by TIM COOPER
After a long two-hour bus ride north to Traverse City, the Rockford Rams had to wait for their first opponent, as Traverse City Central and Traverse City West met in the first dual meet of team districts. The two Traverse City schools went to the final match of the dual meet before the outcome was determined by a 37-28 victory in favor of the Trojans of Traverse City Central.
With a starting weight of 171 pounds, Jake Johnson made short work of his Traverse City opponent, building an 8-0 lead in the first 56 seconds and ending the match with a fall.
Continuing the early trend in the 189-pound match, Zach Banaszak used just 1:05 before pinning Mark Bollinger, giving the Rams a 12-0 lead.
The third match of the evening ended at 2:25 when Rockford’s Joe Stefanski put Traverse City Central’s Cody Vickers’ shoulders to the mat, giving the Rams an 18-0 lead.
In one of the few matches that went the full six minutes, Rockford’s Jake Banaszak (285) beat his Trojan opponent with an 11-3 major decision.
Traverse City failed to send wrestlers out for the 103- and 112-pound matches, adding 12 points to the Ram total and building the lead to a nearly insurmountable 34-0.
Chris Barrentine (119) filled in nicely for the injured Colin Maksimowski by adding six points to the Ram total with his fall at the 3:10 mark.
Jake Scholten (125) scored a technical fall with a 17-1 victory over Cameron Bennett, scoring all 17 points in the first two minutes. This helped to build the Rams’ score to 45-0, essentially putting the dual meet out of reach for Traverse City.
In the 130-pound match, Jake Byers kept the Rockford momentum going by using a short 49 seconds to finish off his Trojan opponent, making the Ram score 51-0.
In the second of two matches to go the distance for the entire dual meet, Rockford’s Drew Scogg (135) faced Traverse City’s Paco Diaz. With no scoring in the first period, Scogg scored seven in the second two minutes of the match, using a reversal and two near-falls to take a 7-0 lead into the third.
Diaz chose down in the third, only to be released by Scogg, making the score 7-1. Scogg scored the final two points with a hard-fought, double-leg takedown before the match ended, giving the Ram four more points of the team score, 55-0.
At 145 pounds, Rockford reserve Dan Apkarian built a 14-8 lead before pinning Traverse City’s Josh Baron with nine seconds left in the match.
Traverse City finally made it to the board with one of their two match wins at the 145-pound match. The second was the final match of the evening. Traverse City won both of these by fall.
Bruce Carlstrom wrestled the 152-pound match, which fell between the Traverse City victories. Carlstrom made short work of his Trojan opponent, winning by fall in a short 14-second match.
The final team score before the Rams’ long trip back home was Rockford 67, Traverse City, 12.
Coach Brian Richardson said, “The boys came very focused tonight. We came to take care of business and we did. The boys are realizing it’s all business from here on out and they know what’s riding down the line. We are focusing on our first-round regional opponents.”
On Saturday, Feb. 13, the Rams traveled to Grand Haven for their first steps to individual state championships. The day saw nine Rams finish on the medals stand, earning the right to advance to the regionals on Saturday, Feb. 20 at Saginaw Heritage High School.
Wrestling in the district finals for the Rams at 160 pounds, Johnson, the number-two-ranked Division I wrestler, faced the number-one-ranked 160-pounder, Jackson Morris of Lowell. With both wrestlers staying on their feet for the bulk of the match, Morris won the championship with a 7-2 decision, putting Johnson in second place in the day.
The 171-pound match was a match-up of two top-ranked Division I wrestlers. Rockford’s Jake Dorulla wrestled at his customary weight. He faced Lowell’s Ryan Olep, who had cut down from 189 to match up with Dorulla.
The first period found both wrestlers working hard to gain an advantage, with neither scoring. The first points came when Dorulla allowed Olep to escape, giving Olep a 1-0 lead. Dorulla took Olep down with a hard-fought double-leg takedown, giving a 2-1 advantage before Olep escaped, tying the score.
In the third, Dorulla again took the lead with an escape, giving him a 3-1 advantage before taking Olep back to the mat as time expired. Dorulla walked away with a 5-2 win and the district championship.
The 215-pound weight class saw two Rockford wrestlers winning medals. Z. Banaszak won his third-place match in the consolation bracket and Stefanski wrestled in the championship match against Hudsonville’s Drew Jackson.
Stefanski, the second-ranked 215-pounder in Division II, showed why he is a force to be reckoned with. Stefanski, the defending 215-pound champion, took a 9-1 victory over his Hudsonville opponent.
At 103 pounds, Tyler VanRooyen wrestled for his first district title, facing Zach Henderson in the finals. VanRooyen had a 2-0 lead after the first period, and cruised to a 7-5 victory and a championship.
At 119 pounds, the Rams again had two wrestlers vying for medals. In the consolation bracket Barrentine finished with a victory and third place.
In the championship match, Scholten built an early 4-0 lead over Jenison’s Austin Stein. Scholten, the third-ranked 119-pounder in Division I, built a 12-0 advantage before time expired, placing him at the top of the podium as district champion.
Rockford’s top-ranked Byers was the final wrestler to land in the championship bracket, facing Tyler Maksinski of Grandville. Byers showed why he is the class of the field at 125, taking a 17-5 major decision and his second district championship.
The final Rockford wrestler to medal was Austin Scogg, finishing third at 135 pounds.
Coach Richardson said, “We looked a little flat at the start of the day; we still got nine through to regionals. It was nice to see Jake Johnson win his 200th match of his career. It takes consistent excellence to do something like that.”
Johnson joins former Rockford standout and current Central Michigan University wrestler Ben Bennett as the only wrestlers with 200 or more wins in Rockford history.
Next up is a possible showdown with Lowell in the regional finals held at East Kentwood on Wednesday, Feb. 17. On Saturday, Feb. 20, the Rams make a long journey to Saginaw for the regional championships.