Varsity Wrestling · The Champs. Are. Here.: Recapping a special wrestling season

Lakeshore State Placers (from left): Zeke Rohl, Shane Williams, Micah Hanau, Aaron Lucio, Cameron Litaker

Cardinals, Bulldogs, and Lancers—three different mascots that have defined Stevensville and Baroda, but the student-athletes that have sported the red and white uniforms have all shared something in common: hard work, dedication, and a commitment to exceLLence. Opponents may not find Lakeshore on the map, but one thing is for certain: The Champs. Are. Here.

The 50th season under the direction of Bruce Bittenbender for Lancer wrestling turned out to be quite special. Not only did his team finish as a Division 2 Final Four participant, but Bittenbender’s drive back from Ford Field was quite the happy drive. At the “Home of the Lions,” five of the six individual wrestlers that qualified for state placed in their weight class, and two of his wrestlers won an individual state championship. In fact, Lakeshore and Holly, out of the Flint Metro League, were the only two schools in Division 2 with multiple champions.

Sophomore Micah Hanau (41-4), wrestling at 130 pounds, won his championship in overtime against Zeth Strejc (27-14) of Lowell 4-1. Although Strejc nearly won the match, Micah was able to hold-off and score the winning takedown. The big stage didn’t shake the sophomore as he comes from a family deeply rooted in wrestling—his father was a coach, his older brothers wrestled, and he works year-round to reach his goals.

Shane Williams (44-2), wrestling in his final match as a Lancer in one of the toughest weight classes in Division 2, took a 5-0 lead over unbeaten #1 seed Nick Matusko of Chelsea and held on for the 6-3 decision. It was a memorable 150th career victory for Williams as he had reversed an earlier decision in the Regional Final against Matusko. Matusko finished the season 48-1 which was just his second loss in two seasons. Like Hanau, Williams reached the top of the podium with hard work and the knowledge that with wrestling, “what you put in you get out.”

Both Micah and Shane knew that the 2019-2020 Lancer squad would be special. For Williams, the opening win over Mishawaka, which was unbeaten at the time, was a sign of things to come. Hanau could sense something brewing during the first week of practice. After all, every Lakeshore wrestler is surrounded by the Lancer legacies paved before their own when they enter the wrestling room and see the Wall of Fame, which lists every state placer, or pass by the trophy case outside the gym. Leading them is a coach which owns the most dual victories in MHSAA history, ranks second nationally, and has been inducted into multiple Hall of Fames. Bittenbender knows what it takes to win in wrestling.

“Wrestling is a sport that’s demanding and tough. You have to be mentally tough. You have to be dedicated and hard working. You have to be on your game. Wrestling isn’t for everybody,” stated Bittenbender.

Opponents lined up across from Lakeshore should know one thing—whether the Lancers are going to win or lose, they’re in for a fight. Under Bittenbender, Lakeshore wrestling has not avoided tough competition; in fact, they welcome it. Whether it was wrestling a traveling Japan team in the early 2000s or annually taking on Indiana wrestling power Mishawaka, Bittenbender believes that the schedule goes a long way in preparing his wrestlers for the team and individual tournament.

During the 2019-2020 season, Lakeshore once again loaded its schedule with tough dual opponents, which included fellow Final 4 participant Reeths Puffer, and traveled to challenging individual tournaments. The Lancers reclaimed the Berrien County Invite trophy, rolled to a SMAC West Division Championship, won the SMAC Conference Championship, and finished with a 20-2 record. In the team tournament, Lakeshore eliminated St. Joseph, #9 Niles, Harper Creek, and Mason before running into a buzz saw in the Final 4. Gaylord, the 2019 Division 2 Runner-Up, was 30-0.

“It all came down to the coin toss. In wrestling, the coin toss determines a lot of things. Against Mason, we won the coin toss. Against Gaylord, we lost and that forced our hand,” noted Bittenbender.

Although Lakeshore was deep at some of its weights, there were others the Lancers did not have as much depth. Gaylord was able to take advantage of the match-ups and won crucial weight classes as the Lancers had to wrestle some of their weapons in specific places to score as many points as they could. Gaylord won the dual 45-23 but lost to Lowell in the State Championship 53-4.

Six Lancers traveled to Ford Field the following weekend seeking their individual state championship. Bittenbender has had highs and lows at individual state, and this year was a great tournament for Lakeshore. Sophomore Cameron Litaker (31-9) took sixth at 112 and already knows what to do for next year as he looks to work harder and come back with an even better mindset. Aaron Lucio (39-7) finished his freshman campaign 3rd at 119, and Zeke Rohl completed his senior year with a 40-7 record and took 4th place at state.

Bittenbender and the Lancers are already looking to next season. Lakeshore returns a solid core of wrestlers as they look to continue their grip on the SMAC and seek the program’s first state title. The mission never changes for Lakeshore, and through their hard work, dedication, and mental toughness, the Lancers know one thing when they take the mat—they’re unstoppable.