To ask coach Todd Cheney of Hartland, this time of the wrestling season has its good times, and its challenges looming ahead.
“The fun things are every time you’re wrestling, you’re wrestling for a title, so every meet we go to now a title is involved and we’ve got something on the line every time,” Cheney said, just moments after the Eagles won their fifth Kensington Lakes Athletic Association championship in the last six years.
“The hard part of this time of year is the kids have been putting in work since they were five or six years old, and sometimes it just doesn’t end the way they want it to end,” he added in reference to districts, regionals and states. “And that’s why we keep working hard to make sure, hopefully, that those things don’t happen.”
Host Hartland (34-2) defeated Plymouth, 45-27 in the KLAA league finals Thursday night. In the semifinals, Hartland beat Waterford Kettering, 66-12, and Plymouth defeated Salem, 50-14, before the Rocks took third place over Kettering.
“We were glad to beat (Salem) because it puts us in a good position for districts next week that we’ve (now) wrestled and beaten every team in our district, so it will be harder for them to surprise us since we’ve already seen them once,” said Plymouth coach Quinn Guernsey.
“Hartland is a perennial team, they are tough,” he went on. “Top to bottom, even missing a couple starters and their backups come in, and their backups have a ton of experience and know what they’re doing, and you can just tell they’ve been there before.
“They have the experience of being in big matches and knowing the situations and knowing the scores and knowing how to change how they wrestle to fit the situations. They’re at another level than we are right now; they’re where we’d like to be in the near future, but not yet.”
Plymouth (32-4) grabbed an early 8-0 lead on wins by Jeff Harris (112 pounds) and Mohamed Youssef (119), before Hartland’s Sage Castillo earned a pin in 4:53 at 125. Dylan Dwyer then gave Plymouth a 14-6 edge with a pin at 2:31, before Hartland ran off two pins (by Daniel Ahern and Austin Eicher), a forfeit at 145 and a 12-5 win by Anthony Colaianne at 152 for a commanding 27-14 Hartland edge.
The clinching win for Hartland came at 189-pounds, where Jake Economou got a pin at 1:51, before Plymouth forfeited at 215 that gave Hartland an insurmountable 39-21 lead.
“I knew it was tight, and they had really good lower weights, so we had to get it done up top,” Economou said about the clinching score. “To be honest it’s not a fun position to be in, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
KLAA individual titles preview:
If statewide rankings are an accurate indicator, Saturday’s KLAA individual league tournament at Howell should have some excellent marque match ups.
At 130-pounds, it could be a battle of the Bens. No. 1 and No. 2-ranked (by Michigan Grappler) seniors Ben Griffin (Canton) and Ben Calandrino (Howell) will likely be tussling for the league crown, unless Griffin moves up to 135 where he has spent lots of time this season. Griffin has been a state placer all three years, with a runner up title in 2012, while Calandrino took 5th in Division 1 last season.
The 215-pound weight class mirrors the same scenario, No. 1 ranked vs. No. 2 – assuming neither wrestler gets knocked off in earlier rounds inside the Howell Fieldhouse. Seniors Jordon Brandon of Westland John Glenn, a state runner up last year, should face Matt Okaiye (3rd in states) of Waterford Kettering.
The 125-pound class has five KLAA wrestlers ranked in the state’s top 10 so the league title is truly up for grabs: freshman Nathan Atienza (Livonia Franklin), senior Kevin Huynh (Westland John Glenn), sophomore Sage Castillo (Hartland), junior Kyle Bohnsack (Brighton) and junior Nathanial Flemming (Grand Blanc).
Could say the same for 171, the weight class where four top-10 ranked wrestlers reside: juniors Nick Brish of Brighton and Hussein Youssef of Plymouth, and seniors Dean Honkala of Howell and Nate Smith of Hartland.
Seniors Austin Eicher of Hartland and Alec Pantaleo of Canton are huge favorites at 140 and 152 pounds, respectively. Eicher is a defending state champ with a runner up the year prior, and Pantaleo won a state title as a sophomore; he was injured last winter.