With well over 200 wins and wrestling championships secured at every level but one, Zack Lawrence of Duanesburg already had his name out there with college recruiters by the time his senior season rolled around.
What transpired in the following months was nothing short of sensational, when he put together one of the greatest runs ever by a Section II grappler, with a 50-0 record capped by the New York title that had eluded him for years. It was a run that featured skill, endurance and determination.
"Any time you win a state title, the doors fly open," said Frank Popolizio, Lawrence's Journeymen Wrestling Club coach. "He had a lot of opportunities."
Around 20 colleges contacted Lawrence, and from the handful that expressed the most interest, the 18-year-old chose Division III Springfield College as his destination to wrestle and study. The humble champion said he was flattered by all the attention, albeit well-deserved.
"I had probably five Division I schools, and two offers [from Presbyterian, S.C., and Edinboro, Pa.]," Lawrence said. "It was a hard decision with so many good schools. I'm leaning one way and then another way. It's hard to tell a coach, 'No, I'm not coming,' but right now it feels good."
"First time we stepped on campus, he goes, 'It feels like home to me,'" said Popolizio, a Springfield alumnus. "Good choice."
Lawrence will head to Springfield as Section II's career wins leader with a 277-23 record, five Section II Division II titles, six Section II Class D titles, and five state meet placings in six tries. He clinched his 152-pound Division II state championship this past season when he beat Mike Squires of Norwich in a 3-2 thriller. Lawrence placed third in the state as a junior, and had a fourth and two fifths before that.
"Looking back at it, I'll never get that back. The scene, the arena, it was pretty special," Lawrence said of his last varsity match. "Ever since seventh grade, I wanted to win a state title. I took some lumps. The end goal was a state title."
In a way, Lawrence will be starting over at Springfield as a 157-pounder. There, he'll join longtime friend and Galway graduate Dillan Palaszewski who, last winter, went 12-6 at 165 pounds as a Springfield freshman.
"It would be nice to crack the lineup," said Lawrence, who placed seventh and earned All-American status at the recent NHSCA High School Nationals. "I've got to get a little stronger because now I'll be wrestling against grown men. We'll see how it goes. I'm going to try to take in everything and just use it to get better."
Popolizio said Lawrence is a self-motivated athlete who will strive hard to earn time on the mat. Springfield graduated its leading 157-pounder in senior Kearney Gutierrez.
"He likes to win," Popolizio said. "And being a New York state champion, expectations are you're an impact guy. It's a big challenge, but I believe he'll be in the mix to be the lead guy."
Lawrence said he will likely begin his academic career in Springfield's highly regarded physical education program, though his longterm career goal is to become a New York State Trooper.
"I like helping out people," said Lawrence, a veteran member of the Schenectady County Sheriffs Explorers. "I think it fits me."
As for long-term wrestling goals?
"The first goal would be to qualify for the [NCAA] nationals," Lawrence said. "If I attain that, then All-American."