Rockford sends seven to individual state competition
by TIM COOPER
In the opening round of the team regional competition, Rockford faced a familiar foe when they wrestled the Wildcats of Jenison. Rockford had beaten Jenison 42-19 in a dual meet in the middle of December.
The Rams continued to show their dominance over the Wildcats, winning nine of 14 matches and racking up a 48-21 team score to advance to the finals where they faced the number-one-ranked Lowell Red Arrows. Lowell advanced by beating West Ottawa on their side of the bracket.
In the finals, Zach Banaszak (189) fell in a 14-5 decision to Lowell’s Ryan Olep, giving Lowell an early 4-0 team lead.
At 215 pounds, Rockford’s Joe Stefanski wrestled district champion Gabe Dean (189). Dean, who had moved up one weight class, was trying to upset Stefanski. In a match that went four periods with a tied score at 4-4, Stefanski and Dean wrestled for the takedown. With three seconds remaining in overtime, Stefanski used a double-leg takedown, scoring two points and winning in sudden victory.
The 285-pound match was one Lowell was expected to win. Most pundits across the state had Lowell’s Connor Cruse pinning the much smaller Banaszak. Banaszak kept the match close for the full six minutes, but fell in a 4-2 decision, giving the Red Arrows a 7-3 team score lead.
Tyler VanRooyen pinned his opponent in 55 seconds, giving the Rams the first lead of the night, 9-7. With bonus points at a minimum in this dual meet, VanRooyen’s pin would prove to be the only pin of the evening for either team.
The big surprise of the evening for Lowell was seeing Rockford’s “Chubbs” Johnson walk to the mat for the 112-pound match. Johnson, who has been injured most of the season, was excited to be back in action. Building an 11-2 lead after the first period, Johnson cruised through the next two periods, building a 16-7 lead after six minutes. Johnson’s major decision gave the Rams a 13-7 advantage over the Arrows.
Lowell proved that they deserve the number one ranking by climbing back into the dual meet at the 119-pound match, where the Red Arrows’ Calvin Meyer defeated Rockford’s Chris Barrentine with a 14-6 major decision.
The team score going into the 125-pound match was 13-11, Rockford. District champion Jake Scholten won a 5-1 decision over Lowell’s Matt Griffioen, increasing the Ram lead 16-11.
At the 130-pound weight class, two district champions faced off. Jake Byers, Rockford’s 125-pound champion, jumped up one weight class to face Lowell’s champion Jake Fillingham. Byers struck first, opening with a takedown. Before Byers gained further advantage, Fillingham escaped. Again Byers took his opponent to the mat as the first period ended. Byers achieved two more takedowns in the second period, building to an 8-3 advantage. In the third, Rockford’s champion scored on a reversal, then released Fillingham for an escape, only to take the Lowell wrestler back to the mat for a final score of 12-4. With Byers’ major decision, the Rams’ advantage increased to 20-11.
At 135 pounds, district champion Gabe Morse of Lowell defeated Rockford’s Drew Scogg 15-6 using a series of takedowns and releases to score the victory. This helped Lowell to close the gap with five matches remaining.
At 140 pounds, Rockford’s regional qualifying Austin Scogg defeated Jacob Gould in a 4-2 decision to increase the gap 23-15.
In a surprising move, Lowell’s Coach Dave Dean brought Dan Fleet down from his customary 152 pounds to try to produce a more favorable match-up against reserve wrestler Peter Nugent. Nugent showed how deep the Rockford lineup is and his own personal toughness as he kept attacking after losing a tooth during this match. Eventually Fleet proved to be too much for Nugent, winning the match by major decision, 18-4.
For the second time this season, Rockford’s Bruce Carlstrom wrestled Andrew Morse of Lowell. In their first meeting earlier in the season, Morse won the match with a technical fall and a score of 20-5. Lowell may have been expecting a similar outcome, but were proven wrong. Carlstrom showed true determination in the spirit of the Rams in his 4-0 loss. The five points Morse was not able to take from Carlstrom could have made a difference in the outcome of the dual meet.
With two matches remaining, Lowell had pulled to within one point of the Rams. The 160-pound match saw a rematch of the district finals between Jackson Morse of Lowell and Rockford’s Jake Johnson. Morse won the first tilt 7-2 and was hoping to increase the margin and score bonus points for the Red Arrows. Johnson gave up the first takedown to Morse early in the first period and found himself trailing 2-0 at the beginning of the second.
Morse chose the down position to start the second period and added another point when he escaped from Johnson. The third period found both wrestlers on their feet, as Johnson chose to start using the neutral position. Despite numerous attacks by Morse, Johnson defended well and attempted to start his own offense. The match ended with both wrestlers remaining on their feet and Morse giving the Red Arrows a 3-0 decision and a 25-3 lead going into the final match of the night.
By Lowell failing to receive bonus points at 152 pounds and 160 pounds, the Ram faithful knew that the regional championship was theirs for the taking.
Jake Dorulla (171), the undefeated district champion, finished the deal by dominating Keith Williams with a 12-1 major decision. This gave the Rams a 27-25 victory and a trip to Battle Creek for the state team championships.
“We controlled the match tonight. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Lowell and the great program they have,” said Coach Brian Richardson. “Our key to winning was getting the bonus points. Our seniors wrestled well. They really came through tonight. Partway through the 145-pound match, Peter Nugent lost a tooth, but he still stayed with it. I hope we honored the great sport of wrestling and gave Grand Rapids wrestling fans everything they wanted tonight.”
At Saginaw Heritage High School on Saturday, nine Rockford wrestlers looked to punch their tickets to the individual state championships held at the Palace of Auburn Hills starting Thursday through Saturday, March 4-6. Though Rockford had nine start the day, only seven advanced.
Stefanski wrestled Prescot Line of Oxford in the regional championship. Stefanski had defeated Line 8-3 at Detroit Catholic Central and 3-1 in the Rockford tournament earlier this season. Stefanski remained undefeated by beating Line 6-3 in the third match-up of these highly touted 215-pound wrestlers.
VanRooyen faced Keegan Cantara of Oxford in the 103-pound finals. VanRooyen fell 8-0 to Cantara, finishing second, but still advancing to the state finals.
Scholten (119) defeated Davison’s Brandon Shuart 5-3, winning his championship match.
Byers won a tough 9-7 decision over Terry Turner for his second regional championship. Byers remains undefeated on the season and is the top-ranked 125-pound wrestler in all divisions in the state of Michigan.
For the third time in seven days, Rockford’s Jake Johnson squared off against Lowell’s Jackson Morse. For the third time in seven days, Morse defeated Johnson. With a 7-1 decision Johnson placed second, but is still in the hunt for the elusive state championship.
The final championship wrestler for Rockford was the 171-pound undefeated Dorulla. For the second time in seven days, Dorulla defeated Lowell’s Ryan Olep, this time with a 3-2 decision, winning his second regional championship. This advances Dorulla to the Palace of Auburn Hills, where he should be the favorite to win a second individual title.
The seventh Ram wrestler to advance is sophomore A. Scogg (135), who finished fourth in the region.
Next up for the Rams is a trip to Battle Creek on Friday, Feb. 26, where they will join the other regional champions to decide the state team championship on Saturday, Feb. 27.