Youth movement for wrestling team

Mercyhurst College redshirt junior Fred Hale hopes to bring some stability to a young Laker squadMercyhurst College redshirt junior Fred Hale hopes to bring some stability to a young Laker squadThere is a youth movement under way for the Mercyhurst College wrestling team.

So far, this youth has injected a new optimism into the wrestling program.

This season seven out of the Lakers’ 10 starters are sophomores or younger.

Despite the normal growing pains associated with such a young team head coach, Mike Wehler is very optimistic about his team.

“I knew we were going to be young and I just want us to get better as the season goes on,” Wehler said.

So far, the young starters on the team have responded well to competition as freshmen Ryan Bohince, Shane Foster and Michael Pollard each placed in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championship (PSAC).

This showing by the freshmen has Wehler optimistic that some of the other young starters will follow suit.

“Some of the younger guys are responding better than others, but I think we will get there,” Wehler said.

One of the big factors in the Lakers’ success, despite such a youthful roster, is the presence of senior Josh Shields.

Wehler sees Shields as the undisputed leader on this year’s team and has seen his positive influence spread to every one of the young wrestlers.

“It’s a different feeling this year as I am more so teaching this season but Josh has stepped in and been a great leader,” Wehler said.

Shields, a senior, captured the 165-pound crown the following weekend, posting a 6-0 record at the National Catholic Invitational.

Four other Lakers placed second, accumulating enough points for the team to finish third overall.

Shields is no stranger to the national spotlight, competing in the national tournament all three years he has been a Laker. He won the Division II National title in 2009, finishing the season with an overall record of 29-3.

Other results at the national tournament include a runner-up finish last year, and a fourth place finish in 2008.

Early in November, Josh competed in the Virginia Tech Hokie Open, placing second in the 167-pound division.

He started the tournament 3-0, defeating all Division I opponents, and advanced to the finals where he lost due to a medical forfeit.

The expectations for Shields are quite large as he looks to complete his career as a national champion; however, Wehler sees the biggest pressure on Shields coming from Shields himself.

“He has pressure from himself to do great. He really wants to finish off his career as a national champion,” Wehler said.

As the season unfolds, two other Lakers expect to do some big things this season.

Redshirt sophomore Jordan Shields, brother of Josh Shields, won his first tournament, going 6-0 at the Washington and Jefferson tournament. Jordan Shields is currently 9-2.

Moving up a weight-class from last year, Jordan wants to dominate the 157 pound class. He placed sixth last year in the PSAC.

Junior Michael Baxter rounds out the super trio of Lakers.

Baxter finished fifth in the 2009 Division II Super Region 1 Championship, before taking a red-shirt last year.

He took second place at the National Catholic Invitational, after taking a medical forfeit in the finals.

The Lakers have also gained red-shirt junior Fred Hale and red-shirt sophomore Jeffrey Pollard back.

Both Hale and Pollard rejoined the team only days after completing their football season.

Wehler was not surprised that both of these wrestlers returned so quickly after a long and grueling football season.

“I was not surprised at all, we have a good group of guys,” said Wehler. “It’s unbelievable for these guys to be playing two sports in college and be very successful at both.”

The Lakers face two tough upcoming matches against East Stroudsburg and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

“If I look at it objectively, they seem to have the edge on us, but I really think that we will be in it and have a chance to win,” Wehler said.