GRAND LEDGE – Steve Delaney vividly remembers what it was like to be at the top at an individual level.
In 1996, at Grand Ledge High School, he became the program’s first Division 1 individual wrestling champion since 1972 – a milestone he still cherishes to this day.
But the experience doesn’t compare to what he did at Olivet College – a program then stacked with transfers from the University of Michigan and Michigan State, including Delaney, who wrestled at MSU before transferring to the Division III school. It was there that he learned about being a part of successful team.
And in his ninth season as the head coach of his alma mater’s wrestling program, he was able to help bring that feeling back home.
Delaney led the Comets to their first Division 1 regional title and state tournament appearance in 11 years. He’s been named the State Journal wrestling coach of the year.
“Every Division III tournament we (Olivet) walked into, we just crushed. …That was an awesome feeling,” Delaney said. “Being an individual state champion was awesome, and that was one of the best feelings, but I remember how awesome it was to be on a really good team.
“And I always tell my guys this story. I wanted them to have that feeling, and not only be a good individual, but have a good team. The team stuff is a lot of fun.”
Grand Ledge, which won its conference title for the second straight year, qualified for the state tournament this year by topping CAAC Blue rival Holt, 48-15, for the regional title. Coming into the season, Delaney felt he had a team that could do something special, as four state qualifiers from last year’s team were returning.
It was those upperclassmen – Dylan Steward, Matt Lloyd, Cole Janes and Jack Snauko – who helped Delaney get the best out of the newcomers and enjoy this season more than any other.
“Every year, coaches are determined to push the kids as hard as they can, but to see captains and upperclassmen also determined to push the team where it needs to be is a pretty special thing to watch,” said Delaney, whose team fell to state runners-up Davison, 37-18, in the quarterfinals. “If you watched our practices, every single practice was at a higher level than I have ever been a part of. It wasn’t because I’m screaming and yelling at them, it was because these kids were motivated.
“They set the precedent for the next few years to come – this is how practices are run in the room, these are the expectations, this is the bar. It was pretty fun to watch.”
Not only does Delaney feel this year’s group set the tone for year’s to come, it did exactly what he has set out to do: show the importance of a team. He added that having success at a team level will propel those who aren’t necessarily getting individual accolades.
“Where it’s going to show is with the guys that aren’t state champs or all-state. It showed being on a team matters,” he said. “If you’re one of 14 guys, this year proved that every single guys matters – you have a part when you go out there.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.