The Cereal City area has long been recognized as a hotbed for high school wrestling, and the 2013-14 season should be no different.
Several teams and individuals have their sights set on stellar league and invitational campaigns, and then peaking during postseason districts and regionals — with hopes of reaching the MHSAA team finals at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena on Feb. 21-22, and having a lot of their athletes qualify for the MHSAA individual finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Feb. 27-March 1.
In the city, Battle Creek Central should be strong and is led by junior Jacob Taylor, an individual state qualifier last spring. Harper Creek has 46th-year head coach Dave Studer and assistants Joe and Steve Yurisich at the helm, and has a returning state qualifier in Mitch Coon. Lakeview has the ingredients to defend its SMAC East and Big 16 crowns and All-City title, with Lal Sang, Htay Thet and Jacob Harvey leading the way on the mats. And, Pennfield features former longtime athletic director Larry Boyer back as head coach, and hopes for its young squad to improve as the season progresses (Boyer coached Pennfield to the area’s most recent team championship, the Class C-D crown in 1992).
Among the programs in the area, Bronson has several grapplers back from last year’s state semifinal squad and also has a new coach in Chad Butters (he replaces 30-year head coach Al Sosinski); Gull Lake has a new coach and a returning state qualifier in Kemps Miller; and many other schools are looking to either remain strong or re-load via a lot of hard work in their efforts to be successful.
Following is a closer look at all of the local prep wrestling programs for 2013-14, starting with the city schools.
Battle Creek Central
Coach: Louis Politte (8th year).
Last year: 16-7 overall, 2nd SMAC East, 5th SMAC Big 16.
Top returners: Jacob Taylor (Jr. 171 pounds, state qualifier); Jace Trevino (Sr., 285, regional qualifier); David Smith (Sr., 103/112, 4th year on varsity).
Top newcomers: Ten to 15 new wrestlers.
Outlook: “The coaching staff and wrestlers are excited to get the season started,” said Politte. “We put in a lot of hard work over the summer and preseason. We want to continue to get better and represent Battle Creek Central with class.”
Coach: Dave Studer (46th year), assistant Joe Yurisich (8th year), assistant Steve Yurisich (6th year).
Last year: 4-16 overall, 6th SMAC.
Top returners: Mitch Coon (So., 112 pounds, state qualifier); Hunter Peri (So., 119); Joey Ramos (Jr., 145); Jesse Ectinaw (Sr., 145); Jacob Bishop (Jr., 152); Turner Shaw (Sr., 171); Caleb Masten (So., 285).
Top newcomers: Ethan Bishop (Fr., 125); Jacob Devereaux (Jr., 135); Brenner Beck (Fr., 130); Jonny Ramos (Fr., 135); Drew Michaels (Fr., 215); Riley Keller (Jr., 112/119); Mason Phillips (Fr., 189).
Outlook: “We are going to be a very young team,” said the Harper Creek coaching staff, “that should improve and be solid by the end of the season.”
Coach: Chris Dunham (7th year), varsity B coach Jason O’Connor (10th year).
Last year: 32-5 overall, 7-0 SMAC East (1st place), 1st SMAC Big 16 (3rd straight year), All-City champ, district champ (individually 9 All-City champs, 2 SMAC champs, 2 district champs, 7 regional qualifiers, 3 state qualifiers/1 state placer).
Top returners: Hayden Larochelle (Sr., 103 pounds); Brendon Stevens (So., 112); Lal Sang (Jr., 119, regional qualifier); Brandon Rose (Jr., 130); Colin Read (Sr., 135); Htay Thet (Jr, 140, regional qualifier); Dontrell Childress (Sr., 152); Jacob Harvey (Sr., 171, regional qualifier); James Ruanta (Jr., 189), Cole Winters (Jr., 215/285); Chaz Meredith (Sr., 285).
Top newcomers: Daniel New (Fr., 112); Connor Caswell (Sr., 125); Brendon Gooding (Jr., 145); Jeremy Hinton (Sr., 152); Nick Council (Sr., 160).
Outlook: “As a team, our expectation is to wrestle every match tough, and keep alive the tradition of winning All-City, the SMAC East division and team districts,” said Dunham. “Individually, we hope to get six to regionals, with three making it to the state meet.”
Coach: Larry Boyer (1st year back after being longtime athletic director, 22 years coaching).
Last year: 11-11 overall, 3rd KVA, 1st team districts, did not place anyone returning at regionals.
Top returners: Nick Burnett (Sr., 130 pounds); Kurtis Babcock (So., 103/112); Dylan Huff (So., 119); Nick Schwarz (Jr., 171/189); Tyler Lahusky (Jr., 189).
