By Randy Gregory
It has been a challenging season in nearly every aspect for the Rockford wrestling team. The Rams fought inexperience, injuries and illness on their way to a 1-4 record during the dual meet portion of the OK Red schedule. But the Rams refused to fold and responded to being the host team in the conference tourney with one of their finest efforts of the year on Friday, February 1st. Grandville and West Ottawa held their position by securing the first and second spots, but they were followed closely by the home standing Rams in third place. When the regular season and conference tourney results were combined the Rams moved up from fifth to fourth place in the final tally.
“I told the kids that we weren’t able to accomplish what we wanted to during the dual meet portion of the schedule but that we had a chance to still achieve some of the goals we had set for ourselves beginning with the conference tourney,” said Rockford coach Brian Richardson. “It was a great effort up and down the lineup. We placed 11 of the 14 kids we sent to the mat tonight and several of them were from kids who have really had a tough go of it so far this year. I am so proud of the whole team for their effort and resolve today.”
Leading the way for Rockford was the same duo that has led the charge from the start at the top of the lineup. Sophomore Jared Bennett moved his record to an amazing 37-1 on the year with a championship at 103 pounds. Not to be outdone was junior Stephen Jendritz at 112 pounds who also took home the top spot in his weight class to bump his mark to 31-2 on the campaign.
Another pair of Rams fell just short in their bid for a title by claiming second place in their respective weight classes. Jake Elkins (135) and Braden Zych experienced the thrill of stepping to the main mat for the finals, but just missed the mark.
“Jared (Bennett) and Stephen (Jendritz) did what they have done all year and came out on top,” said Richardson. “It was a great day for Jake (Elkins). He has taken some lumps this year, but he really answered the bell today. Braden (Zych) came so close to being our third wrestler to claim a title. He lost 8-7 in the finals in a bout that could have gone either way.”
A quartet of Rams finished in third place by winning their respective consolation matches. Nate Rojas (130), Nick Guerra (160), Brandon Houle (215) and Corey Ortiz (285) all accomplished that notable feat after having experienced various levels of success during the season.
“Corey (Ortiz) weighs all of 200 pounds and has gone out there all season against wrestlers who dwarf him and he always says “yes sir” and does whatever the team needed him to do,” said Richardson. “He rarely got pinned and never received any recognition until today. Nate (Rojas) avenged two losses he suffered earlier this season and showed what he is capable of today. Brandon (Houle) has been a stalwart all season for us and today was no exception. Nick (Guerra) has also persevered through a difficult season but he did himself proud tonight.”
Colton Sensiba (171), Trevor Bopp (189) and Caleb Childers completed the placers for Rockford by taking home fourth-place showings for the Rams.
“Caleb (Childers) came into tonight with a 6-22 record but that didn’t deter him at all,” said Richardson. “He is wrestling as well as I have ever seen him over the last few weeks and he was rewarded today. Trevor (Bopp) and Colton (Sensiba) are a pair of seniors who probably haven’t had the year they had hoped to as seniors. But to see them both on the podium as placers in the conference meet is very special and will be something they both always remember.”
Now the Rams will prepare for the team districts that will also be hosted by Rockford on Wednesday, February 6th. It was scheduled to be a three-team event, but Traverse City Central has opted out and it will be a single dual meet with the winner advancing to the regional meet at East Kentwood the following Wednesday. The two combatants will be the Rams and the Titans of Traverse City West. The Rams topped the Titans earlier this year and will be looking to build on the momentum they generated with their stellar effort at the conference meet.