By Greg Gielczyk
The Vikings are certainly no strangers to the big dance. In fact, they’ve been fairly regular participants. This is the sixth time in the last seven years they’ve advanced to the quarterfinals.
But, this will be the first year the Vikings are chasing a Division 2 state title, with their other runs coming in Division 3. Coming in as the No. 2 seed in the tournament might have the community brimming with high expectations, but the Vikings are keeping their composure and just want to perform well on the mat.
Lowell, the top seed, has won eight consecutive state titles and the Red Arrows come in with wins over three of the state’s best teams regardless of division in Davison (36-31), Dundee (36-28) and Clinton (66-9) and will be favored to win their ninth consecutive title.
Every coach will tell you, though, that everyone is a power house when they get to this level.
Whitehall had a runnerup finish in 2021, and brings back many of those same wrestlers to Kalamazoo for a shot at breaking through to grab the brass ring.
Team leaders include senior Ira Jenkins who is 45-0 at 285 pounds, senior Nicholas Blanchard who is 42-3 at 171, senior Max Brown who is 37-5 at 145, junior Sean Cook who is 43-2 at 215, freshman Wyatt Jenkins who is 37-8 at 160 and senior Riley Buys who is 34-10 at 130.
It was the first time a Whitehall wrestling team took second at the state tournament.
But, the Vikings want more this year.
Hart is making its third straight trip to the quarterfinals on Friday where it will face Imlay City in Division 3.
The Pirates lost to Whitehall, 41-23, in last year’s quarterfinal. They were second at this year’s West Michigan Conference tournament to the Vikings.
“Things are going in our direction … that’s good,” said Hart wrestling coach Brad Altland. “We’ve had an interesting year going though.
“The boys have wrestled really hard. Some kids have really stepped up throughout the season, and have gotten some really good ones. This group has good chemistry.
“Even the kids who aren’t starters, when we ask them to step in, they wrestle really, really tough.”
Leaders for the Pirates include junior Trayce Tate at 119 who has compiled a 37-4 record, senior Mason Cantu at 145 who has a 44-1 ledger, senior Leo Guadarrama at 215 who takes a 44-2 record into the quarterfinal and junior Zane Thomas at 160 who has a 34-15 record.
Tate has an opportunity to be a three-time All-State wrestler, Cantu has been solid all year and Guadarrama has helped bring the Pirates’ big men out of the shells according to Altland.
“All of them help out in the mat room,” Altland said. “Everyone’s presence in the mat room help some of the younger kids get better.”
Hart made it to the state finals just once in the first 32 years of the tournament before going on its recent three-year run to the quarterfinals.
Top seeded Dundee has won four consecutive state titles, and is the overwhelming favorite to make it five in a row.
The Pirates are hoping that things go their way this year and they finally earn a berth in the semifinal.