By Nate Thompson
WHITEHALL – Whitehall High School has been producing great wrestlers for years, and this season is no exception.
A total of seven Viking grapplers have qualified for this weekend’s Division 3 individual state finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills, with opening-round matches getting underway Thursday.
Twenty other wrestlers from area schools will also be competing in various divisions.
Whitehall Coach Cliff Sandee said he’s had as many as 10 wrestlers quality for state in one season, but the Vikings typically send seven or eight.
“This year is a solid, solid seven,” Sandee said. “We’re really excited.”
Leading the charge for the Vikings are a pair of wrestlers who won regional championships two weeks ago, and both are still juniors.
Reiley Brown will be making his third straight trip to the individual finals and will compete at 125 pounds, while Jwan Britton is making his second trip while fighting for a championship at 135.
They’ll look to become Whitehall’s first individual state champions since the team had three wrestlers capture titles in 2013.
Although a state crown won’t be handed to him on a silver platter, it could be Brown’s time to rule his weight class. He left the Palace heartbroken as a freshman and sophomore, finishing second in 2013 and third in 2014.
“I’d place a healthy wager that there’s nobody in his weight class this weekend that’s spent more time on a wrestling mat than Reiley has,” Sandee said. “He’s probably got around 150 matches under his belt in the off-seasons alone.”
Brown (44-2 this season) will open the tournament against Essexville Garber’s Charlie Newton.
Just how important is the sport to Brown? His family’s addition to their home included a wrestling room, providing Brown with more mat time to perfect the science of the sport.
Sandee said Brown earned respect right away at Whitehall by becoming a practice partner with Logan Irey, a three-time state qualifier who graduated last year.
Brown established himself as one of the favorites to win a state title in December, when he stood out at the fiercely competitive Goodrich Tournament of Champions.
Brown defeated nationally-ranked Ian Parker of St. Johns at the tournament, as well as defending 125-pound state champion Jerry Fenner of Birch Run.
“When he won those matches, we knew what we were getting this year out of him,” Sandee said.
Brown and Fenner could be on a crash course to meet in Saturday’s championship round, as they are currently ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the weight class.
Sandee also has high hopes for Britton, the nephew of former Whitehall assistant coach Jason Johnson, who also starred on the mat for the Vikings.
“People think (Britton’s) successful because he’s such a great athlete, but the truth is, he’s successful because he works really, really hard,” Sandee said. “I’m excited for him.
“The greatest thing going for Jwan is his confidence. He could be facing an Olympic gold medalist, and he thinks he’s the better wrestler.”
Britton (41-3) will meet Columbia Central sophomore Jacob Stahl in his opening match.
Also competing in the finals for Whitehall are Corey Robinson (112), Roger Champion (119), Keanyn Brown (145) Jojo Dowdell (140) and Trip Thommen (171).
Other regional champions from the area competing this weekend are Grand Haven’s Camden Bertucci (125), Shelby’s Trent Montambo (285), Hesperia’s Josh Ehrke (285) and Trenton Roesly (140) and Kent City’s Shane Rodenburg (171).