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Ice Breaker: Shy-guy Whitehall wrestler Nolan Taranko plans to follow teaching lineage

Vikings’ senior 126-pounder captures city wrestling title, called ‘great teammate’ by his coach.

Whitehall seniors Nolan Taranko and Ryne Christensen have been thick as thieves since their first-grade year.

They have much in common: Both wrestle and play baseball, both are relatively low key, and their respective mothers and fathers are teachers.

Christensen claims he is a little more outgoing, while his “best friend” is on the shy, conservative side. But, there was this one time …

“Maybe when we were, like, little we found out that hairspray and fire make a big (flame), so we got into some trouble with that but that’s probably the worst,” Christensen said with a smile. “That’s probably the craziest (thing they’ve done). It’s probably the most dangerous thing we’ve done.”

Taranko has been on fire this wrestling season. The starting 126-pounder for Whitehall’s dominant wrestling team, ranked No. 2 in Division 3, carries a 29-4 record with 19 pins and three tech falls into West Michigan Conference dual action tonight (Jan. 31, 2024).

A couple weekends ago, Taranko captured his first Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament title.

The 17-year-old son of Macy and Derek Taranko, who wrestled at 106 pounds as a freshman and sophomore and 120 as a junior, boasts a 124-49 career record with 63 pins.

The 5-foot-10 Taranko’s goal this season is to place at the individual state finals. Last year, his goal was to make it to the state finals, but he came up short.

In terms of the big picture and life goals, Whitehall coach Justin Zeerip said Taranko is exactly where he needs to be.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

“He’s a great teammate, he’s a really good leader,” Zeerip said. “He works really, really hard. He puts in a lot of time in the offseason. He’s been a starter for us for four years now. He’s really consistent. He’s an awesome kid.

“He brings a lot of charisma to the team and just a positive attitude. Everyone on the team looks up to him. He’s just an awesome, awesome teammate and great part of the team.”

Taranko plans to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue a career in education.

As of now, his plan is to attend Muskegon Community College for a year and then head off to Michigan State University.

Taranko, whose father was his teacher in seventh grade, sports a GPA in the 3.7 to 3.8 range. His favorite class is third-hour fitness or fourth-hour film.

Taranko said that having teachers as parents has benefits and downsides.

Photo by Courtney Jimison | CatchMark

“When you grow up with parents as teachers, they really stress education. I mean, that helps,” Zeerip said. “He wants to be a teacher himself, so that’s great.”

Said Christensen: “I think we both, our parents help us with that. Obviously, teachers’ kids have kind of like a target on their back, but we kind of go through the same thing so we can talk to each other about those things.”

Christensen said that he and Taranko balance each other out. They’ve always done everything togethr.

Taranko might be a little more quiet, but Christensen said that once one gets to know him, that changes.

“Once you get past his barrier and you really get to know him, then he won’t stop talking. Like, when we were little kids, he was scared to talk to teachers and stuff,” Christensen said.

Whitehall junior Gavin Craner has been a great influence on Taranko and has challenged him to reach higher.

Upon first meeting Craner in the weight room after his transfer from Belding, Craner brought up the state championship discussion.

“He asked (Taranko and Christensen), ‘Are you going to be a state champ or something?'” Taranko recalled. “Me and Ryne were like, ‘There’s no way. Like, look at us.’ The first thing he told us was, ‘If you’re not going to believe in yourself, who will?'”

Whether or not Taranko were to realize any lofty state-title dreams, Craner’s mentality has sunk in.

Zeerip said he will be sad to see Taranko leave after this season after being a four-year wrestler.

“I’m excited for him — I think he’s going to have a big postseason run. He’s really put a lot of time in and he’s really deserving,” Zeerip said.

Said Christensen: “He’s just made such a jump from last year to this year. I think I’m more impressed from where he was as a freshman — he’s come so far and I think he knows that. He works hard in everything he does — in the classroom, on the mat. You can see that on the mat and the jumps he’s made.”

Photo by Courtney Jimison | CatchMark

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

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