Lakers look to fill void left by Smith

Wrestling

The Laker wrestling team enters the 2009-10 season with a lot of optimism. After a 5-10 dual meet record a year ago, the Lakers look to fill voids and compete for national honors.

The Lakers are led by head coach Mike Howard, a 1987 graduate of Oswego State, who returns to the bench for his 21st season. Since succeeding his father Jim Howard in 1989, he has compiled a 121-191-5 dual meet record. Along with coaching the wrestling team, Howard also leads the Laker golf team. Howard was named the Empire Coach of the Year in 1996 and 2001.

As last year came to a close, the Oswego State wrestlers knew that entering the season there would be a giant role to fill. The void consisted of replacing three-time NCAA Division III national qualifier Derrick Smith, who posted a 66-25 career record.

"Losing Derrick has been tough," Howard said. "We could count on him whether it was through his leadership, motivation, work ethic or just setting a positive example for the team. It has been a process trying to find guys to step up and fill his role."

The Lakers do return some strong candidates to fill Smith’s shoes. Co-captain Blake Fisher returns for his sophomore season in the 149-pound weight class.

"Blake is a hard worker, and we are looking for him to take the next step," coach Howard said.

Co-captain Mike Howard Jr. returns for his senior season in the 149-pound weight class. Last year, Howard was named an Academic All-American.

Senior Eric Leusch will wrestle in the 285-pound weight class. Leusch was an Academic All-American in 2009.

"I expect to be an Academic All-American, and I hope to qualify for nationals," Leusch said.

A year ago Leusch finished in the top four in the Empire Conference.

Along with the returning wrestlers, the Lakers welcome a freshman class with a lot of potential: Kyle Sheridan in the 197-pound weight class, Omar Santiago in the 133-pound weight class and Alex Petroff in the 141-pound weight class.

"If these guys continue to work hard their contribution is going to be positive throughout their careers," coach Howard said.

The Laker wrestling team competes in the Empire Conference, which is very strong this season.

"There are three teams in the top 25 and we have two more knocking on the top 30," coach Howard said. "As far as the national scene goes, we are a top conference."

The Oswego State men’s wrestling team has finished in the top 20 of the NCAA Championships 20 times, the last coming in 2005. However, the Lakers are looking to the past to refuel the flame of the future.

"Success is a process, and you have to be able to persevere," Howard said. "You have to be able to take a step back to attain future success."

The Lakers season is under way after an eighth-place finish in the Ithaca Invitational and a 24-22 victory in a dual meet against RIT. They will host their first home match on Jan. 27 as they face the Brockport Golden Eagles.