Photo provided by Janell Raymond

L’Anse Creuse North wrestling earns back-to-back league titles

Season solidifies legacy for program-altering seniors

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Macomb Chronicle | Published April 2, 2024


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — As a senior captain, you’re expected to be the mentor and the person the underclassmen look up to.

You integrate them into the culture of the team, show them the ropes of day-to-day operations, and maybe even give some rides to or from practice here and there.

In the case of seniors Blake Raymond, Nathon Zydel, Nathan Cavanaugh, and Evan Hatcher, Macomb L’Anse Creuse North wrestling’s four horsemen, they had to expedite the process of growing into leadership.

All team captains for the past three seasons, they’ve seen LCN wrestling at its worst when there were only nine wrestlers on the roster their first season, and they have stayed for its best.

Because of their devotion to the program, LCN’s transformation the past two seasons has been on the shoulders of their guidance as the team now has 40 wrestlers, fielding a full varsity and JV team.

“We built such a good core,” LCN wrestling head coach Eric Maniaci said. “These are a lot of guys we kind of took from other sports. I’ve always had a team of newer guys. For them to go through the four years and the whole trust deal between us and them and the fun we’ve had, now these kids have brought something to the school. Winning these titles helps, but now we’re on the map. I’ve had my seniors do an immense amount of work, and this is all upon themselves, but social-media-wise, of breaking the mold of wrestling and getting it out there, it’s really nice to see the name of wrestling tossed around and it’s all due to these kids.”

Flashback to their freshman season: LCN, like many high school wrestling programs around the state, suffered a setback in participation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What the Crusaders needed were mainstays — guys who would come in and take it upon themself to be the faces of the program.

Raymond helped wrestling get some notoriety by building the team’s Instagram page, posting the “wrestler of the week” and video highlights of the team.

Sprinkle in a Macomb Area Conference Silver league title last year, and the Crusaders wrestling buzz was in full effect.

“I remember our freshman year, we had one home meet and there were maybe 30 people in the stands, who were parents and family,” Raymond said. “We had our senior night, and we had a really good crowd. A lot of families and we had a good student section there. It was really fun.”

Winning the league for the first time in 20 years last season, the Crusaders defended the Silver title successfully this season, posting a 5-1 league record.

Last year, the league came down to a dual meet against New Haven with LCN coming out on top, and the deciding factor for the league would once again be settled in a matchup between the two familiar foes.

“It was kind of like déjà vu because it was back in our gym again and we got to see them,” Zydel said. “I actually didn’t get to wrestle last year because I tore my knee, so I was more or less watching. I was happy to change that and wrestle against them.”

The Crusaders would hold the advantage once again with 54-27 win, capturing the Silver for the second time in a row, which is the first time in school history according to MAC league standing archives. The Crusaders also won the MAC Silver Tournament, becoming dual meet and tournament champions for the first time in school history.

It’s a point of emphasis every year for LCN to write on the board in the wrestling room a goal in mind, and winning the Silver is one that you can count on to be up there.

“That was one of our primary goals again,” Maniaci said. “It was a fun battle this year between the league. The competition is coming up quite evenly between the other teams, so it was actually a fun season.”

While the Crusaders were unable to qualify any wrestlers for regionals, they brought home plenty of achievements this year with Maniaci winning MAC Silver Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season and Zydel winning MAC Silver MVP and all-county honorable mention in Macomb.

Along with the core four, senior Myles Wakula (18-12), junior Conor Hernden (25-10), junior Jack Giordano (26-10) and junior Anthony Appino (8-10) were all impact upperclassmen wrestlers for the Crusaders this season.

Giordano, who was a MAC Individual champion this year, will be the focal point of LCN’s success next season as a proven returning veteran alongside Hernden, who came into his own later in the season.

“He’s (Hernden) primarily a football player, and in the earlier section of the year, he turned on the burners and said, ‘Coach, I want to start. I want to do the deal and go for the glory,’” Maniaci said. “A lot of kids say that, and then he was one of the kids that extremely turned his year around. We were beating kids all around the MAC and beating kids everywhere we go now.”

On the underclassmen side, LCN is loaded with second-year talent with Dylan Wade (15-14), August Osterbeck (18-8), and Thomas Rowe (18-7) all headlining the sophomore class. Freshman Colin Whitman (26-8) was a first-year standout for Maniaci’s squad.

“We went to this idea of letting the core take care of the up-and-coming kids and kind of throw them to the wolves because there was a lot of depth we all of a sudden had,” Maniaci said. “It was just the environment of the room and the guys. The sophomores and freshmen picked it up an immense amount, especially the sophomore class.”

The Crusaders wrestling program is a night-and-day difference from the first day the seniors walked into the room as freshmen.

Now, it’s time for the junior and sophomore class to continue the foundation that their veteran leaders have built for the program.

“Going from where we had nine kids to almost having 40 at this point and knowing the original four seniors are still on the team and growing the team is really something to be proud of,” Raymond said.