According to ancient lore — and a not-so-ancient film — when the 300 Spartans defended Thermopylae from the Persians, they used past experiences and rough times to give them the strength to push forward.
In many of the same ways, this season has been one of ups and downs for the MSU wrestling team.
The Spartans went winless in the Big Ten and sent four wrestlers to the NCAA Championships with no All-Americans.
Nearly every dual meet had someone that underperformed, and then another in the same meet who outperformed all expectations.
Junior 125-pounder Brenan Lyon pinning then No. 15 Sean Boyle of Michigan, senior 149-pounder Dan Osterman with wins against No. 17 Michael Kelly of Iowa and No. 12 Jake Sueflohn of Nebraska in back-to-back weeks, and junior heavyweight Mike McClure’s epic win against then-No. 5 Jarod Trice of Central Michigan in the most exciting match of the season.
These were just a few rays of sun during an otherwise dreary season.
Losing a five-year veteran, senior 157-pounder David Cheza, midway through the season, and getting blanked, 41-0, to one of the best teams in the country wasn’t what MSU was expecting, but it’s what they got.
But this group of guys kept the toughness and resiliency instilled in them by head coach Tom Minkel and his staff, never once being outworked, out-hustled or out-willed.
You never saw any wrestler with their head down.
Minkel said many times throughout the season that wrestling in college is much different than wrestling in high school, and no conference is tougher than the Big Ten.
This season, it was the youth that held the team back, but just as the Spartans of ancient Greece did, this team will use it to propel them into the future.
Only one starter will not return to the lineup for the Green and White come next season.
Wrestling is a sport unlike any other in that you can’t blame a loss on a missed basket, dropped pass or late goal. It’s mano-a-mano, and the strongest man will win 99 percent of the time. It’s that simple.
As individual as the sport seems, never has teamwork been more important.
Few things can drive someone more than 10 guys right next to the mat, screaming for you to push harder and dig deeper.
This band of brothers is filled with individual state champions, but college is the big time and if they want to succeed, they need to stick together.
King Leonidas put it best: “In the end, a Spartan’s true strength is the warrior next to him.”
If they work hard, stay focused and push each other to do better, no immortal will be able to touch them.
Zach Smith is a wrestling beat writer for The State News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org