Top newcomers: Dillon Striplin (Fr., 125); Esteban Gancer (Fr., 145); Isaac Vincent (Fr., 140).
Outlook: “This is a very young team. We have only two seniors on the team, one returning to the lineup and two seniors with no varsity experience,” said Boyer. “My expectation for the team is to get better every week. This team needs to be at its best at the end of the season in time for the league conference tournament and districts. This team will need improvement from those athletes who have some varsity experience — sophomores Storm Vanhyfte, Nathan Suver, Ryan Hammer and Haylee Johnson and juniors Parker Bowen, Collin Prideaux and Zach Burr — in order for us to improve on our .500 record of last season.”
Coaches: Jason Wade (10th year), Travis Pennock (2nd year).
Last year: 8-11 overall, tie 4th Big Eight.
Top returners: Trey Gower, Steve Waring, Todd Myers, Dylan Head, Zack Mobley, Isaac Swager, Eric Fee.
Top newcomers: Dakota Grimm, Josh Vaden, Zack Scholly, Ben Middleton, Matt Middleton, Noah Eshuis, Ethan Simmons, Adam Audette.
Outlook: “We have a very young team,” said Wade, “and we hope to improve from last season.”
Coach: Chad Butters (1st year).
Last year: 22-1 overall, 1st St. Joe Valley, 1st districts, 1st regionals, semifinalist at team state.
Top returners: Tommy Littlefield (So., 112 pounds); Wes Disbro (Jr., 119); Lane Houtz (Jr., 125); Kahle Scheenks (Jr., 130, all-conference, 4th districts, 4th regionals, 8th state); Matt Cosby (Sr., 135); Mykal Kline (So., 140); Jukoada Sexton (Jr., 152); Brett Burtrum (Jr., 171, all-conference at 215, 1st districts at 189, 3rd regionals at 189, 8th state at 189); Skyler Riker (Sr., 215, all-conference at 285); Joey Losinski (So., 285).
Top newcomers: Jordan Withington (Fr., 103); Jacob Butters (Fr., 103); David Erwin (Fr., 145); Tim Erwin (Jr., 160); Nathan Caudill (Fr., 189).
Outlook: “We are looking forward to the upcoming season and have high expectations for the returners and the newcomers alike,” said Butters.
Coach: Jake Lenhardt (2nd year).
Last year: 15-23 overall, 3rd SMAC East.
Top returners: Mohamed Aljabaly (Sr., 119 pounds, state qualifier); Austin Siegel (Sr., 171, regional qualifier); Randy Brown (Sr., 189); Chris Vandenhout (Sr., 145); Nooh Aljabaly (Jr., 135); Randall Linton (Jr., 130); Josh Powers (Jr., 125).
Top newcomers: Tyler Massey (112), Sam Demeester (160), Cooper Murphy (215), Jerry Schultz (130), Gavino Barrera (215).
Outlook: “We expect to have a solid season, having a majority of our team returning from last year with a lot of experience,” said Lenhardt. “With this being our last year in the SMAC, we are hoping to go out on top and reclaim a district title.”
Coach: Darrin VandenBerg (7th year).
Last year: 11-23 overall, since-graduated Jesse Binkley was 3rd at districts and regionals and had 1-2 record at state meet.
Top returners: Darrin Abraham (Sr., 125 pounds); Sam Jarrell (Sr., 215); Nick Martin (Jr., 189/171).
Top newcomers: Daniel Alva (Fr., 125/130); Brendon Ringler (Fr., 103).
Outlook: “Not having a large team this year will allow us extra time to focus on individual development,” said VandenBerg. “Dual meets will not be a strength for us, but we are focusing on having several competitive wrestlers that can push through to the regional and state meets.”
Coach: Dan Phillips (6th year).
Last year: 14-7 overall, 4th KVA.
Top returners: Jacob Reed (So., 152 pounds); Cody Reed (So., 160); Hunter Chilton (Sr., 160); Evan Curtice (Sr., 171); Robby Madden (So., 112); Blake Mast (Jr., 285); Devin Kallee (Sr., 215).
Top newcomers: Jaco Bever (Fr., 103); Brendan Baird (Fr., 119).
Outlook: “We are really looking forward to this season,” said Phillips. “We should be competitive in the KVA. We have a good mix of veteran experience and leadership, and young talent.”
Coach: Blake Brooks (1st year).
Only wrestler: David Elenga (Fr.).
Outlook: “We have just one kid this season, David Elenga who will wrestle in the lower weight classes,” said Brooks. “We’re hoping to get David some individual and tournament experience … and hopefully build up for a larger team again next season.”
