Past Shepherd Standout Moeggenberg Directs Wrestling's Return to Glen Lake

By Tom Spencer
Special for

February 2, 2024

Showing support for school athletic programs is nothing new for the Glen Lake community.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAnd the Lakers faithful have welcomed back another team this winter that’s earning those cheers for the first time in more than 20 years.

That’s because wrestling hasn’t been offered at Maple City Glen Lake High School since 2001. But it’s back now, and quickly gaining momentum at a school known in part for its longstanding athletic success.

Nobody understands all of this more than Liz Moeggenberg, perhaps the most decorated athlete in the school’s history. As Liz Shimek and a graduate of the class of 2002, she was the winner of the statewide Miss Basketball Award. Her senior year also was the last that Glen Lake offered wrestling before the program returned this winter.

She went on to Michigan State University where she was a two-time All-America selection.  She led the Spartans to the 2005 NCAA championship game, and later played in the WNBA. At MSU, she met her future husband Luke, a wrestler for the Spartans. The Moeggenbergs returned to the Glen Lake area after college and Liz’s professional and international basketball career.

Today the Moeggenbergs have five children — three of whom are competitive wrestlers. And Luke is the Lakers' head wrestling coach. 

Liz, who served as the Lakers assistant basketball coach for years leading up to last season’s Division 4 championship run, was in an unfamiliar place Jan. 24 when Glen Lake hosted its first wrestling match in decades – the bleachers. The long-awaited moment featured Frankfort, Mancelona and Grayling in a quad meet.

“The community support has been pretty phenomenal,” Liz said. “It was amazing to see all the people that came out to that first home meet, and it was pretty cool to see that energy in the gym.”

Luke Moeggenberg wrestled in high school for Shepherd and was the Division 3 runner-up at 140 pounds in 2001 before going on to compete at MSU. He started the Glen Lake youth program a few years back and had dreams and hopes of starting a varsity program.

Originally the Moeggenbergs joined the Benzie County youth program. They wrestled there until they had enough wrestlers to start one for Glen Lake. The Lakers launched both a middle school and varsity program this winter.

Glen Lake coach Luke Moeggenberg instructs one of his wrestlers on the mat.For years, the young Moeggenberg wrestlers – Lamdin, 12, Fletcher, 10 and Cade, 8 – traveled for practices and competitions with their father, who recalls some very special times. The car rides regularly included discussions on how the boys and their youth teammates might impact the future of Glen Lake high school sports.

“The question would come up from my three boys, ‘When are we going to get wrestling at Glen Lake?’” the coach recalled. “I said actually, if we were ever to get wresting at Glen Lake, it would be because of you guys and all the three boys … they just got quiet.”

Coach Moeggenberg noted it may be years before the boys fully comprehend what they helped start.

“It got pretty emotional when wrestling got voted in by the school board,” he said. “I still don’t think the boys realize what they’ve done.”

The interest shown in wrestling by their oldest son, Lamdin, now a sixth grader on the middle school team, sparked the effort to bring wrestling back to the school’s athletic offerings. Also helping provide momentum was Josh Bullard, who comes from a long line of outstanding Bullard wrestlers in Shepherd’s history. He’s been a big help to Moeggenberg since getting his two sons involved way back in the Benzie travel days. Greg Ford and Kaleb Foss serve as youth coaches, and Moeggenberg has built a varsity staff including assistants Ethan Smith, Jaime Smith and Lance Bies. Ethan Smith is the middle school coach as well.

“I made it pretty clear if we’re going to get a program going I need everybody’s support and everybody to buy in and give it a chance,” Moeggenberg said.  

Administrative changes played a big role in Glen Lake bringing back wrestling, Moeggenberg noted.  Of particular significance was Jaimie Smith coming aboard as the Lakers’ athletic director. Smith, who now serves as the high school principal, was Frankfort’s wrestling coach previously. Her husband Ethan was previously an assistant coach at Frankfort and Traverse City Central.

The Smiths’ adopted daughter Emily Alaimo is one of 13 student-athletes on the roster. Alaimo, a junior, entered the season as the only Glen Laked competitor with high school wrestling experience. She was a part of the Frankfort program when her parents coached, and then on last year’s Glen Lake championship basketball team.

“Emily is the only one who’s had experience competing at all,” Moeggenberg said. “She has really been our most successful wrestler.”

Glen Lake’s Emily Alaimo takes on her Mancelona opponent.The Lakers will compete this weekend in the Highland/Mid Michigan Conference Tournament against Evart, Lake City, Manton, Mancelona, Roscommon, LeRoy Pine River, Kingsley, Benzie Central, McBain, Frankfort and Houghton Lake. They’ll be led by freshman Abraham Feeney (132 pounds) and sophomore Caden Sheehan (138). Feeney is leading the team in wins, and Sheehan joined the Lakers after the holiday break. They are practice partners.

