In the past three seasons, Liberty's wrestling program has taken giant steps, from going winless in dual matches to a 12th-place finish at last spring's Metro League tournament, the best in nearly a decade.
With the loss of only two seniors, the Lancers were looking at even brighter prospects for the 2013-14 season.
Then the team lost one of its own when senior Gabriel Lawrence died Oct. 6.
"I walked in to one of my classes, and I saw a bunch of black paper over the windows, so I knew someone had passed away," Lancers senior Kaiden Springsteen said. "I had no idea that it was Gabe, and it didn't seem real until his service. It was a lot to handle, but we're a band of brothers now. We're a closer team, now."
Just a few months before, several members of the team helped sift through the ash and rubble of a house lost in the Black Forest fire of graduated team member Chris Fuller.
Suddenly, wrestling took on a different perspective for the Lancers.
"This team is more cohesive; I've had the juniors and seniors from day one, and I've really seen them grow up," fourth-year Liberty coach Shawn Springsteen said. "They've been through a lot of adversity, adult things you don't think young kids will have to go through. There's a camaraderie that will carry this group further than any Liberty team in recent memory."
The younger Springsteen, now a senior, was part of a team that snapped a three-year dual-match losing streak in 2011. Last season, he was one of four Lancers who won at least 20 matches.
Then in practice a few weeks ago, Springsteen suffered a torn ACL that put his senior year in jeopardy.
Just a little more adversity.
"Since we found out about Gabe, everything is different," Kaiden said. "We're trying not to take anything for granted. We're wrestling like we have nothing to lose. With my knee, it can't get any worse, but hearing the doctors tell me I can't wrestle makes me want to prove them wrong."