By Ron Rop
Last week, the Vikings, under the direction of Coach Justin Zeerip, advanced to the Division 3 state finals in the MHSAA Team Championships.
In the quarterfinal round, Whitehall dispatched Gladstone 48-24 to earn a semifinal berth. In the semifinal, Whitehall defeated Algonac 40-27 in a match that Zeerip felt his team wrestled the best it had all season. That pushed the Vikings into the championship match where they would come face-to-face with Dundee, a team that featured eight regional champions. They also had won five straight Division 3 state titles. Taking it even further, Dundee was ranked among the top 20 prep wrestling teams in the country.
Dundee proved their lofty rankings and accolades with a 60-18 victory over Whitehall.
“Dundee is unbelievable, they are so good,” Zeerip said. “Hats off to them. They have a great program. I think we just told our kids to go in and wrestle hard and give their best effort. Be offensive and just go out and have fun. I thought our kids did that. They wrestled hard, but I have to tip my cap to Dundee … they are a great team.”
Their season record finished at 32-4 with losses to Division 1 schools like Rockford and Temperance Bedford along with highly ranked Allendale then Dundee in the state finals.
The Whitehall coach is guiding his Vikings to success on the mat and off. While he is proud of his team’s accomplishments in wrestling, he’s equally proud of his team when it comes to excelling in the classroom. It’s been that way since he arrived on the scene 5 years ago.
“I was just checking the grade-point-averages today and it’s 3.88,” Zeerip said proudly. “It’s pretty good.”
Zeerip knows all about success on the mat and in the classroom.
Zeerip is the all-time Michigan High School wrestling record holder with a 260-0 career record for Hesperia and his 203 pins also is a record. He went onto the University of Michigan where he won 100 matches and received his share of academic honors.
They want that success to rub off on each and every one of their wrestlers.
“All our coaches on the staff instill hard work and commitment and discipline and an attitude of never giving up,” Zeerip said. “Alway believe you can win, have fun and enjoy the moment and enjoy the process.”
So you’d figure that Zeerip would get results with what he has instilled into his Vikings’ program, which lost eight seniors from last year’s team. This season the Vikings came in ranked No. 7 in the preseason and there were some naysayers who didn’t think the Vikings would be dominant again. Two state champions and several other all-state wrestlers were lost to graduation, but that did not hold back the Vikings.
This season also has been highly successful for the Vikings, which captured their 16th GMAA city meet in the last 17 years. They also won the West Michigan Conference-Lakes Division, won the district and regionals tournaments before heading to the quarterfinal round, then the semifinals and, ultimately, the finals.
But that final result did not deter from a season that was again highly successful for the Vikings.
“Our kids just bought into working hard,” Zeerip said. “The culture and the team and throughout the year, we’ve noticed a progression and we told our kids all year leading up to the state tournament that we hadn’t wrestled our best yet. We got up against Algonac and I thought we wrestled the best that we had all year.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this group of kids,” Zeerip said. “They worked super hard all year and have been super respectful. They bought in and they were so determined and tough the whole time.”
And don’t think for a second that this is the end of the road for the Vikings’ success. There are plenty of younger wrestlers coming back next year with the goal of doing it all over again.