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Olivet College wrestling team invited to compete at U of M Nov. 1
Oct 30, 2012

By Molly (Reed) Goaley ‘05

Few NCAA Division III athletic programs perform well enough to be considered among the ranks of those at DI or DII schools. But at Olivet College, wrestling is one of those rare exceptions. As the program’s record has proven time and again over the years, Olivet is a top choice for gifted high school wrestlers who want to continue competing at the college level while also earning a quality education.

Despite the fact that it’s a small school, Olivet College’s wrestling program has a reputation for being distinct; one that was built from years of star athletes and coaches, along with a winning record, academic excellence, and proud tradition that continues to this day.

It’s a combination that has commanded respect from the unlikeliest of competitors including one of the state’s top contenders, the University of Michigan. This year, Olivet College has been invited to compete against the DI program for the first time. The Comets will take on the Wolverines in both schools’ season opener Thursday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. at the university’s Cliff Keen Arena in Ann Arbor.

“It was a surprise for us,” said Olivet Head Wrestling Coach Brandon Brissette about the invitation from U of M. “We didn’t go out seeking this; they asked us to compete. It says something, that our reputation for putting guys on the mat who are good performers makes us a worthy adversary, even for a team that was Top 25 in Division I.

“And I think part of that is, we’ll give them the competition they want to see, even if they are expected to win. That kind of respect is only earned; it’s not given.”

Though Brissette was honored to receive the phone call from Michigan Head Coach Joe McFarland asking the Comets to compete, he didn’t accept the offer right away. “We already had a full schedule when we heard about it, so my assistant coaches and I knew we would have to rearrange some things. We talked about whether or not we should do it because though it’s an honor, it’s also a big challenge right at the beginning of the year when our guys aren’t even at the right weight yet.

“But the spirit of Division III is also about the experience,” Brissette continued. “So we texted about 15 of our top returners and asked them how they would like to start off by wrestling the University of Michigan. Within 5 to 10 minutes, everyone said yes.”

Though Olivet is considered the underdog in this pairing, the team is certainly not to be discounted. With more than 60 athletes including seven seniors on the roster this year, Brissette says he has been optimistic throughout the preseason. “The guys have put high expectations on themselves,” he said. “They want to become the regional champions three years in a row.”

Olivet won the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional Championship and sent five weight-class champions to the National Championships in 2012, including then-seniors Justin Leonard (Webberville) and Trevor Tyler (Roscommon), juniors Logan Renas (Big Rapids) and James Myers (Indian Creek/Monroe), and sophomore Robbie Bidlingmaier (Chesterfield Twp./Anchor Bay). Myers finished in sixth place and became a two-time All American. In addition, Brissette was named the regional’s Coach of the Year and his assistant, Jeff Therrian, was named Assistant Coach of the Year. Both received the award for the second consecutive year.

But success for Brissette’s team doesn’t stop on the mat. Equally impressive to the students’ athletic ability is what they’ve accomplished in the classroom. In March, Olivet finished second in the annual academic championship in collegiate wrestling, which is sponsored by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Olivet’s team grade point average was 3.539. It was the 13th time since the inception of the award in 1998 that the Comets placed in the top 10 of the standings. The GPA is also the highest Olivet has had in the history of the program and the second-place finish ties for the best in school history.

Brissette knows there are a number of reasons that account for his team’s success. He gives a lot of credit to the coaches who came before him and laid the foundation for a distinct program, including Jare Klein and Todd Hibbs, as well as the culture of pride that exists among alumni and the college community. But most of what his team has accomplished would not be possible without the “buy-in,” he says.

“You have to get the athletes to buy in to why they’re here. These guys know that they’re not just here to get a degree, but to do a certain job,” Brissette said. “We ask them, ‘what kind of teacher do you want to be? What kind of med student? What kind of man do you want to be? What kind of father?’ We push them to define goals for themselves, and then take that one step above what they think they can do.”

That line of thinking should benefit these Comets for a lifetime to come; and certainly on Nov. 1.


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