Pieces come together for Niles wrestling team

Published 9:17 am Friday, January 24, 2014

When veteran Niles wrestling coach Todd Hesson was looking toward the 2013-14 season, he knew he had all the pieces to put together a good squad.

Problem was, he didn’t know how they would all fit together.

The Vikings are now 16-4 and ranked No. 3 in the latest michigangrappler.com poll. Wednesday night, Niles capped its second consecutive perfect season in the Big 16’s West Division with a 46-19 thrashing of arch rival Lakeshore.

One could say those pieces have gone together pretty well.

Hesson and his coaching staff have molded together a mixture of youth and experience. And considering that there is only one senior in the starting line-up, the underclassmen have stepped into their roles and taken off.

“It has been a surprise to us, but then again, it hasn’t,” Hesson said. “We knew we had some of the pieces of the puzzle. But you still wonder if they are going to fit. We lost a lot of good wrestlers last year. A lot of kids who scored a lot of points for us. You always worry how and who is going to make up those points.”

Darek Bullock-Mills is the lone senior in the starting line-up. He has grown into a leader for the Vikings, according to Hesson.

“Darek has done a nice job for us,” he said. “He has become a leader. He and Brendon Meek and Sean Craig have stepped up for us and are taking on that leadership role.”

Other wrestlers like Josh Dayhoff and Warren Smith have also helped transform the Vikings into the area’s best team.

They have come together with some good young talent like Andrew Flick, Mitchell Findeisen, Noah Hall and Cody and Wyatt Thornton.

“I knew we had a bunch of good young wrestlers and they have stepped up and done a good job for us against what is not your typical schedule,” Hesson said. “Our schedule is tough and these kids have met the challenge.”

One wrestler who may get lost in the shuffle because of his record is Ted Jackowiak.

“His record doesn’t reflect how tough he has wrestled,” Hesson said. “He has wrestled a lot of good kids and he has stayed off his back, which is very valuable and exactly what you need from the team perspective.”

Niles will be one of 15 teams competing at the Greater Berrien County Invitational in St. Joseph Saturday.

Niles is the defending champion.

Craig is the only returning individual champion for the Vikings.

Hesson knows that his team will be the favorite, but he’s not sure how many individual championships the Vikings will bring home.

“Our depth will be the key,” he said. “Lawton or even Lakeshore may have more champions, but we have a lot of point scorers. That’s how we are going to win it.”

Wrestling is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Admission is $5 per person.