February 15, 2012 - Most of Lake Orion's grapplers are done for the season and, despite losing to Oxford 53-14 in the final quad meet of the season on Feb. 9, they experienced a small success on Feb. 11 during the MHSSA Individual District Finals.
Senior John Atwater maintains composure and flips his opponent. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
Sophomore Charlie Highlen will represent the Dragons at the Individual Regional Finals on Feb. 18.
"I think he has a good chance," said Head Coach Corey Kuzinski. "He's a state qualifier from last year so he knows what he's getting into at the regionals. He's seen some good competition this year and I'm confident he can make it to the state finals.
"He just has to wrestle well."
Highlen will wrestle against 16 other state hopefuls in the regional event. He needs to "win two before he loses two" to place in the top four, which will allow him to qualify for the state finals on March 1-3.
Lake Orion also improved upon their previous performance against defending state champions Oxford at the quad meet, beating three Wildcat wresters instead of the previous sweeping loss.
Seniors Mac Boyer (215 lb.) won by decision, Cam Masters (130 lb.) won by fall and sophomore David Moore (103 lb.) won with a technical fall.
While the team still lost to Oxford, Kuzinski said he was happy to do better against the Wildcats than in previous bouts. He admitted the result was not ideal, but said Oxford is a very good team that will contend for the state title.
Concerning the district finals, Kuzinski said he expected a tough competition.
"It's probably the toughest district in the state," he said. "We had some guys beat some quality opponents, but just couldn't win any qualifying matches. It's a bear of a district between Macomb and Oakland Counties - it really ends up being a pocket of good, quality wrestling.
"Some of the teams we could beat in the duel meet format, but individually we just didn't have the firepower. It's not about losing close when you have to win - bottom line."
Still, with the season over, Kuzinski said he is pleased with the Dragons' performance. Citing an overall record of 24-9 and two first place tournament finishes, he said the club progressed well.
"I'm happy with the season - I thought the kids wrestled well and came a long way," Kuzinski said. "We learned a lot individually and we certainly didn't expect to go 24-9, win two tournaments and take second at a third.
"It would be nice to be in the hunt for a league title with Clarkston and Oxford, but we're not quite there yet. Still, anyone who was even a little attached to our program would have a hard time knocking what we accomplished."
Orion tied for fourth in the OAA Red Division with a record of 1-4.