OLIVET -On the outside, Olivet College may just be a small Division III school that’s more than four hours away from Alpena.
But to Northeast Michigan athletes, it’s a home away from home.
Olivet has been a popular destination for local athletes in recent years including two local grapplers who are members of Olivet’s wrestling team.
One of these grapplers is senior Jake Ceslick, one of Olivet’s current standout heavyweights.
“Jake is doing some of his best wrestling right now. At one point, he was ranked as high as 12th in the country in Division III though he’s currently ranked 14th. Last year he was third in regional and could go to national if he takes the top three again,” Olivet coach Brandon Brissette said.
Ceslick is a former resident of Alpena who is currently double majoring in criminal justice and sociology. He hopes to go into child welfare once he graduates and do a little coaching on the side.
He’s beaten a few national qualifiers from schools like Ohio and Northern Michigan, but Ceslick isn’t obsessed with his progress as a wrestler.
“I try not to pay attention to that stuff. I feel really blessed that I’ve had the chance to compete outside of high school in a sport I love. It’s not a chance that everybody gets,” he said.
Olivet has something of a history with Alpena-area wrestlers including Alpena High wrestling head coach Jake Stenz who is an Olivet alumnus.
“Olivet is one of the few colleges in Michigan that offers wrestlers a solid, well-established team. A few like (Central Michigan), Eastern, Michigan and I think Muskegon (Community College) and Grand Valley have some programs and a few clubs, but nothing like the dedicated program at Olivet,” he said.
Stenz wrestled for Olivet for four years, participated in the travel team for three and was a starter and captain for two years. He traveled to meets across the state and even overseas in a program that was ranked three out the four years he was there.
Another local grappler is Dylan Jensen, a sophomore from Mio, wrestles at 149 pounds for Olivet and had some success before being sidelined by health problems.
“Dylan has a lot of potential as a wrestler and he had some success with wins at Eastern and MSU. He should be back this semester and I’m looking forward to seeing him wrestle,” Brissette said.
Jensen was attracted to the college due to the quality of the coaching and the close-knit atmosphere.
“I wasn’t a fan of going to a bigger school at a bigger university. I was looking at some places like Central Oklahoma and Minot State. But I was wrestling at a state tournament when Brandon Brissette came up to me and we hit it off right away and I got interested in Olivet right away,” he said.
Jensen plans to return to wrestling as soon as possible. He is studying physical education and hopes to become a coach after he graduates.
Two other former Alpena wrestlers, Sean Kane and Tom Dihle also attend Olivet. Dihle played football in the fall and Kane may join the wrestling team next season after sitting out this year with an injury.
Former Alpena High baseball players Austin Clark and Jonny Zawacki have suited up for the Olivet baseball team in the last few seasons and former Alcona basketball player Bryan Layton signed with Olivet last year.
According to Stenz, upwards of 70 wrestlers try out for the team each year, which is narrowed down to 30 or 40 students. Olivet was ranked seventh in the nation in Division III and had five wrestlers in the state championships last year.
One major draw for Olivet from Northeast Michigan wrestlers that Jensen mentioned is the small-town atmosphere and close-knit college life.
“Olivet is a good hard working blue collar type of place. It’s very similar to Alpena with a lot of salt of the Earth people,” Brissette said.
A small class size translates into more personal time for students, a fact that Ceslick found to be one of the best aspects of the school and the wrestling program.
“Everybody is really helpful and supportive across the board. I’ve been invited to dinners by coaches and teachers when I couldn’t make it home for the holidays,” he said.
Stenz said the college’s small town personality and the openness of its wrestling program allows wrestlers a chance to grow and learn.
“Olivet doesn’t give scholarships out to recruit athletes. They give everybody a chance to compete. If you’re there and you’re working hard, you can compete. A lot of the wrestlers that go there didn’t go far in high school but they get the chance to work at Olivet and suddenly they’re ranked in the nation and winning championships. At these bigger colleges, these guys wouldn’t have had the same change to wrestle and grow,” he said.
But he believed the biggest draw of the school was its closeness of community.
“I remember one time we had a late meet that we had to travel home from and an early class the next day with a big test. One of us didn’t show up, so the teacher stopped class and sent some of us after him so he could get to class and take the test. That’s not the kind of thing you’re going to get at a huge university,” he said.