Photos by Macy Taranko
For years, Oakridge fans have gone crazy for Friday night football. Wednesday evening, it was time for wrestling to be in the spotlight as this season the Eagles are fielding a team for the first time in more than 40 years.
Division 2 fifth-ranked Whitehall put on a clinic in the West Michigan Conference tri-meet with Montague and Oakridge, but with the way fans turned out in numbers, it was a win for the sport in general.
Whitehall defeated Montague, 58-16, and beat Oakridge, 72-12. In the final match of the night, Montague took care of Oakridge, 65-9.
The Eagles may be taking their lumps this season, but they’re not measuring success this season on wins and losses. And their community is ready to celebrate every small victory along the way.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere. The support from the community was great,” Oakridge coach Chad Latsch said. “The noise made by our fans after one of our guy’s wins was great to see.
“I had a lot of (former) students tell me how they wished that we had wrestling when they were in school.”
With the sweep, Whitehall remains perfect on the dual season at 10-0 overall and 4-0 in the league. Montague is 7-4 and 2-2, respectively.
The Vikings program is the benchmark for wrestling in the Muskegon area. Last year, they finished state runner-up in Division 3.
Currently, seven Whitehall wrestlers are ranked in the top 15 of the state individual rankings per MichiganGrappler.com, including University of Michigan signee Ira Jenkins No. 1 at 285.
Montague is among the programs trying to measure up to Whitehall, but when it comes to the wrestling fraternity, the Wildcats and Vikings both have been offering to lend Oakridge a helping hand.
“They are what we aspire to be. I want this program to be a competitive program like that,” Latsch said about Whitehall. “Whitehall’s coach offered help when we shook hands, and coach (Kris) Maddox (Montague) came over and gave my guys a pep talk after our meet. They were very complimentary to my guys.”
Photos by Stephanie Moore
Said Maddox: “The atmosphere at Oakridge was something those coaches and kids should be proud of. They packed the gym and it roared at the littlest success those kids had on the mat. By that, I mean, every point scored was exciting. I watched the basketball team come in and cheer like it was the state championship. It was a sight to see.”
Whitehall coach Justin Zeerip seconded that notion, saying it’s awesome that Oakridge has brought wrestling back to its school.
Zeerip, who was raised in the sport in a family of highly successful grapplers, believes that it teaches so many lessons, including those of overcoming adversity and working hard.
He said he was impressed by the environment Wednesday.
“The sport of wrestling, I think of it as a big fraternity. You meet a lot of people along the way, make a lot of friendships,” Zeerip said. “You’re always looking out for other programs and trying to help these start-up programs and help them any way you can.”
Nolan Taranko (103), Dylan Osborn (112), Ryne Christensen (119), Riley Buys (130), Riley Wentworth (152), Alec Pruett (160), Wyatt Jenkins (171), Nick Blanchard (189), Shane Cook (215) and Ira Jenkins (285) each went 2-0 on the night for Whitehall.
For Montague, Chris Aebig (125), Cale Coppess (135) and Tristan Winkleblack (145) all went 2-0.
One of the highlights for Oakridge was when 135-pounder Brayden Cunningham pinned his Whitehall opponent.
Whitehall’s Ira Jenkins, who rolled to the state championship at 215 in Division 3 last season, remains unbeaten this winter with a 22-0 record. Coppess of Montague also is perfect at 21-0. Both have been virtually flawless.
Based on geography alone, the intensity tends to ramp up when Whitehall and Montague square off in anything. Wrestling is no exception.
“I think it’s a good, fun rivalry,” Zeerip said. “Kids grow up in all different sports. They grow up kindergarten, have a little rivalry. The kids grow up with this, so I think that makes it fun.”
Whitehall has been established as a wrestling power for quite some time. Montague is working toward that.
Oakridge looks up to both programs. It’s all relative, after all.
“Overall, we performed well against a tough Whitehall team. We had a few matches that we thought we should have won and a few that we could have performed better in,” Maddox said. “Couple things go our way and it’s a little bit closer match.
“However, I think it’s the most points we have scored on Whitehall in my seven years here. We are closing the gap.”
HART DOMINATES QUAD AT RAVENNA
Hart’s wrestling team dominated host Ravenna (72-6) and rival Shelby (59-9) en route to posting a couple victories and sweeping a West Michigan Conference quad on Wednesday.
Wrestlers going 2-0 for Hart include: Caleb Wilson (119), Austin Martinez (125), Bryce Jorissen (130/135), JoseLuis Andaverde (140), Mason Cantu (152), Zane Thomas (171), Leo Guadarrama (189), Jon Ponce (215) and Ivan Lara (285).
Mason County Central also posted a pair of victories, edging Shelby (45-36) and defeating Ravenna (51-24). Going 2-0 on the day for the Spartans were Hunter Sanford (112), Jacob Maidens (125), Zane McCabe (125), Colter Kirchner (135), Carter Hirschfeld (140), Raiden Keefer (189) and Andrew Quinn (285).
For Ravenna, Zeke Thompson (160) also went 2-0.
Individual results for Shelby were not submitted.
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West Michigan Conference coaches: Please email your results to catchmarkit.com.