By JAMIE BAKER
Fostoria High School wrestling coach Brandon Distel wishes he had a room full of kids like Lance Smith.
For the moment, though, he’ll have to settle for just one.
Smith achieved a milestone Saturday when he earned his 100th career win for the Redmen wrestlers on his way to winning the 145-pound champion last weekend at the Van Buren Invitational.
He rolled to three straight wins on the tournament’s first day on Friday and notched his 100th career win with a 5-2 victory against Gibsonburg’s Damien Schmeltz in the semifinals.
He put together one of the most dominant performances in Saturday night’s VBI finals, whipping Wayne Trace’s Hunter Showalter 13-2 in the title bout.
Smith is the kind of wrestler every coach wants as a part of their program.
“Lance shows up puts in the work and you can count on day in and day out to be there,” Distel said.
“He hasn’t made that state hurdle yet, but this year he had his head on straight and has a good chance to make it this year.
“Getting his 100th win and seeing the way he’s wrestled this weekend certainly will help his confidence even more.”
Smith didn’t even know he was about to reach the 100-win mark last weekend. He’s been locked in, focusing on sharpening his skills as league tournaments and the postseason rapidly approach.
“It’s all about working hard. Our coaches keep pushing me in practice and I honestly didn’t know it was my 100th win,” Smith said.
“It was a big surprise to me, but a nice surprise and felt good. It makes you realize how hard work pays off.”
Smith, now 25-7 this season, has also won tournaments at Ashland Crestview and Lima Central Catholic in addition to his performance last weekend at Van Buren.
He started the season losing his first two matches. Smith wasn’t about to let those first two losses set the tone for his senior season.
“I got off to a slow start but since then, I’ve been wrestling pretty well. You just have to bounce back and keep believing in yourself,” said Smith, who has qualified for districts all three years for the Redmen.
“Everyone asks me why I wrestle. It’s just that feeling you get. It’s a team sport but when you walk off that mat, you know it’s all you out there. When you win the match and get your hand raised, it’s just a good feeling.”
Smith’s primary goal is to cap his season on the floor of Value City Arena at the OHSAA state wrestling championships the first weekend in March. As an experienced senior, he knows he needs to put the work in outside of his daily practices to achieve his goal.
“It all starts off the mat. If you want to get to state you can’t depend just on working at practice, you have to do things on your own too,” said Smith, who runs three miles a day and frequently lifts weights with his stepdad at the YMCA.
“Lifting and running are big and you can even do sit-ups, push-ups in your living room. You just have to be disciplined enough to do those extra things on your own that are going to make you better.
As a team the Redmen are struggling at the moment. The team had just four wrestlers competing at Van Buren last weekend.
“It’s tough for us right now. We don’t have as many kids who are committed to sports as Lance or as couple of our other kids are but that’s something we’re working hard at trying to change,” said Distel, who was a standout wrestler himself for the Redmen. “Our goal is to have a team with 10 or 12 kids like Lance on our team.
“It’s coming in the pipeline, it may be three or four years away we’re going to stick with it and keep our eyes on the prize. We know where our goals are and where we want the program to be but we just don’t have the bodies there yet,” Distel added.
Distel’s plan is to try and get Fostoria’s wrestling program rebuilt from the ground up with more participation at the youth level.
“We have a huge biddy program going right now and we have about 70 kids involved. Specifically, the fifth grade class is looking strong with about a dozen kids that have been it four straight years,” Distel said.
“Those are the advanced kids and they wrestle five days a week. It’s a good group. Next year we’ll be young with about eight eighth-graders moving up.
“Some will win, some won’t right away but I would rather have a group of sophomores and freshmen willing to work and get better than kids simply happy to be out there.”
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