By Andrew Johnson
Three local regional championship teams will be taking the mats, with Hart wrestling at noon in the Division 4 quarterfinals, Fremont at 4:30 p.m. in Division 3, and Reeths-Puffer at 6:45 p.m. in Division 2.
A victory would put any or all of them in Saturday’s semifinal round, with a chance to advance to the state finals later in the day.
Reeths-Puffer looking to continue historic season
The Reeths-Puffer wrestling team, seeded fifth in Division 2, will face fourth-seeded Warren Woods Tower in the quarterfinals.
It will the Rockets’ first appearance in the state quarterfinals. They earned their way by winning the first regional championship in program history last week, beating Greenville and Allendale.
“We talk about it daily,” said Reeths-Puffer head coach Matt Brink about how special the Rockets’ postseason run has been. “Whether we win or lose this weekend, making it to this point is very special.
“Everyone is really excited. It’s something we’ve never done before, so everyone is eager to get to Kalamazoo and be a part of it.”
The Rockets have had been on a tear all season. They won their sixth straight O-K Black Conference championship, and in January won the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Tournament title, ending a 13-year domination by Whitehall. They also beat Whitehall in the first round of districts, in an exciting showdown between Muskegon County’s two best teams.
“I think when we won the city championship, we knew this was probably the best team we’ve had,” Brink said. “We knew this year would be the year we’d reach some goal that we haven’t before, if we stayed healthy. When we won city, it solidified what we were thinking.”,
Some of the wrestlers who have led Reeths-Puffer’s charge are Greg Maynard (103) Jacob Blawat (119), Alex Chipman (135), Thade Radosa (145), Jimmy Rozycki (152), Caleb McNeil (160), Colby Stephenson (189) and Hunter McCall (285), who all won critical matches in the regional final against Allendale.
“We’ve got a few leaders,” Brink said. “Hunter McCall is probably one of our most decorated wrestlers who has been All-State a couple times. He’s got a good chance to win state title (in the individual tournament) this year. But we’ve got other seniors and juniors as well who are all strong with leadership skills and have stepped up to do their part.”
Fremont also making history
Fremont also won the first regional wrestling title in school history last week when it beat Comstock Park 51-20 in the Division 3 regional finals.
On Friday, the Packers will be the sixth seed in Division 3 and face off against third-seeded Alma in the quarterfinals.
“We’re super excited and super proud,” said Fremont head coach Craig Zeerip. “We kind of broke into uncharted waters and we’re really excited to get down to Kalamazoo.”
The Packers have seven seniors who have helped pave the road to the historic season – Sam Parks (125), Mikko Vesma (135), Joanna Kramarska (135), Maja Mortensen (152), Matthew Halasinski (145), Chase Knudsen (160) and Kyler Kolk (189).
“It’s been a process,” said Zeerip about turning around the program. “We started out slow and came back. Three years ago, we had a lot of young kids. But they’ve grown. These kids have put a lot of time into camps and have bought in, which has made for a unique journey.”
Sophomore RJ Thome (112) turned a lot of heads by winning an individual regional championship last weekend.
“He’s had some good wins this year,” Zeerip said. “His dad is an assistant coach and has coached for well over 20 years, so it’s nice to see that family effort accomplish a lot. He’s a consistent wrestler who always works hard and leads by example.”
Welcome back Pirates
While the Hart wrestling program has won a regional title before, it’s been quite a while – 30 years in fact.
On Friday the Pirates will be the fourth seed in Division 4 and face fifth-seeded Manchester in the quarterfinals.
“I’m extremely proud of the boys,” said Hart wrestling coach Brad Altland. “We lost quite a group of seniors who were battle-tested, but these guys have been resilient and keep getting better as we go. For some reason, when something goes bad in a match that we think we should win, it seems someone steps up for us.”
The Pirates have a pretty stacked lineup, with 10 wrestlers who qualified for the individual state finals, including three regional champions – Chance Alvesteffer (130), Mason Cantu (135) and Tanner Breitwisch (285).
“We got five guys who are captains,” said Altland. “Mason Cantu, Spencer Vanderzwaag (125), Chance Alvesteffer, Jerry Brandel (145) and Thomas Tanner (152) have all stepped up and been vocal. Tanner isn’t a captain, but he’s kind of become one by what he does and how well the other kids really bond with him.”
The Pirates have been unusually successful for a young team, with 10 freshmen, five sophomores, four juniors and six seniors on the roster.
“Their bond seems to be growing in the last three weeks or so,” Altland said. “They’re working more and more together, with the leadership really picking up. We don’t have anyone with a real big name, but they’re getting to that point.”