By Andrew Johnson

WHITEHALL – Every year for the past 11 seasons, Whitehall has celebrated a team championship at the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Wrestling Tournament.

Allen Powers has been part of that celebration for the past two years. But unlike many of his teammates, he hasn’t been to celebrate as an individual weight class champion.

But he’s come really close.

Allen Powers. Photo/Jason Goorman

In 2016, Powers was edged out by Montague’s Matthew Lipka 14-12 in the 125-pound weight class finals.

Last year he lost to Fruitport’s Levi Six when he was pinned with a second left in the 152-pound finals.

Powers, a junior, will try again for his first city title on Saturday when area teams gather for the GMAA tournament at Whitehall High School, starting at 9 a.m.

On one hand, Powers says failing to win a city title hasn’t been that disappointing, because the powerful Whitehall wrestling team focuses on bigger goals later in the season, at the regional and state level.

But Powers admits it would be nice to break through and be a local champion, all the same.

“I just remember that they have been so close in points, and if I would have pushed myself a little more I could have won both,” Powers said about the two close losses in the finals.

“I’m inspired. It pushes me to go harder in practice and work harder overall than I usually do. I want to come back and win it this year.

“I’m really excited. It’s not every day you get to go against people all over from your area.”

Powers came to Whitehall as a freshman from Louisville, Kentucky, where he was a two-time state youth champion. He has qualified for the individual state finals for each of his first two years of high school, and finished eighth in the 145-pound class at the Division 3 finals last year.

Powers tries to roll out of a hold during the individual state finals last season. Photo/Tim Reilly

Powers is off to another great start this season with a 25-3 personal record. He will come into the city tournament with 98 career victories, and in all likelihood will reach the 100-victory benchmark, whether he wins a title or not.

“Of course it’s a milestone, but you have no time to really stop for it,” he said. “You just have to keep pushing for what you want to achieve.”

Powers will be wrestling in a higher weight class at the city meet this year – probably 189. He says it has been an easy transition since bulking up in the offseason and taking on bigger and stronger opponents.

“There hasn’t been a struggle at all,” Powers said. “Things have actually gotten smoother as I’ve gone up.

“It’s been playing football and hitting the weight room really hard which has helped me grow. At 125, I wasn’t really good on my feet. I was too strong and we thought I’d be able to dominate more at higher weights.”

At one point Powers was not sure if he would be wrestling at all this winter.

He competed with a Michigan junior team at an elite national event in Pennslvania in June. He dislocated a knee cap and injured a muscle during a match, and only learned about three weeks later that the muscle injury was only a strain that would not disrupt his winter season.

Powers stands at the podium after taking eighth place in the individual wrestling state finals last year. Photo/Tim Reilly

“The 3 weeks were nerve wracking, knowing I could be out for the season, especially in a sport I am really passionate about,” Powers said. “It put thoughts in my head and I started to regret what I did (competing in the tournament).

“But I knew it was for the best. There’s nothing like an experience like that, wrestling the top guys in the nation. It was a big relief, knowing I wouldn’t be out for the season.”

Powers has big goals for the rest of his junior season, regardless of how he finished at the city meet.

“I want to win a district title, a regional title, and make it farther in state by taking top four,” he said.

While the individual goals are one motivation for Powers, he’s also focusing on helping his team reach the promised land. Last year the Vikings reached the Division 3 state quarterfinal round before being eliminated.

“We want a state title this year as a team,” Powers said.

Whatever Powers sets as a goal, Whitehall wrestling coach Cliff Sandee has no doubt he will reach it.

“He’s physical and as mean as they come,” Sandee said. “He’s willing to do anything for the team, which is our priority. He’s just gritty and tough and he’ll put it all on the line.”