Division 1: Hartland finally captures the championship
MT. PLEASANT — If there was a curse, it has been extinguished.
Hartland had earned a trip to the state quarterfinals for 15 straight seasons but couldn’t get the elusive title of Division 1 state champion.
No longer, no longer,” said Hartland heavyweight Brandon Krol. “We’re the best in the state right now.”
No. 1-ranked Hartland was rewarded for the program’s endurance with a 36-23 win over No. 2 Davison, Saturday afternoon at Central Michigan’s McGuirk Arena. Hartland had previously been state runner-up five times, including last year.
“This will be a new speech, thank God, because that runner up speech was for the birds,” Hartland head coach Todd Cheney said to a circle of reporters after the win. “I always say win with class, lose with class. And (Sage) Castillo goes, ‘you didn’t say lose (this time coach)’ … so that was fun.”
Davison and Hartland split the first two championship matches, at 135 and 140 pounds, respectively. The early turning point immediately followed as Hartland’s Castillo and Logan Vish pinned their opponents at 145 and 152 pounds, followed by another pin by Lucas LaForge for a 21-3 lead. Castillo and Vish had also pinned their Davison opponents during the regular season, but that time it ended with a come-from-behind victory for Davison by one point.
“Huge, huge,” Cheney said. “This time those guys just started us off.
“This community is incredible, and you look a see half of our community is here. Amazing moment for our kids, families, our parents. I mean, you name it, how can you not just look around and look at their faces and understand that everything that they’ve worked for, they just got.”
Hartland earned one more fall the rest of the way, by Kyle Kantola at 103 pounds in 56 seconds, but the remainder of the match was about scoring points, or not giving up too many, a Cheney mantra.
He pointed to freshman Corey Cavanaugh as an example going up against Max Johnson. Cheney said his young wrestler knew the other guy, “wanted to rip his arms off.”
“That kid is just flat tough, Corey Cavanaugh,” Cheney went on. “I mean there’s an instance we lost that match, but really we won because we didn’t get pinned, we were saving points. And that’s been our mentality since we’ve been coaching; get bonus and don’t give it up.
“That’s why we’ve been successful as a program over the years. Pinning people is what people like to see, they don’t like to see the 2-1 match, they want to see someone get thrown on their back; that’s fun. And when we got three of those early, that was fun.”
And it’s a lot more fun to get that first state championship.
Division 2: Lowell downs fellow power St. Johns
MT. PLEASANT Lowell’s wrestling team turned to the fans in the stands and shot imaginary arrows into the crowd, followed by holding up three fingers each.
It symbolized the fact the Red Arrows had just earned their third consecutive Division 2 state championship, this time over powerhouse St. Johns, 37-22, Saturday at Central Michigan University.
It was Lowell’s fourth championship in the last eight years. St. Johns won the other four state titles, consecutively from 2010-13.
For Lowell’s 119-pounder Sam Russell, it never gets old facing the Red Wings.
“Not at all, but this one tastes way better than last year’s championship,” he said. “Beating Eaton Rapids by a lot in last year’s finals didn’t nearly taste as good as this one. I love beating St. Johns.
“It’s definitely a great rivalry and I hope it never dies. I want my (future) kids to wrestle for Lowell, and I want them to wrestle against St. Johns’ kids. I love this.”
Lowell coach R.J. Boudro said a key turning point came early, when at 152 pounds non-state qualifier George Gonzales beat state placer Derek Droste of St. Johns, 4-3.
“And then the momentum almost went the other way when we lost at 160 at the last second (Brett Fedewa beating David Kruse) but his big brother came in and saved him and got a big win at 171 (Danny Kruse),” Boudro said. “All awesome kids.”
After going through the heavier weight classes, at 112 St. Johns’ Emilio Sanchez pinned Jeff Leach in 3:22 to tie the team score at 22, with three weight classes remaining. That’s when Russell came in.
“I was pretty nervous but it was nice because we have a really good team that backs me up,” Russell said. “Just going out there knowing the guys have your back makes a big difference. My coach told me I could get bonus points on the kid so I went after it early and got lucky with a tilt and I got a quick pick off. It was exciting.”
Russell was able to pin Cody Wood in 1:24, before Lowell earned another pin by Lucas Hall at 125 and a win by Avry Mutschler at 130 to close out the victory.
“We knew we were going to finish with three of our strongest weights, so I felt pretty good about things being 22-22 at the time,” Boudro said.
“We’ve seen these kids so many times, so we take nothing for granted. When you’re in the state finals whether it’s St. Johns or anybody else, we respect everyone. We definitely have respect for what St. Johns has been able to do but at the same time, whoever we wrestle in the state finals, whoever we wrestle period, it’s about respecting your opponent, and respect them by wrestling the very best we can.
“Yes, it’s three in a row, but that’s just a statistic,” he added. “I want to celebrate with my guys and then we’ll worry about next year, but we’re going to do whatever we can to get back here.”
