By JIM JAKIEMIEC
On Wednesday night, the Rockford Varsity Wrestling team lost an exciting dual in the regional final to Hudsonville, 33-31. In the semi-final round, the Rams defeated East Kentwood 45-30 to earn the right to battle the Eagles in the championship. Against EK, the team knew its opponent was peaking and a venerable foe. “We knew we couldn’t look past them. I was pleased with our laser focus and determination to wrestle well,” quipped Coach Brian Richardson. He added, “We had our two best practices of the season going into that match.”
Junior Connor White got the match started with an upset win, avenging a loss the previous week. Noah Anderson and Jack Richardson followed that win with pins for the Rams. Sophomore Reid Nicholson gave the team added momentum with a quality 5-1 loss to a state qualifier from last year. “That effort energized our whole team and proved to be a turning point in the dual,” noted Richardson. The team then used its momentum to finish the contest with pins from Tyler Waterstrat, Brendan Wyler, Taylor Green, Bennitt Fischer, and Brocke Fisher. Rockford opted to void the remaining matches in order to save itself for the championship dual against Hudsonville.
That championship dual was everything the fans could have asked for and more. It featured seven lead changes and each team won seven matches. Once again, Noah Anderson and Jack Richardson came through for the Rams with quality wins, giving them a 7-0 lead. Cole Gleason and Tyler Waterstrat each added big pins to put the Rams up 19-6 after five matches. Brooke Fisher earned a technical fall, stopping the building momentum of the Eagles to give Rockford a 24-21 lead after nine matches. Ashton Halland and Evan Kaser both added wins late in the dual to regain the lead 31-30 before the last match of the night. The Rams lost that match 10-5, ending the dual with a 33-31 loss to the Eagles.
Coach Richardson reflected, “This was a disappointing, close loss that doesn’t give us any satisfaction. It shows that as a team we haven’t ‘gotten over the hump.’” Senior Brendan Wymer showed great leadership for the team in a losing effort that was emblematic of his dedication to the team. “He is the quintessential leader for us this year. We will miss him greatly next year,” lamented Coach Richardson. “We had our chances, but we didn’t take advantage of them. I am excited that we could be a part of such a great dual. The fans certainly got their money’s worth tonight!”
On Saturday, seven Ram wrestlers entered the individual regional for a chance to punch their ticket to the state finals at Ford Field in early March. All seven are underclassmen and will be returning next year. Cole Gleason and Evan Kaser both won matches but fell short of their goal for the day. Five Rams did earn the right to compete in the state finals. Noah Anderson (140) finished in second, losing in the third overtime in the championship. Three Ram grapplers earned bronze medals, Jack Richardson (145), Connor White (135), and Tyler Waterstrat (171). Richardson had a great tournament, finishing 3-1 on the day and will go to Detroit with great momentum and confidence. Connor White wrestled the best he has all season, peaking at the right time. “He looks tough in all facets of the match, especially in the top position,” added Coach Richardson. Waterstrat wrestled with an abandon that he hasn’t shown yet this year. “I am pleased with the way Tyler ‘cut loose’ and found that he can wrestle at the next level,” admired Richardson. Freshman Trenton Wachter earned 4th place and also advanced. He is only the second freshman to go to the state tournament in the last ten years in the program. In the “blood round”, the round ending your season or qualifying your for the state final, Trenton won in the third overtime!
The Individual State Finals will be at Ford Field on Friday, March 2nd and Saturday, March 3rd. It is the largest high school wrestling tournament in the nation, featuring twenty mats and all four high school divisions.