Coach: Tony DeRyder (1st year at Gull Lake, 13 years assistant in 1980s and 1990s, regional coach of year in 2013 at Parchment).
Last year: 6-19 overall.
Top returners: Kemps Miller (Sr., 145 pounds, 3rd districts, 3rd regionals, state qualifier, ranked 9th in state by Michigan Grappler); John Neumann (Sr., 145); Lucas Slater (Sr., 171); Ryan Tomer (Sr., 140); Coleman Gibson (Sr., 145).
Top newcomers: Nolan Rowland (103), Christian Sanders (112), Daniel Rodriguez (112), Chris Blackmun (135), Arius Chapa (140).
Outlook: “We have seven kids from last year’s team, so we are not seasoned,” said DeRyder. “With that said, I’m very happy that we have 23 kids so far this year. They have a great attitude and are working hard. I feel Gull Lake is a sleeping giant… And I think the first thing you do as a head coach is to put together the best coaching staff you can. I feel we hit a home run with assistant Aaron Boone and demonstrators and assistants Brandon Blankenship and Andy Caffrey. It gives us a really good mix. Things are starting to gel.”
Coach: Mike Eldred (33rd year).
Last year: 3rd Big Eight, 6th-place state-meet individual since graduated.
Top returners: Jacob Crandall (So, 112/119 pounds); Garett Warner (Jr., 125/130); Austin Yeakey (Jr., 140); Dakota Waring (Jr. 171); John Bangert (Jr., 215); Wyatt Stout (Jr. 150).
Outlook: “We have a lot of young kids right now who will be in the lineup along with our returners, but I’m not yet sure exactly who they are all going to be,” said Eldred. “Overall, I would like us to end up around third in the conference, and have three or four kids get out of districts to regionals, and have a couple make it to the state meet.”
Coach: Chris Ricketts (41st year).
Last year: 8-17 overall, 6th KVA, 3 regional qualifiers and 1 state qualifier.
Top returners: Zach Rosenberger (Sr., 285 pounds, regional qualifier); Kodee Crouch (Jr., 119); Sam Bonney (Jr., 125); Matt Reid (Jr., 130); Seth Feasel (Jr., 152); Travis Franks (Sr., 171).
Outlook: “We will start out shaky at best,” said assistant coach Tony Wawiernia. “Yes, we have some good kids coming back. But we have a lot of young wrestlers coming in and a couple of holes in our lineup at this point. However, we feel by midseason we should be quite competitive.”
Coach: Nick Zuehlke (1st year).
Last year: 8-20 overall.
Top returners: Kiefer Bartlett (Jr., 119 pounds); Chris Hall (Jr., 125); Bobby Owens (Sr., 140).
Top newcomers: Sean Kent (Fr., 152); Corey Dexter (Fr., 171); Devante Gonzales (Fr., 189); Justin Halcomb (So., 215).
Outlook: “We are a very young and talented team,” said Zuehlke. “We have the ability to be very good this year as we continue to get better the more time we get together. I am excited about the potential this group has.”
Coach: Jeff Smith (5th year).
Last year: Middle of pack KVA, 4 regional qualifiers (3 graduated).
Top wrestlers: Jared Calkins (285 pounds, returning regional qualifier); Wyatt Autrey (So., 103); Preston Schlee (So., 135); Dillon Sinclair (Jr., 160); Shilo Towery (So, 160).
Outlook: “We have several newcomers and a lot of experience,” said Smith. “We’re looking for a great season from Calkins, and Autrey, Schlee, Sinclair and Towery should all have very good seasons.”
Coach: Jeff Wilkins (13th year).
Last year: 15-15 overall, 5th Big Eight, 4 state qualifiers (1 returning).
Top returners: Luke Wiser (Sr., 160 pounds, state qualifier); Dalton Hard (Sr., 140/145); Hunter Winger (Sr., 130).
Top newcomers: Kalieb Miller (Fr., 112); Erza Brown (Fr., 140/145).
Outlook: “We are pretty inexperienced this year after losing three state qualifiers from last year’s team,” said Wilkins. “Our numbers are down this year, so we are working hard to get everyone prepared.”
Coach: Randy Widener (1st year; 8 years coaching in North Carolina).
Last year: 10-13 overall.
Top newcomers: John Kenny, Connor Michaels.
Outlook: “This year we look to take the first step in returning Union City to the top of the (Big Eight) conference,” said Widener. “As a team, we look forward to bringing back the ‘smash-mouth’ style of wrestling that we have been known for in the past.”