Defending champion Eagles begin wrestling season with a bang

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HARTLAND — After one last day of savoring last winter’s state team championship, the Hartland wrestling team got back to business on Wednesday.

It was, in some ways, a continuation of last year, as the Eagles rolled past Flushing and Lake Orion in a season-opening quad at Hartland High School.

Before that, though, the Eagles returning from last season wore their state championship rings to school and a team picture of last year’s champs was unveiled right next to the baseball team photo from 2015’s state champions.

Then the Eagles went to work, rolling past their foes methodically, although, as one would expect, there were things coach Todd Cheney saw that weren’t to his liking.

“We looked pretty good for opening night,” he said. “We have a few small things we have to fix. Like finishing periods. We gave up some points at the end of periods that cost us a  coiuple of matches. But aside from that, we looked pretty good. We moved our feet well and for an opener, that’s pretty good.”

In fact, Cheney was more concerned about his team’s mental approach than anything on the mat.

“We’ve got a little work to do with our mental mindset more than our wrestling,” he said. “Our ability is there, but in some of our matches we don’t have that killer instinct right now, and that’s because we’re not on the mat enough. The hustle is there, the technique is there. Everything is there, but the mental mindset is so much … we don’t train enough of. We sit there and practice and practice and practice, but how much do we sit down and train them mentally? So much about sports is mental, and we’ve been working on that a little this year.”

Hartland’s Reece Hughes closes in on a pin during Wednesday’s opening match at 152 pounds. (Photo by Tim Robinson)

Asked about that, senior Reece Hughes expanded on it.

“The hardest part mentally is that you’re battling yourself, because you’re afraid to lose,” he said. “You’re afraid to disappoint your teammates. You’re afraid to not perform how you want, and that’s what the whole team was working on. It’s OK to lose, because you learn from those losses.

“Fear is one of the main keys to overcome,” he continued. “The hardest part of wrestling is battling your own mind, because you’re going to think you’re going to get tired before your body actually gets tired. When you mentally quit, that’s when you lost the match. So what we’re keying in on is the mental aspect in it.”

If Hartland, which is beginning its 25th season under Cheney, is at one end of a spectrum, Howell is closer to the other end.

The Highlanders have a young squad and a new coach in Quinn Guernsey, who viewed the quad as a way to assess his team.

“We had a lot of guys who were in the lineup for the first time tonight, and we made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “It’s going to be a growing year. We’re going to have to spend a lot of time. There were glimmers and some flashes of good things, but we definitely have some work to do.

It’s step one of a long journey. When you start this many sophomores, it’s going to be a rebuild. We weren’t so much worried about the outcome. It’s not the conference. We tried to backload our schedule a little bit, with the intention of having to do a lot of working and learning on the job.”