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West Michigan Conference 2022-23 wrestling preview: Team-by-team capsules

Teams grouped into Lakes and Rivers divisions after conference expansion.

Whitehall’s Shane Cook competes against a Goodrich opponent during the Division 2 state semifinals at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Mich., last season. (Zach Zweigle | CatchMark Sports)

The expansion of the West Michigan Conference will make things interesting for area wrestlers and their teams in the 2022-23 season.

Will newcomers like Fremont, Manistee, Ludington and Orchard View change the pecking order for teams like Whitehall and Montague in the Lakes Division?

How will teams like North Muskegon, which will field a wrestling squad for the first time since 1973, impact the Rivers Division, along with league newcomers Hesperia and Holton?

Seems to be more questions than answers at this point. One thing is for sure: There will be some rough-and-tough action on the mats this season.

Below are team-by-team capsules arranged alphabetically by division.

Note: Neither Ludington nor Manistee submitted info despite requests for it.




Craig Zeerip (35th year in coaching)

Last season’s highlights:

The Packers’ record last year was 19-5. They were CSAA Gold Conference runners-up; Six conference champions; 10 Regional Qualifiers; Seven State Qualifiers; Four Individual All-State; lost in team districts to Gaylord.

Wrestlers to watch:

Michael Romero (Senior, conference champion, all-state, record 41-13)

Briar Hambrock (Senior, conference champion, record 22-6)

Tee Ward (Junior, conference champion, state runner-up, record 49-3)

Trey Myers ( Junior, conference champion, all-state)

Killian Prewitt ( Junior, conference champion, all-state, record 40-9)

Ella Shields ( Sophomore, state qualifier, record 12-10)

Kaidyn Pierson ( Sophomore, state qualifier, record 10-4 )

Braulio Gomez-Soto (Senior)

Hayden Threatt (Senior)

Rylee Wright (Senior)

Henrik Quist (Senior)

Kolten Belmarez ( Senior)

Kyle Nagel (Junior)

Cole Lowery (Sophomore)

Chase Montague (Sophomore)

Luke Langley (Sophomore)

Kaiye Miron (Sophomore)

Maya Hambroack (Sophomore)

Season Outlook:

“We have a core of very successful wrestlers returning,” said Zeerip. “We are hoping their strong leadership will bring along our young team.”

Fremont’s Michael Romero is pictured during 2022 West Michigan Conference Media Day Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, at the Viking Athletic Center in Whitehall, Mich. He is a returning all-state wrestling for the Packers. (Amy Yonkman | CatchMark)




Kris Maddox (9th season)

Last season’s highlights:

Team district finals; Team Academic All-State; Four all-staters; One state champion.

Wrestlers to watch:

Emma Pendell ( Junior, 140 pounds, state champion )

Savannah Winkleblack ( Junior, 110 pounds, two time all-state , CatchMark Sports female wrestler of the year)

Ava Pelton (Sophomore, 145 pounds, state qualifier )

Natalie Basset ( 120 pounds, missed most of last season due to injury)

Tristan Winkleblack ( Senior, 150 pounds, all-state )

Chris Aebig (Junior, 126 pounds, two time state qualifier )

James Thommen ( Senior, 113 pounds, regional qualifier)

Michael Moore ( Senior, 157 pounds, captain)

Joe Winkleman ( 285 pound solid heavyweight)

Season Outlook:

The Wildcats return a number of very talented wrestlers, including one state champion and three all-staters. Maddox believes they could battle for the top spot in the Lakes Division of the WMC. He is thrilled by the return of Natalie Bassett, who shined two years ago but missed most of last season due to injury.

Montague sophomore Emma Pendell wins the Wildcats’ first state wrestling title since 1989 with her 2-1, tie-breaking victory over East Jackson senior Isabel Worthing in the 140-pound championship match Saturday, March 5, 2022, at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich. In this photo, Montague wrestling coach Kris Maddox lifts Pendell over his shoulder in celebration. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)




Chad Latsch (2nd year)

Last season’s highlights:

Last year was the Eagles’ first year as a program. They featured ,any first-time wrestlers, who had to take some lumps and endure growing pains.

Wrestlers to watch:

Brayden Cunningham (Junior, 138 pounds, placed third in city meet, record 10-8 )

Dakota Smith ( Senior, 285, record 8-8 )

Brody Pertner ( Sophomore, 150 pounds )

Garrison Klinge ( Junior, 165 pounds )

Aien Johnston ( Junior, 190 pounds )

Season Outlook:

Oakridge has 26 kids out for wrestling this year, including 11 freshmen. The Eagles are encouraged they will likely be able to fill every weight class in dual meets. They were only able to fill six last season.

