By Jim Jakiemiec
The Rockford Varsity wrestling team enjoyed a comfortable 45-19 win over Caledonia last Wednesday to maintain a perfect conference record this season. Head coach Brian Richardson was relieved after the contest. “They are a dangerous team. Last week they really challenged Hudsonville, so I knew we had to be great tonight. We came ready to wrestle. We are well on our way to reach our goal of going 6-0 in conference. We are 3-0 right now.”
On Saturday, the Rams hosted the twelve team Michael Young Memorial Invitational. They ended the day 5-0 in duals as the champions. Richardson felt great satisfaction after the dust settled at the end of the day. “This is special and meaningful for us. Most people know that Mike Young was a great city manager for Rockford, but they might not realize what an integral part of our program he was. He was a great wrestler at Grand Haven and also wrestled four years at Grand Valley. For years, he served as the president of the Rockford Wrestling Club and was a regular volunteer coach with the varsity program. We are proud to honor him with our effort today.”
The Rams did not have an easy path to the championship. In pool play, they had to go 4-0 to qualify for the title match. They had to squeak by (36-33) a very tough Chippewa Hills team that is ranked third in the state in Division 3. That dual went down to the last match. Freshman Brysonn Aulbach came up with a critical win at 103. Richardson was excited about that match. “Brysonn found himself in the hero role and came through beautifully. He gets tougher every match. He does exactly what we ask him to do!”
Then the Rams had to come up big several times in the championship against Whitehall who is ranked #2 in Division 3. Richardson noted, “These are duals where every match makes a huge difference. How each of our wrestlers wins or loses makes all of the difference. Our kids ‘got it.’” For example, senior Jack Tadych (135) had a come from behind win, and sophomore Cole Gleason pinned his opponent who is ranked in the top ten in the state. There were also some important losses that minimized Whitehall’s points; Jacob Slabaugh and Taylor Green each gave up only decisions to keep the Rams in contention.
Ultimately, the team title came down to the final match of the day. Junior Ashton Halland (119) was evenly matched with his Whitehall opponent. It was a back and forth match that had the entire gym electrified! In the third period, Halland secured control and turned his opponent to his back and earned the pin to settle it once and for all. The Rockford contingency went crazy with the win, giving the Rams the title. Coach Brian Richardson was in awe of Halland’s performance. “Ashton works his tail off. He wants to be elite. His come from behind pin was incredible!” Indeed it was an electric atmosphere highlighting the simple beauty of high school wrestling. Senior Jack Richardson had a notable achievement Saturday also. He notched his 150th career win. This puts him in a truly elite club in the state of Michigan.
Looking ahead, the Rams will host West Ottawa on Wednesday which is also Senior Night. If things go well for Rockford, it will set up a clash with Hudsonville for the conference title at home on January 23rd. This Saturday, they will be competing in the Lakeshore Superduals at Stevensville Lakeshore. The Varsity B team will be wrestling at the Jenison Invitational.