LANSING | They have ended every practice with the same chant, but it doesn't sound monotonous.
When coach Dean Bosman asks his Illiana Christian wrestling team who is the regional champion, they replay in unison, "Illiana Christian."
Even after two-hour grueling practices on the gym deck which is their home, the Vikings have enough energy to echo off the walls. It is done not of cockiness but of confidence.
"We know Saturday is going to be tough, but if we can wrestle well, we hope to get enough points to win it and advance," 171-pounder Zach Groen said. "There are some tough teams, but we have been working hard all season for this."
Illiana competes in the Class 2A Joliet Catholic Regional on Saturday. The top three individuals in each weight class advance to the Lincoln-Way West Individual Sectional next Friday and Saturday. The first-place team moves on to the Sandwich Team Dual Sectional on Feb. 22.
The program last won a regional team title in 2005 when the Vikings took the Class A Wright College Regional.
The Vikings are 17-7 in dual meets and recently won Unity (Mich.) Christian Invitational.
"That was big for us," Mark Meekma said. "We were third last year and to come back and win it just gave us a big confidence boost."
He and his teammates said winning the team title would put the program in a different light.
"I think more kids would want to come out, and that is always good," Nic Walmarson said. "It would really show how hard we have worked, but nothing is given. That is a tough regional."
One of the big reasons for their success is the Vikings say they are in much better shape than in past seasons.
"We say the third period belongs to us," Illiana coach Dean Bosman said. "If we can hang in there for two periods, we feel we can come through in the third."
Walmarson said Illiana has its own version of the TV exercise infomercials
"Call it Illiana X, because we really work our tails off," Walmarson said. "More cardio, a lot more cardio, but we can feel it when our opponents are fading; we are still going strong.
"All those sit-ups, sprints, the weights, it has paid off."
Another reason is the addition of assistant coach Dave DeBoer, who wrestled on the 2005 team. Senior 189-pounder Mark Lyzenga credits him for making him tougher.
"Every day in practice he makes me better," Lyzenga said. "He has pushed us, and we are in such great shape that we feel we are stronger in that third period when it counts."
DeBoer said he is glad to be back at his alma mater, and a lot of the success is the wrestlers themselves.
"I love working with them in the wrestling room, but they also want to get better," DeBoer said. "They are willing to put in the time. I love wrestling and so do they."