“Even though we are young, the numbers are up,” said Latsch. “We are hopeful filling those extra weight classes will translate into more team wins this year.”




Chris Zitka ( 8th season )

Last season’s highlights:

Conference and district champions; 5th straight conference and third straight district championships; 5 regional qualifiers; One state qualifier.

Wrestlers to watch:

Jaxon Tuttle (Sophomore, 190 pounds, record 30-13 )

CJ Payne (Junior, 113 pounds )

Bryce Benard ( junior, 215 pounds )

Season Outlook:

Some very talented seniors graduated, however Coach Zitka is excited to see the next wave get started.

“Even though we have a lot of underclassmen, they do have experience,” said Zitka. “We need these younger guys to step up and lead this year.”




Justin and Collin Zeerip (5th season)

Last season’s highlights:

Conference, City, District and Regional champions; State Semifinalist. 3 all-state, 7 state qualifiers, record 27-1

Wrestlers to watch:

Shane Cook (Senior, 285 pounds, 52-3 )

Riley Wentworth (Senior, 150 pounds, 10-7)

Jackson Cook ( Senior, 190 pounds)

Jaiden Altgilbers ( Senior, 215 pounds,)

Avery Jura ( Senior, 138 pounds, 5-5 )

Alex Le Trea ( Senior, 215 pounds, 3-5

Blake Morningstar ( Junior, 285 pounds, 17-9 )

Darnell Mack ( Junior, 165 pounds, 20-10 )

Ryne Christenson ( Junior, 144 pounds, 31-18 )

Nolan Taranko ( Junior, 120 pounds, 36-15 )

Wyatt Jenkins ( Sophomore, 175 pounds, 41-11 )

Ryan Goodrich ( Sophomore, 150 pounds, 22-22 )

Blake English (Sophomore, 138 pounds, 11-11 )

Caden Varela ( Sophomore, 132 pounds, 15-21 )

Braedon Bond (Sophomore, 132 pounds, 10-8 )

Kameron Kequom ( Sophomore, 6-15 )

Season Outlook:

Whitehall has a great mix of very talented, proven athletes and some very eager young wrestlers who are looking to make their mark on this fine program. The bar has been set high to say the least.

“Our goal remains to be competing on the last day of the season, in both the team and individual state tournament,” said Justin Zeerip.

Whitehall wrestling co-coaches Justin, left, and Collin Zeerip chat during practice Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at Whitehall Middle School. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)




Elijah Flores (1st season )

Last season’s highlights:

Record 30-5; district and regional champions; Third consecutive year to the team state finals tournament

Wrestlers to watch:

Alex Hicks (Sophomore, regional qualifier )

Zane Thomas (Senior, state qualifier )

Ivan Lara (Junior, regional qualifier )

Trayce Tate ( two time state placer and three time state qualifier )

Austin Martinez ( Junior, state qualifier )

Bryce Jorrisen ( Senior, state qualifier )

Ty Thomas ( Sophomore, regional qualifier )

Uriel Vilches-Mendoza ( Senior, regional qualifier )

Season Outlook:

Led by a large group of upperclassmen and experienced wrestlers, Hart is looking to compete at the top of the Rivers Division.

“We look forward to the opportunity to push for a good postseason as a team and repeat as district champions,” said Flores. “I also look forward to having my older brother (Joshua Galvan) as an assistant coach.”

Hart’s Trayce Tate stands atop the medal stand after winning his weight class at the West Michigan Conference wrestling tournament Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, at Montague High School. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)




Mark Arbogast (3rd season as HC; 20th year coaching overall)

Last season’s highlights:

CSAA conference runner-up; district champions; regional finalist; three individual state qualifiers and one state champion. Great team chemistry that helped lead to the successful season.

Wrestlers to watch:

Steve Priese (Junior)

Blake Sayer ( Sophomore )

Alex Sayer ( Senior )

Skyler Stalbaum (Sophomore )

Scott Quinn (Senior)

Deegan Klaus (Senior)

Logan Grabe ( Sophomore)

Marcus Hoaglin ( Senior)

Alex Gleason ( Senior )

Season Outlook:

Looking for the same work ethic as last season and to build off that for continued success. Arbogast had his team watch the movie “Rocky IV” as part of a team bonding exercise. He says the movie has a message of fighting for your friends and always having their back.




Jacob Moreen (4th season as head coach; 9th season coaching)

Last season’s highlights:

Three regional qualifiers; One second team all-conference; Two honorable mention all-conference; Three placers in the GMAA including one champion. This despite the fact Holton only had three wrestlers; Three of the four made individual regionals.