“Those kids go 100 percent every day in practice, and it shows when they get into competition,” Moeggenberg pointed out. “They figured out amongst themselves what it takes to be successful already.”

Conference titles and postseason accomplishments are not yet on the Lakers’ radar. They are taking one day at a time, learning how to compete on the mat safely.

“My focus has been really trying to get our team into a position where they are safe to compete,” the first-year coach said. “When you’re talking three months of wrestling experience to this point and you are competing against kids that have maybe been wrestling 12 years, our focus has been getting our kids to compete with a little bit of confidence and in a safe manner.”

Glen Lake has a rich history of success – including MHSAA Finals titles – in sports like football, basketball, soccer, softball and track. The gym is full of banners recognizing those accomplishments.

There also is a banner recognizing Lakers with individual state wrestling titles – and Coach Moeggenberg is expecting the other sports’ successes to bode well for the restarted wrestling program.  

“I think all the past successes and the current successes of our sports programs reflect heavy community support of student-athletes,” he said. “That basically makes the coach’s job easier.

“Having the support of the community and the support of the administration, ultimately it allows you to focus on what’s important – teaching student-athletes,” he continued. “It is helping us to create a good foundation for a successful program in the future.”

The measurement for success right now is simply experience and daily individual improvement.

“The kids know what this does for the community and what it has done for our family,” Moeggenberg said. “I don’t want our kids to have their mindset to be on wins and losses and conference titles and District championships.  

“I want their mindset to be on progress every match,” he continued. “As we get more experience and have some of our middle school kids who are products of our youth program with some more mat time, it will start to evolve into more of a competitive-based goal.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Glen Lake's Max Galla and his Mancelona opponent lock up Jan. 24 during the Lakers' first home meet in more than two decades. (Middle) Glen Lake coach Luke Moeggenberg instructs one of his wrestlers on the mat. (Below) Glen Lake’s Emily Alaimo takes on her Mancelona opponent. (Photos by Trudy Galla Photography.)

Manuel Sisters Bring Pair of Titles Back to Romeo, Just Getting Started

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

March 2, 2024

DETROIT – Romeo wrestling coach Justin Gides was a busy man Saturday afternoon at Ford Field.

He guided sisters Belicia and Kaili Manuel to back-to-back MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals championships on the same mat in the 140- and 145-pound weight classes, respectively.

Sounds like the Manuel pipeline may be far from drying up, too, as Gides noted there are seven Manuel sisters in total.

“I think they’ve got me busy for the next 15 years,” he said with a hearty laugh.

Belicia Manuel, a sophomore, started it off with a tight 8-7 decision over Waterford Kettering senior Emily Medford. It was Belicia Manuel’s first Finals title and made her 23-0 on the season.

Kaili Manuel, a freshman, followed with a 14-4 major decision over Riverview Gabriel Richard junior Rihanna Venegas. That made Kaili’s season record 26-1.

Between the Manuels: Two championships and a combined 49-1 record.

“I was just thinking about my family coming and watching me, and I just really didn’t want to lose in front of them,” smiling Belicia Manuel said.

“Definitely a new experience,” she added. “Having this big crowd watching me is kind of scary, but we pulled through.”

When asked who holds the upper hand in family room tussles, Belicia took the more diplomatic approach and declared a tie.

Kaili has been wrestling since she was in kindergarten, while Belicia picked up the sport in third grade.

“They’re training partners, they work together all the time, every day. They’re always at each other’s mat, they notice the small things,” Gides said. “Honestly, I could probably make them the coach some days – they know so much. They’re so detail-oriented. There will be times I’ll go to yell something and they’re already yelling at their sisters, ‘You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this.’ They’re big students of the game.

“I mean, it’s crazy, man. They’re good kids, they train every day. They’re two of seven of them. There’s seven daughters, they all wrestle. They train year-round – they love it.”

Champion: Madison Nieuwenhuis, Plainwell, Soph. (18-0)
Medical forfeit over Olesya Mullins, St. Louis, Soph. (19-1)

Saturday’s Finals match was easier than last year’s for Nieuwenhuis, now a back-to-back champion, not that she wanted it to happen this way.

“I’m glad that I made it (to the championship bout), but a little sad that I didn’t get to wrestle,” said Nieuwenhuis, who like last year dealt with an injury on the way to winning a title.

In 2023, she had a foot injury. This season, it was a fractured bone in her wrist.

Nieuwenhuis hopes to be fully recovered in time for the World Team Trials.

“I guess just making it to the Finals (is the highlight this season),” she said.

Champion: Natalie Gibson, Remus Chippewa Hills, Jr. (18-2)
Fall, 0:54, over Tricia Pyrzewski, Gladwin, Sr. (42-5)

Pyrzewski had success against Gibson this season, but this time Gibson didn’t even give Pyrzewski time to think.

