Seniors lead the way to Battle CreekPublished 5:06pm Thursday, February 21, 2013
A few weeks ago, the Niles High School wrestling team took a trip down memory lane.
Seventh grade wrestling coach Bob Bell brought a picture to practice that got the attention of a few of the Viking wrestlers.
“I used to have real long hair,” said Niles wrestler Ryan Casey. “Fritzel (Findeisen) and Casey (Burandt) look the same. Nicholas (Zimmerman) looks like his younger brother Jameson. There were a lot more wrestlers in that picture. A select few of us stuck it out.”
Seniors Ryan Casey, Fritzel Findeisen, Casey Burandt and Nicholas Zimmerman endured hard times, learned from their mistakes and worked endless hours to improve as a wrestlers.
Their mental toughness along with the leadership from classmates Derek Scott, Daniel Sierra, Jerrico Lamberton, Tony Thar and Sean Morgan has helped the Niles wrestling program become elite this season.
Niles is ranked third in the state (Division) with a 33-1 record entering the team wrestling state quarterfinals this Friday. The Vikings will face sixth-ranked Tecumseh (30-12) at 7:45 at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
Zimmerman (46-4 at 119), Burandt (28-1 at 145), Findeisen (47-4 at 152) and Casey (51-1 at 189) have qualified for the individual state finals from February 28th to March 2nd in Auburn Hills, joining teammates Brendon Meek (40-15 at 112) and Darek Bullock-Mills (32-11 at 145).
“It was a talented class as a whole,” said Niles coach Todd Hesson about his seniors. “It was a group of kids that could wrestle since they were in the seventh grade. They also weathered the storm. They took a beating as freshman. Zimmerman weighed only 80 pounds when he was a freshman. He took a different kind of beating because he was so small. We had 25 wins and 17 or 18 losses when they were freshman. We weren’t spectacular. But they stuck it out and paid their dues and now they’re being rewarded.”
Casey hasn’t forgotten his freshman year.
“We definitely took a beating,” Casey said. “Coach (Hesson) tells the younger guys now that they’ve got it made. Coach said that the seniors put down the concrete slabs to get the program where it was today.”
Burandt has a special appreciation for how far the program has come.
“We brought attention to Niles,” Burandt said. “We’re out from the shadows of being an underdog.”
Examples of leadership have been countless by the seniors.
Burandt stayed close with the team despite missing six weeks of action this year with a broken hand.
“I just tried to bring as much enthusiasm as I could to keep the team together,” Burandt said.
To help keep the team lose, plenty of laughter was provided by the seniors on Valentine’s Day.
“Our assistant coach (Jake Will) got a giant card from his girlfriend,” Casey said. “We hassled him that we weren’t going to practice until he opened the card. Coach Hesson jumped in and thought it was funny. We made him open the card.”
The seniors have brought a work ethic for the younger wrestlers to follow.
“In the wrestling room we’ve shown the younger wrestlers how hard we work and that’s the way they should work,” Burandt said. “The JV wrestlers look at us and say, ‘wow’, and continue what we’re doing.”
“The seniors always tried to set a good example and push the team to work hard,” Findeisen said.
Morgan and Thar haven’t posted big win totals, but both have earned respect from the their teammates and coaches.
“Morgan has been on the team since he was a freshman but he hasn’t been able to squeeze into the varsity starting lineup,” Hesson said. “But he stuck it out and I give him a lot of credit for that.
“Thar has been on the team for only his senior year. He has a great attitude and is fun to be with.”
Different personalities from the seniors has also helped the team develop great chemistry.
“It’s a great group of kids,” Hesson said. “Burandt is quirky and easy going. Casey and Findeisen are intense. Scott isn’t as intense with a sense of humor. Zimmerman is easy going.
“The common ground is that they all wanted to do well. They’re very much about the team and are able to separate individual and team goals.”
How much will Hesson miss these seniors when next season comes around?
“They’ll be missed,” Hesson said. “The satisfaction comes from the journey. These kids started at the low end, were willing to work and it paid off. It’s a credit to them. They made their coach look very good.”