by RANDY GREGORY
Five Ram wrestlers made the trip to Grand Haven on Saturday, February 14th looking for a top-four finish in the Division 1 individual regional to procure a coveted spot in the state final tournament at Auburn Hills two weeks hence. Three made it and two came up just short in the “blood round”.
Leading the way for the Rams was sophomore Jared Bennett who ended up in second-place at 103 pounds. Bennett lost in the final match to the top ranked wrestler in the state in his weight class regardless of division. Bennett’s season record stands at an impressive 43-2 following his excellent showing.
“I am so happy to see Jared’s hard work pay off,” said Rockford coach Brian Richardson. “He had to secure a take down late in his semifinal match to make it to the championship bout and he did it. He just simply outworks his opponent an a consistent basis. He ran into a buzz saw there in the finals. He set his goal of placing at state and I wouldn’t bet against him.”
Junior Stephen Jendritz ended up in third-place and moved his mark to 37-4. Jendritz lost in the semifinals to former Rockford wrestler Romeo Riley before rebounding for a 10-5 win in the consolation finals that secured his spot.
“Stephen is another wrestler who has been on a mission for us,” said Richardson. “He is gaining confidence every time he wrestles. You have to place in the top four in your weight class to get to state and nothing was going to keep him from that. He is in top form and I like his chances to place as well.”
The final Ram to place was senior Nate Rojas at 125 pounds. Wrestling in probably the toughest weight class at the regional, Rojas battled his way to his first trip to Auburn Hills after wrestling varsity for the Rams for four seasons. He now sits at 28-16 on the year.
“Nate had an awesome day from start to finish,” said Richardson. “He was wrestling at 100 miles per hour and wrestled like a senior who was facing his last opportunity. He beat Ben Caladrino from Howell, who came into the tournament with a record of 48-1, with a great finish and did the same thing in the “blood round” by winning 9-8 against another good wrestler from Portage Central. I am so proud of him.”
Coming up just short for Rockford were juniors Braden Zych (140) and Brandon Houle (215). After winning just six matches all of last year, Zych finished his campaign at 33-14. Houle missed a month with a serious leg injury and still ended up at 20-8 despite wrestling on one good leg.
“Braden (Zych) is just a solid wrestler,” said Richardson. “He came so close to making it but came up just short in a 5-4 loss. That shouldn’t detract at all from what was a huge turnaround for him from last year. He did it all by just working his tail off.”
“Brandon (Houle) was out for a month with a dislocated knee cap,” said Richardson. “He came back way sooner then he probably should have just because of his desire to wrestle again. The reality is that you pay a steep price in conditioning when you miss that much time but he just refused to let the injury deter him. Both of the kids who beat him today advanced to the state tourney and he was right there in both matches.”
The individual state finals will be contested at The Palace of Auburn Hills beginning Thursday, February 28th and concluding on Saturday, March 2nd.