Injuries and personal circumstance have made for tougher-than-normal challenges in Hartland’s pursuit of a second consecutive Division I wrestling team state championship.
But the Eagles hope it won’t block their path to the state quarterfinals – or result in another loss to Walled Lake Central.
No. 5-ranked Hartland travels to Walled Lake Central at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday for a matchup in the team regional semifinals. Central rallied past Hartland, 30-27, on Feb. 1 in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association division champions tournament.
Central trailed 27-8 before winning the five remaining matches. The run was capped off by three-time state champion Ben Freeman’s pin of Devon Pietila at 145 pounds. It was the only lead Central had that night.
The loss intersected the grieving process for Joey Livingston, whose father, Craig, a former Hartland wrestler, died three days earlier. Visitation for Craig was the same night as the Central dual, and two Hartland players bypassed the match to join their teammate at the visitation.
The team attended Craig’s funeral the following day.
“It was a tough week, with all that and a kid out with pneumonia, a kid out with a concussion,” said Hartland coach Todd Chaney, whose team has lost three starters from last season’s state championship team because of injury.
Hartland, which has won 17 consecutive district team titles, qualified 10 individuals for regionals.
The Hartland-Central winner will take on either Warren Mott or Southfield A&T in the regional title match. The region champion advances to the state quarterfinals at Central Michigan on Feb. 24.
Central never has won a regional title since the dual format was introduced in 1988.
“The last few weeks have been a lot better than the first half of the season,” Central coach Al Freeman said. “There’s been some matches where we finally had our full lineup available. Like others we’ve had sickness running its course through the team.”
Regarding the win over Hartland and Wednesday’s rematch, Freeman added: “They were very familiar with our best guys, but I think they underestimated a few guys who were better than (Hartland) thought they were. And of course now they know better.”
The win helped Central debut at No. 8 in the Michigan Grappler rankings. Central’s only losses this season have been to other ranked teams, including two losses to Oxford (No. 4), plus Brighton (No. 7) and Warren Woods Tower (No. 2 in Division 2).
Freeman leads Central at 140/145 pounds. His brothers Nick Freeman (third in state last year) wrestles at 135/140 and Sam Freeman is at 103. Warren Stanfield (130/135), T.J. Daughtery (103/112), Nick Onwenu (189/215), Connor Merchant (215) and Josh Jernagin (160/171) also are notable. Four other Central wrestlers qualified for the regional tournament.
Reece Hughes, the state champion at 140 last year, leads Hartland. He is 33-0 at 145 pounds this season, and he wrestled at 152 in the previous match against Central. It would be interesting matchup if Hughes and Ben Freeman wrestled.
Andrew Spisz (44-4) at 189, Kyle Kantola at 119 and Corey Cavanaugh at 112 placed at state for Hartland last season. River Shettler (152) and Livingston (160) are other notable wrestlers for the Eagles.
Notebook: Top-ranked Novi Detroit Catholic Central is expected to breeze through its regional Wednesday at Plymouth Salem, which also hosts Livonia Franklin and Dearborn Fordson. DCC won its district over Walled Lake Western, 83-0, a near-perfect score.
“To be honest, if we combined our teams (Franklin and Fordson) along with Salem’s team we wouldn’t even put a dent in CC’s lineup,” said Franklin coach David Chiola. “They’re just a machine. We’re not going to beat them and neither is anyone else in the state this year. Davison probably has the best shot.”
According to the MHSAA, eight teams have scored a perfect 84 points in a dual, the most recent time by Wayne Memorial in 2011.