By Greg Gielczyk
HART–For the fourth straight year, the Hart wrestling team earned a spot in the Division 3 team state quarterfinals and fell short of advancing to the semifinal round.
The weekend meet at the Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo.
An eighth seed, the Pirates went up against top-seed and five-time defending state champion Dundee and saw their season end with a 64-15 loss in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Dundee, which has won eight of the last 10 state titles, rolled up a 52-0 lead before the Pirates won three straight individual matches by Adrian Tice at 190 pounds, Adrian Lara at 215 and Ivan Lara at 285.
That was it, though, and the Pirates saw their season end with a solid 31-6 record, a West Michigan Conference Rivers championship as well as district and regional titles.
Dundee wound up defeating Whitehall, 60-18, and racked up nine pins to demonstrate its dominance in locking up its sixth straight Division 3 state championship.
It was a difficult pill to swallow, especially for the current seniors who won’t get another shot at wrestling for a team state title. For them, there is no solace to be taken from making the journey when the final destination was the state finals.
It was a special season in many ways, including making its run with Elijah Flores directing the team’s effort in his first year coaching the Pirates.
“It was definitely a good year for me, especially as a first-year coach,” Flores said. “I didn’t necessarily know exactly what we had, just being disconnected for a few years from the community. But, I had a good group of kids that were hard workers. We definitely made a good run at the end.”
Early on, there didn’t seem any indication of what was to come as the Pirates started 0-2, but Flores wasn’t concerned.
“Those first early duals we were just trying to find out who we were,” the coach said. “What some of our strengths were, things to build on. For me as a first-year, just kind of figuring out individually who are kids you could lean on, and understand them a little bit better. We saw a lot early. A lot of good upside. We knew we had a shot to do some cool things.”
Hart found its stride going into Christmas break and never slowed down after that.
“I think the kids realized what was in front of them and we saw our potential,” said Flores. “We had some good leadership, kids that have qualified for the individual state tournament and have been a part of the team each of the last 4 years.
“They kind of carried that experience with them. We’ll miss each and every one of our seniors. They’ll be tough to replace.”
But, at the same time, the seniors did a good job molding the underclassmen to become the leaders of the future.
Flores looks for the returning wrestlers to be the vocal leaders and show the way for the younger athletes as team captains, and step up moving forward.
The season may be over for the Pirates as a team, but it has one more weekend to run for six individuals who’ll be vying for individual state titles March 3-4 at Ford Field in Detroit.
Guillermo Ortega (150), Alex Hicks (157), Zane Thomas (175), Halen Boos (120), Trayce Tate (132) and Josue Salgado Velazquez (144) will be making the trip to Motown.
A handful of others missed qualifying by a single match.
“I think we’ve put Hart wrestling on the map the last few years,” Flores said. “With that comes a little bit of a target, but I think that helps our kids confidence-wise. They understand what they’re represent when they step on a mat. They pull their singlet up and it says ‘Hart” on it. We want to continue building the culture, taking the next step and having continued success.”
And making a fifth straight trip, and this time going further.