The exception to the rule
MICHIGAN CITY — In a wrestling room wafer thin on experience, Michigan City’s Trae Anderson is an exception to the rule, a sophomore whose years in the sport qualify him as a veteran in a young pack of Wolves.
“I feel one of the reasons why we’re weaker is programs around the region start off with kid programs,” Anderson said after Tuesday’s practice. “They have kids who have wrestled since they were five years old. We don’t have that.”
Other than Anderson, that is. He first wrestled at the age of 5, when his step dad, former Wolves coach and current assistant Tom Vasbinder, had a youth club, and has done so continuously since he was 9.
“I’ve been with him since I was young,” Anderson said.
In addition, he’s trained at the Region Wrestling Academy, based at Calumet High School, and currently works with the Elite Athletic Club in Lake Station, where he works with former Portage wrestling standouts Kevin English, Michael Chandler and Paul Chandler.
“They’ve helped me a lot,” Anderson said.
As a freshman, Anderson went 15-16, finishing sixth in the La Porte Sectional at 145 pounds. He will wrestle 138 this season.
“I came in about 150 and wasn’t strong enough for 145,” he said. “I’m on a more strict diet. Last year, I was kind of lazy. I don’t think I pushed myself to the max. I’m taking it a little more serious.”
New coach Tony Lombardi hasn’t been with the team long, coming off of football, but he quickly noticed Anderson as someone who stood out in the group.
“I’m interested to watch him compete, to see how he wrestles,” Lombardi said. “He’s done a really good job managing his weight. I wasn’t here last year, but I heard it was up and down. As kids get more experience, they get better at it. They learn they don’t have to be starving to make weight. It’s a good indication of his maturity level as a competitor and a wrestler. We’re trying to get leadership out of him.”
In his limited time with his new coach, Anderson likes what’s happening.
“He keeps practice more uptempo. He knows his stuff. He can help with just about anything,” Anderson said. “It’s a little early, but it seems the team is working a lot harder. I feel more confident in the team.”
Anderson is more confident in himself as well, targeting a top five finish at state.
“I think I deserve it,” he said. “I put in a lot of work in the off-season. In the summer, I was in the room week in, week out. I think I’m going to have a much better year.”
The drawback for Anderson on a young, thin team is the absence of competition in practice, a problem Lombardi hopes to remedy.
“Creating a tempo, an environment will eventually make him better,” Lombardi said. “As his partners get better, he gets better, so we have to elevate the level in the room.”
Lombardi looks to boost the numbers, which stand 22, into the mid 30s, by pulling more football players into wrestling.
“As a football coach, I don’t know how anybody doesn’t get the value of a kid who has a wrestler’s mentality,” he said. “It’s the same way the other way. They complement one another. There’s benefits to both.”
Anderson’s glad to be an advocate for the sport not known for wrestling and welcomes the prospect of being the face of the program’s revival with his success.
“I think it would be huge,” he said. “It would bring something good back to the school. I think it would push kids to get in the room and do better, to see what they can get out of it. We’re looking to get more kids out to realize how much wrestling can help them.”