By Steve Gunn
NORTON SHORES – The season is over for the Mona Shores wrestling team, at least from a team perspective.
It ended on Wednesday with a first-round loss to Grand Haven in the team district tournament.
But Sam Karel and his Sailor teammates will be on the mat again on Saturday, competing in the Division 1 individual district tournament at Grand Haven High School.
It will be every wrestler for himself, competing to qualify for next week’s individual regionals, and perhaps a berth in the March 5-7 state finals.
“That’s the great thing about wrestling,” said Karel, a junior, whose pin of his opponent on Wednesday was a bright spot for Mona Shores in team districts. “If your team doesn’t do well, you still have the chance to do well as an individual.”
Karel has every intention of qualifying for state, particularly after getting a taste of success last year. He finished in third place in individual districts and qualified for regionals, then narrowly missed qualifying for the big show.
That success motivated him to work hard in the offseason to improve.
He worked on technique last summer with Mona Shores Coach Blake Groenhout and competed in several tournaments. He improved his stamina in the fall by joining the school cross country team. He cut a lot of weight to compete in the 152 and 160 weight classes, after competing last season at 171.
By winter he was ready to have a breakout season, and he’s done just that, posting a 33-4 record thus far.
All four of his losses have come at 160 this year. He’s undefeated and ranked honorable mention in the state at 152, where he will be wrestling the rest of the season.
“That was the big thing for me – I was one match away from making it to state last year,” Karel said. “I was so close it kind of burns in you. One of my main goals is to make it to state.”
Karel, a two-time city and conference champion, will be carrying his family torch in the tournament.
His older brother, senior Simon Karel, is also an outstanding wrestler who had his final season cut short a few months ago by an injury.
“It was pretty tough to see him go out,” Karel said. “He wrestled a few matches this season, but not many. I feel bad because he doesn’t have the opportunity to go on. I kind of feel like he can enjoy any success I have.
“He’s definitely pulling for me. He comes to all the matches.”
Groenhout thinks Karel may be underestimated heading into the tournament.
“He’s just a hard working kid who made a decision to dedicate himself to wrestling this season,” the Sailor coach said. “I think he recognized his own potential last season and was determined to make himself better.
“He’s kind of an unknown, flying under the radar, which is not necessarily a bad thing. If he makes a strong run (in the tournament) like we think he can, that won’t be the case any longer.”
While Karel has improved physically, Groenhout said his biggest advance has been in the determination category.
“He’s always been good on his feet, but his big improvement has come in wrestling on the mat,” Groenhout said. “On your feet it’s a bit more technical, but wrestling on the mat requires a lot of tenacity. It’s just that mental toughness, that determination to keep working your way out.”
Karel said all of his recent physical conditioning has given him confidence to hang tough in every match, even when he finds himself on the mat in precarious situations.
And he’s definitely in shape, after dropping about 25 pounds since last fall to qualify to wrestle at 152.
“When you condition a lot in the offseason you know you are probably in better shape than your opponent, so you can keep working hard and be relentless the whole match,” he said.