It can be a difficult transition for some wrestling teams, mostly focusing half the week on advancing in the playoffs as a team and then — win or lose — abruptly shifting that focus to seeking individual success.
For Brighton and Hartland, that’s exactly what a combined 23 of their wrestlers are facing. The Bulldogs and Eagles won their respective regional titles Wednesday and now more than half their wrestlers — 12 for Hartland, 11 for Brighton — must forget about the team state finals temporarily.
Now they must zone in on individual regionals Saturday morning at Howell.
“Yeah, it is a little bit hard,” said Brighton coach Tony Greathouse after wrapping up the team’s fifth regional title against Holt. “It is hard to turn it around. … But at the end of the day it’s wrestling. These kids, they go out and wrestle.”
“It’s really no change,” said Hartland coach Todd Cheney, offering a different thought on it, but whose wrestlers are also accustomed to this scenario by now having won 14 straight regional titles. “Obviously, the team concept’s not there, but you still gotta go out and win matches.”
Ultimately, for most teams fortunate enough to be at this stage, it’s a different experience, especially when a school has multiple wrestlers combating in the same weight class bracket. But the way to triumph this time of year does remain the same. As Cheney said: Just win.
Of course, that will be easier said than done given the field at Howell. Seventy-one state-ranked Division 1 wrestlers enter the Howell brackets looking to make the top four and book reservations for a March 5-7 trip to The Palace.
By comparison, the next toughest field has 57.
“Our region will be the toughest one in the state,” Cheney said.
Cheney hopes his 12 guys — which include four district champions in undefeated senior Jacob Gorial (50-0) at 152 pounds, top-ranked sophomore Reece Hughes (130), Lucas LaForge (171) and Jake Economou (215) — will be best prepared from having recently been in the midst of heated competition.
“I think the fact that they had a night (Wednesday) night to compete, unlike a lot of kids at individuals, will give them a little bit of an advantage,” he said. “We got to compete. The guys whose teams aren’t competing just got to practice. Sometimes, especially at this time of the year, it gets monotonous. You wrestle with the same guy every day and it makes it tough to push yourself.”
He also hopes they benefit from doing some scouting throughout the week even prior to the team finals, an idea some coaches refuse.
“We post their brackets on the wall and obviously you look at the kids you’re going to wrestle. Sometimes we do a little bit of scouting to know what a certain kid does” Cheney said. “The kids know their brackets and then we kind of plan the mental shift to a tee, starting the week with team and now we shift back to individual.”
It’s a prime example in which some teams differ when facing individual finals.
Greathouse, for example, takes a different approach to it. The Brighton coach wants his wrestlers to thrive on their own, but he wants to ensure that if the team is alive, then it’s solely team success being concentrated on.
Until Wednesday’s match was over, he didn’t even mention individual regionals.
“All week up until (Wednesday night), we won’t talk to them about Saturday,” he said. “They want to talk about who they’re wrestling and (ask), ‘What do I do against this guy?,’ and I say, ‘I am not talking to you about Saturday until after Wednesday.’ Then after Wednesday, we take care of business.”
That is, if they have wrestlers that make it to next week.
Hartland and Brighton almost certainly will.
And if one wrestler is favored in the area to take home a state title, it’s probably Hartland’s Gorial, who at 50-0 is the top-ranked guy in the 152-pound weight class. Gorial has fourth, second and seventh place finishes to his name.
Now as a senior, he’s hoping this is finally his year to claim gold.
“For him, the only thing missing is an individual state title,” Cheney said.
Hughes probably has the next best chance to claim a title for Hartland at 130 pounds. He’s considered the best in his weight class according to MichiganGrappler.com, but he didn’t advance past regionals as a freshman.
Among the other Hartland grapplers that will be attempting to sneak into the top four at regionals are Noah Lopez (103), Garnett Potter (112), Hayden Culver (119), Steven Tyler (125), Sage Castillo (135), Logan Vish (145), Andrew Spisz (171) and Zach Zoll (130).
Brighton also feels it has a couple guys who can make some noise at regionals and states. Nick Brish (171) and Luke Ready (215) were the two district champs that came to mind.
“I feel pretty good,” Brish said. “I definitely want to try to win a state championship, but 171’s got a couple tough kids and I’m gonna have to wrestle up to their level if I want to try and get on top of that podium.
“I hope we can put as many guys through as possible and get them to the individual state meet. If we can just get out there and wrestle like I know we can, we can put all our guys through.”
Lee Grabowski (112), Beau Mourer (160), Nick Brish (171), Eric Conquest (215), Jackson Renicker (119), Kyle Bohnsack (130), Jose Ramos (140), Tanner Maschke (152), Ryan Salmon (145) and Grant Morrison (119) round out Brighton’s qualifiers.
Howell has four partaking in the home meet with Austin Hansen (189), Sawyer Hughes (125), Robert McQueen (189), and Dylon Lester (145).
Pinckney earned one with Jack Dunn (171).
In Division 2, Fowlerville had three top-10 ranked wrestlers make it out of districts in Austin Makins (130), Mason Litz (189) and Kyle Roberts (140), who will be at Eaton Rapids.