By: Daniel Stickradt
WRESTLING: New Lothrop continues legacy of small powerhouse school
BY DAN STICKRADT
Jeff Campbell honestly doesn't know how many championships New Lothrop’s wrestling program has captured over the years.
Combining league, district, regional and state championship teams — it’s quite a high number.
“It’s up there,” said Campbell. “I honestly don't know how many unless I look up at all of the banners on the gym wall. We’ve done very well in wrestling over the years. New Lothrop has done very well in a lot of sports over the years. It’s a great community.”
The small Class C school of 298 students in grades 9-12 is a product of legacy, hard work, community involvement and decades of blood, sweat and tears when it comes to athletics — the town’s pride and joy. The tiny agricultural town, which also boasts many auto industry workers in the Saginaw and Flint region, has taken great pride in its high school facilities and teams, where wrestling has emerged as the most successful of them all.
Dating back to the school’s first state championship in wrestling in 1967, the Hornets have captured 15 total state championships between Class C, Class C-D and Division 4. New Lothrop has also finished as the state runner-up four times overall (1976, 1983, 1996 and 2007).
That’s 19 times finishing either first or second in the state. The Hornets have reigned supreme in 1967, 1978, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1991, 1994, 2003, 2004, 2014, 2015 and 2016 — the last eight in the team dual format, while the first seven title teams coming in the individual format.
“We take a lot of pride in what we have accomplished over the years,” said Campbell, who is in his 16th season as head coach and 18th with the program. “We have won 17 straight regional championships. I’m not sure how many total, but winning 17 straight regionals and getting to the state tournament (Elite Eight) 17 straight times is impressive.”
This year’s team is again one of the top teams in Division 4 — the Hornets hope to win their fourth straight state title for the first time since winning four straight from 1984-87.
“It’s very hard to repeat, but I think with the type of schedule we wrestle year-in and year-out prepares us to make a run,” said Campbell. “We compete in a very good league for wrestling. We have schools like Goodrich, Montrose and Lake Fenton in there. The (Burton) schools, Durand and Corunna have all had some good wrestlers over the years. It’s a great league for wrestling.
“We also will compete in a lot of very good tournaments this season, where we will go up against some of the best teams in the state from all divisions,” added Campbell. “When we get to the tournament, we’re very tested.”
Another characteristic to the Hornets’ success is the fact that the specialization poison has not invaded the athletics department.
“A lot of our guys play football in the fall and in the spring a lot of our guys run track or play baseball, too,” said Campbell, who also contributed the success to a youth wrestling program, Hornets Wrestling Club, that dates back to the 1970s. “For a lot of our guys, they are not wrestling all year long and not getting burnt out. But when it’s wrestling season, they are all in.”
With around 20 kids on this year’s roster — and a very talented group of seventh and eighth graders on the middle school team — the pipeline for success doesn't appear to be fading any time soon. Over half of the starting lineup from last year’s state title team is in tact again this season with some talented newcomers sliding into starting spots.
Sophomore Logan Zell (112), senior Tommy Novell (119), a state two-time state qualifier, and sophomore Austin Wolford (140), a state placer last season, are all back. Sophomore Zack Riley (152) is another returning state qualifier, while senior Erik Birchmeier is the returning D-4 state champion at 189.
Senior Connor Krupp, another two-time state qualifier, missed last season with an injury but is back in the lineup at 135. Junior Cole Wendling (145) is a returning regional qualifier and is off to a quality start this season.
Wolford and Krupp both captured crowns at the recent Howell Herm Wilkinson Tournament just before Christmas.
“I expect us, as long as we remain healthy, to be able to make a run back to the team tournament again,” said Campbell. “I think for the (three) seniors in our starting lineup, and that may soon be four seniors, they would nothing more than to go out as champions. That won't be easy. Hudson is very good, Springport, Decatur, Manchester are all good and (Leroy-Pine River) is an up-and-coming team. There are a lot of good teams. We need to prepare ourselves to face the best come the end of the season.”