The bout was over in a hurry. Gibson captured her first championship after finishing runner-up at 105 pounds last season. This was her third Finals trip.

“Honestly, I think I just caught her and we’re super competitive with each other. She’s beat me twice already this year,” Gibson said. “I caught her in a perfect moment and I stuck her – it was super quick.

“We had a game plan and it kind of went with our game plan, but it just turned out a lot more perfect than we planned.”

Gibson has been wrestling for 11 years, picking it up from her older brother’s influence.

She hopes to be right back in the same spot next season.

“Honestly, I’m stunned -- a little bit in disbelief,” Gibson said. “Super proud of all the work and everything that my coaches and I have put in and that they continued to do with the support.

Champion: Nakayla Dawson, Westland John Glenn, Soph. (9-0)
Fall, 2:25, Cheyenne Frank, Oxford, Soph. (15-1)

Some believed that the Finals match at 110 pounds was going to be Dawson vs. Sky Langewicz of Algonac, with Langewicz having won Finals titles the last two years. But Frank earned an 8-4 decision over Langewicz in the Quarterfinals.

Dawson captured the 105-pound championship last season, so bumping up a weight class pushed her a bit.

“I mean, I feel like this year was a little bit more challenging because I bumped up a weight class, but it’s kind of the same,” Dawson said. “Girls, they’re just really flexible and they’re hard to get into turns and pins. But, yeah, it’s pretty much the same.”

Dawson did match up with Langewicz, but it was in the Feb. 18 Regional Final at Birmingham Groves, where Dawson earned an 8-5 decision.

Dawson made sure to keep the right mindset and stay focused in the Final. Her career goals are clear.

“Trying to go all four (years of winning championships),” she said.

Champion: Sunni LaFond, Gaylord, Jr. (30-6)
Decision, 13-9, over Gracey Barry, Grand Haven, Jr. (34-2)

LaFond broke through after runner-up finishes as a freshman and sophomore, but it was far from easy. She seemed to be in control of her Finals match Saturday, but Barry battled to the very end and made it very interesting.

“It was really intense. I did not think that it was going to be that tough to win it, but it was worth it in the end,” said LaFond, who absorbed two bloody noses in the bout.

After the match was over, LaFond ran up the stairs of the press risers and gave her mom a hug in the front row of stands. Moments later, she was greeted by well-wishers and wrestlers with whom she’s familiar.

“I didn’t feel nervous before, I just felt like it’s just another tournament, it’s not anything special,” she said. “I mean, yeah, it’s states, but it definitely feels really good.” 

Kaili Manuel, right, works to gain control during her 145-pound championship match against Riverview Gabriel Richard’s Rihanna Venegas.

Champion: Lola Barkby, Sturgis, Jr. (17-3)
Decision, 4-2, over Faith Burgess, Grand Blanc, Jr. (25-1)

Barkby finished runner-up as a freshman and took fourth as a sophomore, but she said that different training and changing up her style yielded the results she was seeking.

You might say she kept her nose to the grindstone, so to speak. She had marks on her face to prove it.

“I’m not too happy about the mat burn on my face, but it’s a part of it,” Barkby said with a smile.

When Barkby placed second in 2022, she lost to eventual four-time state champion Angelina Pena in the 120-pound weight class.

This time, it was Barkby’s turn to leave the mat a champ.

“I mean, this is the best season that I’ve had and my team, we competed really well as a team this year,” Barkby said.

Champion: Tyler Swanigan, South Lyon East, Sr. (12-1)
Fall, 3:45, over Jamie Cook, DeWitt, Jr. (30-3)

Swanigan collected her second championship in three years. Previous experience seemed to pay off.

“My sophomore year was my first year competing at high school sports, so nerves were a lot higher coming into today being in the Finals three years in a row,” Swanigan said.

For the Finals match, Swanigan said that getting a lot of sleep, eating healthy, and drinking a lot of water helped.

She’s certainly poured enough time into it.

“I’m very happy this is the way I ended my high school career,” Swanigan said. 

Champion: Angelina Pena, Milan, Sr. (16-2)
Fall, 3:25, Isabella Cepak, South Lyon East, Jr. (10-2)

Pena won a fourth-straight championship, including the third in a row since the MHSAA added a girls division for postseason competition. She captured the 120-pound title as a sophomore and 130-pound championship as a junior.

“I mean, it’s similar (to the other three) in the fact that I won and I held the same amount of respect for all of my opponents regardless of how they lose,” Pena said. “I think it’s different (in how) it gets harder every year, you know. All the girls are getting better, they’re training all year, and you’ve just got to keep training and keep putting in more work than they are.”

Pena is proud of the growth of girls wrestling at the high school and lower levels.

