The dust has settled from the Michigan High School Athletic Association Wrestling Team Districts, with Pennfield being the lone city school left standing.
The Panthers earned a Division 3 district title to advance to Wednesday’s regional at Lake Odessa Lakewood. There, they will have their work cut out for them as the 6 p.m. semifinal matchup comes against 10th-ranked Allendale. The winner of that match will take on the victor of Belding vs. 7th-ranked Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the regional championship.
Despite the difficult road ahead to reach the MHSAA State quarterfinals at Kellogg Arena on Feb. 27, Pennfield head coach Larry Boyer takes pride in his team reaching the regionals despite a young roster.
“It means an awful lot because it means we’re bringing things back up,” Boyer said. “We got a lot of kids returning so to get to this point they can feel like they know what to expect at the regional meet, next year if we can get here, so it’s a good step forward for the program.”
Other locals advancing to Wednesday’s regional round are Bronson (Division 3), the Climax-Scotts/Martin Co-Op and Maple Valley (Division 4). The Vikings will face No. 2-ranked Hudson in the regional semifinal at Bronson; the regional at Holton will see Climax-Scotts/Martin facing Hesperia and Maple Valley taking on Kent City in the other regional semifinal.
Not since Pennfield finished as the Class B runner-up in 1993 has a team from Battle Creek reached the state quarterfinal round. That year ended the Panthers’ run of three consecutive trips to Kellogg Arena, after reaching the Class C semifinals in 1991 and winning the 1992 Class C-D State Championship.
“It was a gradual thing,” Boyer said of the title runs in during his previous tenure as coach. “I’d been there 10-12 years as head coach, and our program was .500 — and some years better and some years worse. We’ve always had good wrestlers, but the big key is getting them all at the same time.”
The Panthers are led this season by junior 285-pounder and district champion Taylor Dean, as well as 189-pounder Nick Schwarz — the lone senior on the team.
“In Nick Schwarz we’ll be losing a good one once his season’s done,” Boyer said. “Hope the best for him individually, where he has a good chance to make it out of regionals. I told him, ‘Nick, you’re the only one here where this is your last go.’ He’s working really hard.”
Joining Dean and Schwarz in the individual regionals on Saturday will be teammates Dylan Huff (119 pounds), Jaycob Herpin (112 pounds) and Dillon Striplin (135 pounds).
“We kept telling the kids we need to peak at end of the year, and I think we are peaking,” Boyer said. “Early in the year we took a little beating. We didn’t even have a full lineup until districts. We’re where we need to be, as good as we are. We’re going to see some very good competition at the regional… It’s going to be a challenge. If we get past (Allendale), we’ll have to wrestle our hearts out because both Belding and Grand Rapids Catholic are very good.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley
MHSAA WRESTLING TEAM REGIONALS
• Division 3 at Lake Odessa Lakewood: Pennfield vs. Allendale; Belding vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central
• Division 4 at Holton: Climax-Scotts/Martin vs. Hesperia; Maple Valley vs Kent City
• Division 4 at Bronson: Bronson vs. Hudson; Addison vs. Springport