Norway bows at state quarter

The Norway wrestling team hadn’t lost a meet all season. However, Friday’s MHSAA Division 4 quarterfinal meet against powerhouse New Lothrop was a different story.

The Knights’ stellar 2014 campaign came to a swift, surgical end in Battle Creek at the hands of the Hornets, 67-9, a semifinalist of a year ago. New Lothrop (29-1) took four of the first five bouts and didn’t look back.

“As a program, we’re always looking to make progression,” said Norway coach Nick Burklund. “We’re taking steps every year looking to get better. It’s always nice to see what we got to work on.”

Improving on last season’s 67-5 quarterfinal meet loss to eventual state champion Hudson, the Knights won two matches in Battle Creek this season.

Tanner Gonzalez defeated New Lothrop’s Joe Fisher, 8-5, at 145 lbs. Fisher led 4-3 after the second round, but Gonzalez took the lead on three near-fall points early in the third round and went on to win.

At 112 pounds, Dylan Hoffart improved to 36-0 on the year with a 24-second pinball win over New Lothrop’s Austin Birchmeier.

“We have five seniors this year, and to get the underclassmen down here to see what it’s all about, I think it’s something they’re looking forward to working for next year,” said Burklund.

Keeping perspective after falling to a loaded Hornets squad with 13 wrestlers either ranked in the top 10 in their weight class or as honorable mention by, Burkland said, “Anytime you can come down here, it’s a great thing. Any school’s going to want to be in our shoes.”

The Knights’ losses in the other twelve bouts were lost either by pinfall or by technical fall. Burklund credited some of his team’s successes to being able to wrestle high-caliber talent out of Wisconsin near the state line. “If you don’t wrestle,” Burklund laughed, “they practically throw you out of the town.”

Burklund said he and his coaches will continue to raise the bar. “We’d like to be down here and be in a meet, maybe be down 30-25 or down by 6 in the last match with a chance to tie and win on criteria.

“We know what these programs are like down here,” he added. “They see the best week in and week out.”

Burklund’s also well aware of where Norway wrestling was not long ago.

“Our program, a few years ago, only had four kids on the team,” he said. “We fought to keep the program alive. And now, we made it down here back to back.”