She said that her Milan coach, Adam Cabarello, launched a youth program at the school and he’s invited her to come to his practices.

“The more I come in, the more girls I see. We’ve got, like, seven or eight girls in there right now. It’s really nice to be able to mentor,” Pena said. “I think it’s just going up from here. Exponentially, we’ve already seen a giant increase in the amount of girls that are joining wrestling or making it to Ford Field. I think it’s great.”

Champion: Margaret Buurma, Fowlerville, Jr. (24-1)
Major Decision, 11-2, over Paisley Denault, Clarkston, Soph. (28-2)

Buurma is a three-time champion, also achieving the feat at 125 pounds last season and 115 as a freshman.

Former Fowlerville and University of Michigan standout Adam Coon has influenced her career.

“Quite a few times over the summer when we’re training freestyle stuff, he comes in, he works with us, he tells about his journeys through high school and college and then through all the Olympic stuff and World teams,” Buurma said. “He’s somebody who I strive to be like with his success in wrestling, but also his success in the academic field and his success as an overall person.”

Buurma said she felt a little more stress and anxiety coming into the tournament.

“In the end, it’s a wrestling tournament, and we’re here because we like wrestling,” she said. “Winning’s just always a bonus.” 

Champion: Maddie Hayden, Caledonia, Soph. (11-0)
Fall, 0:49, Brynn Campbell, Holt, Sr. (30-7)

Hayden defended her title at 155 pounds, but she also overcame obstacles in the form of injuries.

“I think it’s definitely trusting my training. I had a couple of injuries, too, so I was out for a while. That was a big obstacle to overcome, too. I mean, I wanted to repeat, but my goal was also to overcome those obstacles as well,” Hayden said. “So just trusting in my training, trusting in my faith that I was going to be all right and that I could do it again because I did it last year.”

In late December or early January, she broke her fingers. Hayden was back on the mat for a week before she hyperextended her elbow.

The injuries may have seemed like a curse to some, but Hayden took them on as a challenge. They certainly didn’t seem to hinder her performance Saturday.

“Like, going into Regionals and state, I had only been wrestling a week in the past two months,” she said. “It was definitely scary coming in here with not a lot of wrestling, but that was also a fun thing. ‘Let’s see how good I could do off of not a lot of practice.’”

Champion: Maddison Ward, Niles Brandywine, Jr. (37-1)
Fall, 5:48, Heaven Cole, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix, Jr. (17-2)

The bear hug with her coach said it all immediately following Ward’s pinfall.

She summarized it with one word: “Amazing.”

“Like, I’ve been waiting for it for the longest time,” she said.

In her first Finals appearance, Ward pinned her way through the bracket.

“This year made it special because I knew I would be able to make it into the Finals this year, and it’s just exciting to be able to wrestle in the Finals – I’d never done it before,” she said.

Champion: Sabrina Nauss, Brighton, Sr. (9-0)
Fall, 1:35, Gabriella Allen, Marcellus, Sr. (25-3)

Nauss became just the third four-time state champ in Michigan high school girls wrestling history.

In another historical note, two years ago she was the first female to win an Individual Finals match at Ford Field.

“Just a lot of emotions right now. Excited. I’m excited about what’s to come next, but I’m also sad for what I’m leaving behind,” she said. “I’m leaving one of my coaches, who has coached me from the start until the very end. … I’m excited. I’m excited for the future. I’m excited for college, and there’s just so much going on right now.”

Nauss collected the 170-pound title in 2022 and 190-pound crown in 2023 at MHSAA Finals. Her freshman year, she won a championship at the Michigan Wrestling Association state tournament.

She was all business in Saturday’s Final, taking charge and trying to put it away early.

“I mean, I just wanted to come in and get the job done,” she said. “Like I’ve said before, this is a business trip for me. This is my job, so when I come in, I want to come in hard. I want to get the first takedown and I’m trying to score the most points, so coming in with a pin was my ideal for finishing the job.”

Champion: Madasyn Frisbie, Belding, Jr. (6-1)
Sudden Victory, 4-2, over Braelyn Flemming, Spring Lake, Jr. (18-4)

The now two-time champion Frisbie has been through her share of pain on the wrestling mat.

“I’ve had a really tough season because I missed the majority of my season because I dislocated my (right) shoulder,” Frisbie said. “When I got to come back, it was probably the best day of my life.

“And then I went to Regionals and lost in the Regional Finals, and I never want to have that feeling of losing again. I mean, that’s just what drove me. I decided I wasn’t going to lose, so I didn’t.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Romeo’s Belicia Manuel, right, takes on Waterford Kettering’s Emily Medford in Saturday’s championship match at 140 pounds. (Middle) Kaili Manuel, right, works to gain control during her 145-pound championship match against Riverview Gabriel Richard’s Rihanna Venegas. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)