Coming into the season, Lander wrestling coach R.C. LaHaye had a lofty goal for his team — finish top four in the country.
However, following a conference championship, a super regional championship and climbing to No. 2 in the national rankings, that goal wasn’t so lofty.
Ultimately, the Bearcats concluded its record-breaking season with a national runner-up finish at last weekend’s NCAA Division II National Championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“We had a lot of guys that really had to kick, fight and scratch for every point,” LaHaye said. “We really encountered some adversity. All the individuals at the tournament encountered some adversity and it really took all nine guys to finish second in the country.”
Among the nine wrestlers Lander sent to Iowa, Logan Hall was the Bearcats’ highest finisher, reaching the finals of the 184-pound class.
On the way to his runner-up finish, Hall earned a 3-2 victory over top-ranked Billy Higgins of Nebraska-Kearney before falling to Ty McGeary of West Liberty in the final.
Hall’s deep run in his class was much needed to Lander’s team score, considering many Bearcats fell in their first match on the second day of nationals.
“It was cool. It was special. It was a fun experience,” Hall said. “The semis match was tough. The dude I wrestled was coming in ranked No. 1 and he was a good wrestler. We had a great match and for that to be the last win of my career is cool.”
Along with Hall, five other Lander wrestlers notched All-American honors at the tournament, finishing top eight in their respective classes. 165-pound wrestler David Hunsberger and 125-pounder James Joplin finished fourth in their respective classes.
Defending 141-pound national champion Zeth Brower fell in the semifinals before bouncing back with a fifth-place match win. 285-pound wrestler Juan Edmond-Holmes also finished fifth in his class.
Elijah Lusk finished eighth in the 133-pound class last Saturday after Jack Tangen, Anthony Yacovetti and Gage Bernall ended their seasons last Friday.
“It just goes to the testament of how hard these individuals work within our program,” LaHaye said of his six All-Americans. “You’re not top eight in the country without a tremendous amount of work and blood, sweat and tears that you put into this sport.”
Looking into the offseason, the Bearcats have a lot to look forward to — including a less strenuous diet they followed during the season.
“Getting strong, getting to eat whatever you want. Well, not whatever you want, but the diet is not the same as it had been for the last six months. It’s already changed for me. I went to China Garden (Monday). I hadn’t been there in a long time,” Hall said with a laugh.
Five of the Bearcats’ All-Americans are eligible to return next season, including Brower, Edmond-Holmes, sophomores Joplin and Lusk and freshman wrestler Hunsberger.
Lander loses just one senior All-American, Hall, to graduation next season. However, the team won’t completely miss the grad transfer, as Hall will be a grad assistant on LaHaye’s staff.
“It’s going to be weird in a way because I love all these guys, they’ve kinda been my friends,” Hall said. “At the same time, to go under that role where I focus on making them better and helping them figure out what they’re good at. … It’s going to be cool. I’m excited.”
The Bearcats will begin their offseason training in two weeks, then later, spring workouts before taking the mats a couple of times a week through the summer. But this time around, LaHaye thinks his team can do a bit more next season.
He doesn’t want a top-four finish nor does he want another runner-up title.
He wants a national championship.
“Make no mistake about it, our goal is to bring home an NCAA national team championship to Greenwood,” LaHaye said. “Anything less than that, I think, would be a disappointment and we return the firepower to do it.”