Ottawa varsity head coach. “ I am not chasing state titles; I am chasing stop signs. If we have kids continually proving themselves at the national level, the team titles will trickle down eventually.”
The stop sign is the All-American plaque, which is awarded at the US Marines Cadet and Freestyle National Championships every year to the top 8 wrestlers in each weight class. The tournament, which is dubbed the simple moniker of “Fargo,” as the event takes place in the Fargodome in the North Dakota State University campus in Fargo, North Dakota. The ultimate prize for West Ottawa wrestlers is the title of All-American.
Each year the pinnacle of high school freestyle and Greco roman wrestling in the United States takes place over a week in Fargo. The Junior and Cadet National championships will crown individual national champions in boys and girls freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Many of these all-American and national champions will go on to greatness at the NCAA level and into the senior level world and Olympic Games.
“The first step to the national event is placing at the MUSAW state championships.” Lancaster says. “If you place top four in the state you most likely have a shot on the national team.”
This year, three athletes aim to find their way to a state title and eventually an All-American stop sign.
Sophomore Mathew “Mad Dawg” Hakken aims to make his second appearance at the national tournament and hopefully win his first state title. Lancaster’s thoughts on Mathew mirror is former sentiments:
“Mathew is such a hard worker. He knows more than most that the ticket to success is not handed out but needs to be earned daily. His commitment to himself and this team is herculean and is a great role model for future Panther wrestlers.”
Joining Mathew Is 8th grader Owen Foster. Owen placed last year and the state finals his has high aspirations. “Owen is the prototype athlete we want at West Ottawa. Strong, smart, and hard working. He has all the tools to succeed at any level.”
Owen’s brother James also is entering the fray. James, a 5th grader, fines a balance between dedication and fun. “James is out there having fun. He really enjoys the Olympic styles of wrestling and it show. He is a great reminder of why we do what we do.”
The 2019 MUSAW State Finals are May 10-11 at Olivet College. Fans can follow along at trackwrestling.
FORMER MUSAW ALL STATE WRESTLERS*