The long months of demanding self-discipline and extraordinary work habits have paid off for several local wrestlers, who earned berths in next week’s MHSAA Individual Wrestling State Championships at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Punching a ticket to the Palace wasn’t easy: wrestlers had to place among the top four in their respective weight class at Saturday’s talent-saturated regional tournaments.
A trio of Livonia Franklin grapplers earned fourth-place or better finishes to advance to the biggest stage in high school wrestling: Adam “Mugsy” Ross, Nick Robertson and Nathan Atienza.
“We knew going in it was a tough region at certain weights,” said Franklin head coach Dave Chiola. “There were some kids in the blood round that you may see in the state finals.”
Atienza, a sophomore, will return to the Palace with a sterling 46-3 record after taking second in the Saline-hosted D1 regional. Atienza dropped a 4-1 decision to Canton’s Ty Jasman in the championship match.
“Nathan has been wrestling very well all year,” said Chiola. “He lost the finals match to a kid he has beaten the two previous weekends and three times this year, but in the grand scheme of things it just puts him on the other side of the bracket. It doesn’t change what he’s accomplished or what he will accomplish. Sometimes it’s tough seeing the same kid over and over again.”
Robertson’s achievement – he placed third at 130 pounds in Saline – was inspiring given that he missed out on completing his state-qualifying performance due to an injury. Robertson, who is now 45-13, will take a full head of steam to Auburn Hills after closing the regional tournament with a first-round pin of Belleville’s Brian Papin.
“I was very excited for Nick,” said Chiola. “He qualified last year, but an injury cost him the opportunity to compete. I know that was crushing to him. It took a lot of hard work and determination to get back.”
Of the Patriots’ three qualifiers, Ross (32-20) faced the steepest odds, but he conquered them with a fourth-place showing at 125.
“‘Mugsy’ was the real surprise,” Chiola said. “Very few people gave him a chance to get out of districts. He wrestled a couple of very smart matches on Saturday, and now he’s going. He works extremely hard and is very dedicated. I’m really glad for him; he deserves it.”
Westland John Glenn, Livonia Churchill and Livonia Stevenson will all be sending two wrestlers to the D1 finals.
Freshman phenom Mike Mars placed third at 103 pounds for the Rockets. Mars’ lone loss on Saturday was a 10-8 decision to Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Rayvon Foley. Mars won by a 13-0 major decision over Monroe’s Neil Antrassian in the third-fourth battle.
Mars will be joined by teammate Chase Spanos, who captured the 125-pound championship after out-pointing Dearborn Edsel Ford’s William Marano, 7-1, in the gold-medal match. Spanos increased his record to 40-5.
Stevenson advanced a pair of upper-weight stars: 171-pound Connor Vaughan, who placed third, and 215-pound Brad Scott, who also placed third. Vaughan improved to 33-6 while Scott bumped his record up to 39-6.
Churchill’s state-qualifiers are 215-pound Baker Hadwan, who took second at 215 while improving to 43-7, and 152-pound Chase Gardner, who placed fourth. Hadwan lost an intense 1-0 decision to SouthgateAnderson’s Cody Tis in the final.
Gardner owns a 42-12 mark.
Following two consecutive years of losing in the blood round, Lutheran Westland senior Thomas Krueger punched his first ticket to the Palace in the Division 4 215-pound weight class. Fellow Warriors Nick Glinn (215) and Manny Rankine (119) were one win away from joining Krueger.
“Thomas pinned his first two opponents, so he had a great day; in fact, he’s had a great season,” said LW head coach Joe Schmidt. “He didn’t get emotional or anything after he won the match that put him in, but us coaches did.”
Krueger’s lone loss in the individual regional came against Michigan State University-bound senior gladiator Jacob Cooper of Springport, who is 51-0 this season and hasn’t lost a high school match since his freshman season.