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Pequot athlete switching things up senior year

Jonah Lelwica doesn’t like staying in his comfort zone. The Pequot Lakes senior recently joined the wrestling and golf teams, leaving hockey and baseball, two sports he’s played since elementary school.

The results have varied: Lelwica cracked the varsity rotation in his first season for the Patriots’ golf team in 2013, struggling with inconsistency but showing promise.

His tenure with the Road Crew wrestling team has fared better: Lelwica has totaled a 4-2 record (three pins) between the 152- and 160-pound classes since joining the team a week into the season.

Lelwica, who wrestled briefly in elementary school and attended a few practices in eighth grade, knew the decision was the right one.

“Wrestling has always been in my blood, my dad and uncle were both wrestlers,” said Lelwica, who was expecting to spend time between the first and second lines for the Lightning hockey team.

The decision to switch winter sports had been in the making since summer. Lelwica attended a wrestling camp at North Dakota State University last summer, but had no intentions of jumping ship.

“It was just for fun and to take a break from work,” he said. “Over four days the (camp directors) worked us hard and kept us in shape. I didn’t do well from a match-by-match standpoint, but it felt good to get back into the sport after such a long time away.”

The light bulb moment came when Lelwica wrestled against the son of 1988 USA Olympian John Morgan and fared better than expected.

“It was such a cool experience. I even got to meet John and get an autograph,” Lelwica said.

The decision to leave the diamond for the links was more unexpected and easier for Lelwica, who picked up a club the summer of 2012.

The former outfielder instantly fell in love with golf.

“A couple good friends asked me to go to the driving range at Whitebirch (Breezy Point) before work one day, and I loved it,” Lelwica said. “I got free golf because I worked at the resort, so the game was easily accessible.”

His scores didn’t show promise at first, but that didn’t stop him from spending five days a week playing.

“I was carding 100s at first, but it was still way more fun than baseball,” Lelwica said.

What helped him lower his scores were his experience in hockey, and a strict workout regimen that he has followed at Snap Fitness, which his parents own in Pequot Lakes.

“My strength has helped me a lot,” said Lelwica, who possesses a witness-attested tee shot that hovers around 310 yards. “My short game has always needed work along with my consistency on the green, but I can reach most par 5s in two.”

His chipping and putting saw drastic improvement toward the end of summer 2013 as his average fell to the high-80s, giving Lelwica confidence for his senior season.

“I spent a lot of time playing with (Central Lakes College golfer and Patriot alumnus) Cole Bliss and he helped me shave strokes around the green,” says Lelwica. “When I get back into things this season, chipping and putting will be a priority. I’m hoping to spend most of my time in the top three.”

Patriots golf coach Steve Stoxen is also optimistic about Lelwica’s game.

“Jonah was able to develop quickly because of his dedication. He’s a wonderful athlete with an excellent work ethic,” Stoxen said.

The Patriots’ coach is fully aware of the trials that come with picking up a sport late in high school.

“When it comes to golf, it takes years to get comfortable with the mental aspect. His hand-eye coordination improved, now he just needs to focus on the mental part,” Stoxen said.

On the mat, Lelwica has loftier goals. “I want to make it to sections and beyond.”

The road might not be as difficult as one would assume, according to Lelwica and Road Crew head coach Travis Hoffarth.

“Ever since my first varsity win I’ve been getting into a groove,” said Lelwica, who pinned his opponent in less than a minute in his varsity debut.

Other highlights from his wrestling season include three wins by pin and a one-point loss to Road Crew veteran Nick Gravdahl in the qualifier for the annual Big Bear tournament.

For Hoffarth, the season has been bittersweet.

“When Jonah practiced briefly with us in eighth grade before deciding on hockey, we knew we were losing somebody with lots of raw talent,” said Hoffarth. “If he would have stuck with it, we wouldn’t be talking about the chances of him making the cut for sections.

“Seeing him wrestle, you can tell right away how gifted he is when it comes to strength, and he’s been doing a great job of working hard in practice to shake the rust off his technique. He’s got a great work ethic, he gives it everything he’s got in practice and is always ready to learn.”

The work has paid off in the short term.

“He had a big win for us on Jan. 14th (against Cass Lake-Bena) and has been rotating well between the 152 and 160 spots,” Hoffarth said. “When we put him out there, we know he’s going to leave it all on the mat. We can only take 19 guys to sections, and he’s been working as hard as anybody to fight for that spot.”

For Lelwica, settling into wrestling has been easy.

“The Road Crew welcomed me in instantly and made me feel like family,” he said.

He also is grateful for a support system.

“I wouldn’t be here without my family, (Pequot) principal Chip Rankin, and pastor Eric Holst (Timberwood Baptist),” Lelwica said.

Following graduation, Lelwica, a 3.3 student, plans to attend NDSU University for engineering.