Division 3: Roberts passes mentor at Dundee
MT. PLEASANT — Jim Wittibslager lives in Florida and now and then returns to Dundee to visit his understudy, Dundee wrestling coach Tim Roberts.
On Saturday, Roberts passed his mentor in capturing the team’s ninth state team title, beating first-time finalist Remus Chippewa Hills in Division 3 with an impressive 40-16 victory at Central Michigan’s McGuirk Arena.
The Vikings (21-0) were never threatened in finishing the season unbeaten for the first time, according to junior Sean Sterling, who won in a fall at 160 pounds.
Roberts now has five titles and Wittibslager four. Dundee still has a tournament called the Wittibslager challenge during the season.
“I have five now; I’m happy to have that,” said Roberts. “I think he is one of the greatest coaches that has ever done this, and I owe everything that I’ve learned to him and it’s an honor that anyone would put my name with his in the same breath.”
Wittibslager won titles in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998. Roberts won his first crown in 2001 and followed it up with titles in 2007, 2013 and 2014.
Roberts said his team’s experience was a factor.
“You could see that the experience did matter,” he said. “Their guys, I think nerves played a little part, and we won matches at the end. It is an experience you have to go through, even if you’ve been here a lot it’s still something you have to go through. This being their first time I’m sure they learned something. They’re a great program and Nate (Ethridge) does a great job. They are well-coached.”
Dundee won despite being decimated by injuries and defections. Only 15 wrestlers were healthy for the state finals with Drew Mandell (broken leg) and Grant Ott (separated shoulder) reduced to spectators.
“I have a state placer on crutches, I have a district champ in a sling,” said Roberts. “These guys stepped up and kept gutting it out. We had some kids that didn’t want to wrestle and we had some kids that talked other kids out of wrestling. We had a state qualifier last year that got talked out of wrestling this year. Those are kids you need in your lineup.”
Despite the setbacks Sterling said the team is in good hands with Roberts.
“He knows what he is doing,” he said. “It all started last year at this time. We lost the dual meet to Richmond in the final, great team, I have a lot of respect for them. We lost because we didn’t score any bonus. We won eight matches, they won six, but we didn’t bonus and we lost. This year, from that moment on, all year in practice, bonus, bonus, bonus. We had to score bonus. Coach drilled it in us all year. We came in here this year and did it.”
Dundee advanced to the final with a 39-18 victory over Whitehall; Chippewa Hills beat Lake Fenton, 31-27.
Division 4: Title nice present for New Lothrop
MT. PLEASANT — New Lothrop’s crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to freshman Austin Wolford after the Hornets secured the Division 4 state team wrestling title with a 35-27 victory over Hudson Saturday afternoon at McGuirk Arena.
The 130-pounder turned 15 and was the final wrestler on the card with his team holding a slim 32-27 lead over arch rival Hudson, winners of five state titles from 2009 to 2013.
“It’s just such a great experience,” said Wolford. “My mind-set was I needed to win this for the team. The team is like my family. I said if I lose, I don’t get a chance to see my family. After I won I thought it was awesome. It was a nice present. Coach said stay aggressive, let’s not get a stalling call and try pinning the kid. My mind-set was I had to go out there and pin the kid.”
He didn’t pin Hudson’s Carson Price, but he won by decision, 7-0, to secure the team’s 14th state title.
Hudson and New Lothrop (24-5) met in the team finals for the third straight year. New Lothrop has won all three, this time before a record crowd of 4,900.
“We knew when we started we were going to have to build a big lead,” said New Lothrop coach Jeff Campbell. “The strength of their lineup is those guys down low. They have some really good wrestlers there. We messed up in a couple of spots. We gave up a couple of pins we didn’t need to. Overall the kids overcame it. One kid after another rose up and made up for it. It was a great team effort.”
A few years ago Campbell had a wrestler who was cautious in the same situation as Wolford, and the team ended up losing.
“I’ve learned my lesson,” said Campbell. “We lost in the semifinals on a tie. I told the kid you just can’t get majored and he got majored. Sometimes you just have to go out there and wrestler and let what happens happen.”
New Lothrop dominated early, building a 28-6 lead, but Hudson made a rush at the end in the lower weight classes as Dylan Leathers (103), Tucker Sholl (112) and Jordan Hamdan (125) all won their matches.
“I didn’t get a chance to talk to him before he went out there,” said New Lothrop’s Connor Krupp, who won a decision over Scotty Torres, about Wolford. “He’s an amazing freshman. He came in and did the job. If I could have talked to him I would’ve told him to wrestle like he had all year. I got concerned when they closed the gap. All-around we have an amazing team. Hudson’s strongest wrestlers are in the lower weights. I knew we would start out ahead because we’re stronger at the higher weights. It came down to the close matches. Our close matches won.
“They push us. We see them every year at the finals and its great competition. We go back and forth. The last few years we’ve been able to push through.”
In the semifinals, Hudson eliminated Leroy Pine River, 55-18, and New Lothrop survived Springport, 38-30.