By Steve Gunn
He previously coached the Panthers for 15 seasons, and had no shortage of success. His team won a state championship in 2008 and was runner-up on five different occasions.
Baird left the post following the 2012-13 season and returned this season, and guess what? The Panthers are threatening to add another state trophy to their collection.
Hesperia, 36-7 on the season, will wrestle in the Division 4 state quarterfinals Friday at noon against Springport. If they win the Panthers will advance to the semifinals at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
The state finals will be 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Panthers earned their way into the quarterfinals by defeating Kent City and St. Louis in last week’s team regionals.
So how does this current team compare to the great Hesperia wrestling squads of the past?
“It’s a lot of pressure to compare them (to past teams),” Baird said. “This team is trying to create its own identify. They have really went about their business well. The guys and I have all grown together.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with this group of kids right now. I think we have a great chance to do well this weekend.”
Hesperia will enter the quarterfinals with a good mixture of experienced and young talent, and a lot of depth in several different weight classes.
Leading the Panthers will be four wrestlers who won regional championships last weekend in the individual state tournament
They are seniors Mark Workman, Davian Gowens and Josh Ehrke and sophomore Gerrit Yates.
Workman, who wrestles at 171, is undefeated this season with a 36-0 record. That’s particularly impressive considering he missed most of his junior season with an injury.
Ehrke, who wrestles at 289, recently won the 100th match of his varsity career.
Gowens, who wrestles at 125 and 130, was an individual state champion in 2014 at 103 pounds.
Yates, who wrestles at 152, finished second in the state last year at 135 pounds.
The Hesperia lineup also includes Connor Baird (103), a 30-plus match winner and individual regional qualifier; Camryn Johnson (112), a rare girl in a male-dominated sport; Kurtis Stitt (119), a 20-plus match winner and regional qualifier; Charles Figueroa (125), a 20-plus match winner; Trentyn Gleason (140), a state qualifier; and Logan Eaves (140), a state qualifier who was a state runner-up in 2014.
Other key Panthers are Zack Young (152), a regional qualifier; Luis Alvarez (160), who earned All-Conference honors this season; Nate Smith (171), a 30-plus match winner and regional qualifier; Fred Vanderstelt (189), a regional qualifier; and Triston Rubin (189), a regional qualifier.
“We certainly have some guys who are going to win some matches against anybody,” Baird said. “The other teams also have some firepower in their lineups as well. At this point it’s going to be high stakes wrestling.
“If our team comes out and scraps we have some real possibilities this weekend.”