Flint Kearsley is the seventh-ranked wrestling team in the state in Division 2, and features seven wrestlers who are ranked in the top 16 in their weight class.
The Hornets had 10 wrestlers get out of the individual district at Goodrich this past Saturday — including five district champions — and in January, won the Gatorade Duals in Marysville’s home gym.
Marysville coach Rocky Palazzolo is well aware of this and what his team is up against Wednesday night in the Division 2 team regional at Linden, but he’s still confident in his team’s ability as the Vikings eye their first ever regional title.
“We have gotten better every time we step on the mat; these young men want it,” Palazzolo said. “If we go out there and battle the way I know we are capable of, good things will happen. It’s going to be a war tomorrow, we’ll see what happens when the dust settles.”
“I feel the team is wrestling very well right now and at a high level, but more importantly, they are believing and confident they can beat anyone. They don’t care about rankings or seeds, they are just focused on who steps out on the mat in front of them. And that’s what it takes to win this time of year. They are peaking at the right time.”
Marysville is one of five Blue Water Area teams that will wrestle for a regional title Wednesday night. Algonac, Croswell-Lexington and Richmond will be at Richmond in a Division 3 regional, while Sandusky will travel to Mayville for a Division 4 regional. The winners of each region advance to the quarterfinals Feb. 27 in Battle Creek. The semifinals and finals will be held Feb. 28.
If the Vikings survive Kearsley, they’ll get the winner of the other semifinal between Ortonville Brandon and Linden. Kearsley, Brandon and Linden are all members of the Flint Metro League. While Kearsley is the only ranked team, Brandon did finish one spot ahead of Kearsley at the league tournament on Feb. 7.
All four teams were at the same individual district, and while Kearsley had the most regional qualifiers with 10, the others weren’t far behind: Marysville (eight), Brandon (eight) and Linden (seven).
“Winning a regional title for the first time in school history would mean a lot,” Palazzolo said. “Not just to the guys, but to the future of the program. Winning is contagious, and will take our program to the next level, which I feel we’ve been knocking on the door of for a while.”
One team that is already at that next level is Richmond, and the second-ranked Blue Devils will be looking to make their seventh straight trip to Battle Creek. They open with Algonac, while Cros-Lex will wrestle Clawson in the other semifinal.
“The kids, for the most part, are really healthy,” Richmond coach Brandon Day said. “And we’re fresh. We’ve been able to slow down practice a little bit, teach and re-teach things. We’re wrestling the best we’ve wrestled all year right now, and that’s what you want.”
Algonac coach Brian Ranger said he knows what his team is up against in facing Richmond, a team that defeated his Muskrats 62-7 in their regular-season meeting.
“What I told my guys is that it is a privilege and an honor to make it to regionals, and be amongst the best 32 teams left in Division 3,” Ranger said. “All we can do is wrestle as hard as we can and represent the community of Algonac with pride. We’re wrestling fairly well right now as a team, but are pretty banged up in certain weight classes. Team regionals will be good experience for my younger guys, as we don’t have a ton of seniors.
“I’m looking for effort and my guys to go out and battle. Win or lose, we will try our best and I’ll be proud of them. Hopefully (we) stay as healthy as we can for Saturday.”
Cros-Lex, meanwhile, is focused on Clawson, and getting a chance to test itself against Richmond again.
“We saw them at the Yale individual tournament, but we haven’t matched up with (Clawson) as a team,” Cros-Lex coach Joe Lilly said. “We kind of watched them a little at the individual district. They’ve got some good kids, no doubt. I think it’s going to come down to some matchups and some kids getting us some bonus points where we can get them.”
Sandusky will open with Burton Bentley in its first regional tournament since 1996. Cass City and Bad Axe will square off in the other semifinal.
“We’re pretty comparable team wise,” Sandusky coach Mike Stoliker said of Burton Bentley. “We’re both carrying around nine or 10 kids for the dual meet. They’ve got some quality wrestlers, and we’ve got some quality wrestlers, but most of the matches don’t match up weight wise.
“Neither one of us have room for error. If we can win the flip, get the matches we want, and their kids come into the dual at the weights they were at for districts, we feel pretty confident. We have a chance, anyway, and we’ll take it.”
Stoliker – who let his team shave his head Tuesday night because of its district title win – said his wrestlers are enjoying the opportunity to still be alive as a team. While he’s encouraging that, he also doesn’t want them to be satisfied.
“This is something we hope to do on a little more regular basis going forward,” Stoliker said. “It’s something to enjoy, but at the same time, don’t just be happy with it.”
Contact Paul Costanzo at (810) 989-6251 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PaulCostanzo.
Division 2 at Linden, 5:30 p.m.
•Marysville vs. Flint Kearsley
•Ortonville Brandon vs. Linden
Division 3 at Richmond, 6 p.m.
•Richmond vs. Algonac
•Croswell-Lexington vs. Clawson
Division 4 at Mayville, 6 p.m.
•Sandusky vs. Burton Bentley
•Cass City vs. Bad Axe