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Gavin Craner helps Whitehall dominate team wrestling regional at his former school

Second-ranked Vikings capture eighth regional title in nine years, punch time to team state finals in Kalamazoo.

BELDING — Gavin Craner was a Division 3 individual state runner-up at 175 pounds for Belding’s wrestling team last season.

As a transfer student now at Whitehall in his junior year, Craner returned to his old stomping grounds for a Division 3 team regional tournament Wednesday night. And he helped the second-ranked Vikings stomp the competition en route to the program’s eighth regional championship in nine years.

Whitehall defeated Belding in the regional semifinals (44-29), then overwhelmed Howard City Tri County in the finals (60-9) as the Vikings punched their ticket to next weekend’s team state finals at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo. Fellow West Michigan Conference team Hart won a Division 3 regional Wednesday and advances to the team state finals.

Whitehall (27-3 in duals) awaits its team state finals seeding, which will be released this Sunday. In the meantime, the Vikings shift their focus to preparing for Saturday’s individual regional tourney at Tri County where 13 of their wrestlers have qualified.

On Wednesday, Craner got the night started for Whitehall in a big way with a pinfall of Belding’s Linkin Glavan in 49 seconds in the 175-pound weight class. The Black Knights won the next three matches to take a 13-6 lead over the Vikings, but Cody Manzo (106), Kolten Weiler (113), and Max Krukowski (120) picked up forfeit wins in that order.

Whitehall junior Gavin Craner (Courtney Jimison | CatchMark)

That put Whitehall ahead 24-13 at the midway point of the match and the Vikings never looked back. Nolan Taranko (126) followed with a pin and Caden Varela (132) with a decision to extend Whitehall’s lead to 33-13. Belding notched a major decision at 138, but Whitehall’s Ryne Christensen (144) posted a 16-0 tech fall and Darnell Mack (150) a 20-second pinfall to put the match out of reach at 44-17 with two bouts to go.

Belding recorded a pinfall at 157 and Whitehall voided at 165 for the final margin.

In the other regional semifinal, Tri County held on for a thrilling 36-35 victory over Grand Rapids Catholic Central. In a regional finals matchup of teams nicknamed Vikings, Whitehall proved too much for Tri County.

Manzo (106), Krukowski (120), Taranko (126), Varela (132), Christensen (144), Mack (150), Craner (175), Liam Leeke (138), Blake English (157), Ryan Goodrich (165), Blake Morningstar (215), and Jason Smith (285) were all victorious for Whitehall against Tri County as the regional champion Vikings took 12 of 14 bouts.

Craner improved his season record to 46-0. He’s experienced plenty of individual success in his career, but now he gets the chance to compete at the team state finals for the first time.

Last season, Whitehall advanced to the state finals as a No. 3 seed before falling, 60-18, to perennial powerhouse Dundee, which was the No. 1 seed. Dundee has seized six straight Division 3 team state titles, seven of the last eight, and nine of the last 11.

Watch the video at the top of this story to hear from Craner as well as Whitehall head coach Justin Zeerip after Wednesday’s regional at Belding. Check out photos below.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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