Wrestlers to watch:

Rylee Pierce ( Sophomore, 126 pounds)

Langston Payne ( Freshman, 106 pounds)

Season Outlook:

Holton has grown from four wrestlers last season to nine so far this season. There is still hope for some late arrivals.

“It was tough giving up 10 weight classes last year because of such low numbers,” said Moreen. “We have some talent coming up and our goal is to improve each week and build a foundation for this program.”




Kendel Trim (6th season)

Last season’s highlights:

Four state qualifiers; One state champion; One all-state; Won 15 dual meets

Wrestlers to watch:

Hunter Sanford (Sophomore, 113 pounds, all-state, record 48-7 )

Nyraeh Wendt ( Sophomore, 113 pounds, state qualifiers,record 44-14)

Zane McCabe ( Junior, 126 pounds, state qualifier, record 44-14 )

Gradyn Wilson ( Sophomore, heavyweight )

Ethan Horacek ( Sophomore, 215 pounds )

Colter Kirchner ( Sophomore, 144 pounds )

Aiden Hirschfield ( Junior, 120 pounds )

Season Outlook:

This season the Spartans feature a core of strong returnees and a good number of newcomers who should get them close to filling their weight classes. The expanded conference will be fun, according to Trim. Adding teams will add the already strong wrestling tradition in the WMC.

“We always look forward to the Freeland Invitational, which is a measuring stick for us. placing at that tournament is a good measure of your chances of a trip to the state meet,” Trim said. “We also added the Williamston Jim mooney Classic to our schedule this year to see more Division 3 teams as we are moving up in divisions this year.”

Mason County Central state wrestling champ Andrew Quinn, second from left, and all-stater Hunter Sanford, second from right, pose for a photo with their coaches at the MHSAA individual finals Saturday, March 5, 2022, at Ford Field in Detroit. (Courtesy of Mason County Central)




Jonathan Allen (1st year; 10th coaching overall )

Last season’s highlights

Wrestling was last offered as a varsity sport in 1973.

Wrestlers to watch:

Gabe Rosema ( Junior )

Donovan Porter (Sophomore)

Brennan Allen (Freshman)

Season Outlook:

The Norsemen are excited for the opportunity to start a new program and new tradition.

“Being both new and a D4 team, we are looking forward to building on the middle school foundation that has been laid,” said Allen. “We have kids eager to learn and excited to grow the sport for our 12 boys and three girls.”




Cody Carpenter (4th season as head coach; 7th year with program)

Last season’s highlights:

Despite having low numbers, the Bulldogs were able boast five regional and three state qualifiers.

Wrestlers to watch:

Landen Goerbig (285 pounds, state qualifier )

Norman Slade ( 120 pounds, state qualifier )

Juan Castillo ( 190 pounds, regional qualifier )

Taytum Goerbig ( Freshman, 138 pounds, Only two losses in middle school career)

Adam Marjonen ( Freshman, tough competitor)

Season Outlook:

“We’re changing the culture around here,” said Carpenter. “We need to build the numbers. We’ve got talented kids — there is just not enough of them.”

The wrestlers that Carpenter does have are hard-working and the buy-in for the program is good. The goal is to get enough kids into the program to fill the weight classes and give them a chance to compete as a team.

“Sure, we are teaching wrestling to these guys,” said Carpenter. “But it’s much more than that. It’s about helping these kids grow as both athletes and people. That is the real reward.”

Ravenna senior Landen Goerbig is pictured during 2022 West Michigan Conference Media Day Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, at the Viking Athletic Center in Whitehall, Mich. Goerbig is one of the top returnees for Ravenna’s wrestling team this season. (Amy Yonkman | CatchMark)




Dustin Dean (4th season)

Last season’s highlights:

Despite being young and inexperienced, the Tigers were able to compete and improve. They had two individual state qualifiers.

Wrestlers to watch:

Travis Boughan ( Senior, state qualifier, record 27-18 )

Nick Cano ( Junior, state qualifier, record 27-11 )

Luis Casarez ( junior, regional qualifer, record 16-15 )

Preston Priese (Junior, regional qualifier, record 22-18 )

Season Outlook:

Dean has been head coach for four seasons, but he has been with the program for 14 seasons.

“We have a great group who knows how to work hard, but still have fun,” said Dean. “Our numbers are up this year, which will help us compete.”

Shelby senior Travis Boughan is pictured during 2022 West Michigan Conference Media Day Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, at the Viking Athletic Center in Whitehall, Mich. Boughan is one of the top returnees for Shelby’s wrestling team this season. (Amy Yonkman | CatchMark)

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