By Steve Gunn and Aaron Poling
KALAMAZOO – The Whitehall wrestling team may not be any closer to beating Dundee – and that’s true for most teams in Michigan – but the Vikings made history this year by coming closer to winning a team state championship than they ever have in the modern era.
Whitehall defeated Hart 41-23 in the Division 3 state quarterfinals Tuesday, then edged past Alma 36-24 in the semifinals to advance to the Division 3 state championship match at Wings Events Center in Kalamazoo.
It was the first time in program history that Whitehall has made the team state championship match. The Vikings were state runners-up back in 1984, but that was under the old tournament format, where there was no separate team state tournament.
The tough part of the day came when the Vikings lost to Dundee in the finals, 55-17. It was the fourth consecutive state title for Dundee, which has long been one of the top wrestling powers in the state, and is ranked nationally this season.
“We are super proud of our team,” said Whitehall co-coach Collin Zeerip. “We went against a great conference opponent in Hart and wrestled very well, and we found a way to beat Alma. In the finals, I’m proud that our kids fought hard. Dundee is ranked in the top 20 in the nation, and our kids kept battling, That’s all you can ask for.”
Whitehall came much closer to Dundee two years ago, losing in the state quarterfinals by only eight points.
That fact aside, Whitehall’s season was a total success by just about any measure. The Vikings finished with a 27-2 record, won district and regional championships, and bounced back in a big way from the 2019-20 season, when they failed to reach their goals.
Last year the Vikings finished second to Reeths-Puffer in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Wrestling Tournament, after winning the event for 13 years in a row. Then they lost a thriller to Reeths-Puffer in the Division 2 team districts, ending their season much sooner than they hoped.
But they took their season as far as they could this year, because there are no matches beyond the state finals. And now that they’ve reached that summit, their next goal will be to win it.
Whitehall will return 21 wrestlers from this year’s squad next winter. Only seven seniors will be gone.
“It’s a different year every year,” Collin Zeerip said. “We would obviously prefer be wrestling (Dundee) in the finals than the quarterfinals. It was a big step for us to make it to the finals, and hopefully we can take it one more step next year.
“We tell our team the greatest setbacks set them up for the greatest comebacks. We will see what next year brings.”
he day started out great for Whitehall when they beat West Michigan Conference rival Hart in the quarterfinal round. Winners for the Vikings in that first match were Riley Buys (130), Aiden Weiler (135), Max Brown (140), Marco Moore (145), Nicholas Blanchard (152), Jacob Hayes (160), Conner Young (171), Shane Cook (215), and Ira Jenkins (285).
Brown, Blanchard, Cook and Jenkins won by pins.
The semifinal match against Alma was high drama all the way to the end.
Alma won the 135-pound match by technical fall to take a 5-0 lead, then Brown answered for Whitehall with a 19-7 major decision victory at 140 pounds to pull the Vikings within a point, 5-4.
Whitehall lost at 145, but Blanchard responded with a pin of Alma’s Harrison Seeley to put the Vikings up 10-8.
Whitehall lost at 160, then Young got a pin to put the Vikings in front again, 16-14.
Dowdell lost a 4-3 heartbreaker to Alma’s Jaden Morrow, but Jenkins got a pin at 215 that gave Whitehall a 22-17 advantage.
Whitehall’s Cook got a pin at 285 and the Vikings won be default at 112-pounds and led 34-23. Alma won at 119 and 125 to pull within five points at 34-29, then the Vikings’ Riley Buys sewed up the victory with a 9-3 win at 130 pounds.
The state championship match started out well for Whitehall. Brown won the first match at 140 in a 3-2 overtime thriller, and Moore won a 6-3 match at 145, giving the Vikings an early 6-0 lead.
Dundee won at 152, 160 and 171 to take a 15-6 lead. Then came a long delay in the match while officials dealt with a technical problem related to the scoreboard. When the action resumed, Dundee got a pin at 189, Whitehall won by forfeit at 215, and Jenkins won by pin at 285, pulling the Vikings within four points at 21-17.
But Dundee won the last five matches, four by pins, to seal up yet another state championship.
Jenkins, a junior who improved his season record to 32-0 with his three wins on Tuesday, said his team accomplished something special for the school on Tuesday.
“This team has been together for so long, starting back in middle school, and we always knew we could accomplish something special,” he said. “It’s something great for our school. I’m really proud of the team, and it will be kind of nice that we will have a lot of the same guys coming back, and some new guys coming in, too.”