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WMC wrestling: Ovation for Whitehall standout an indelible moment at league tourney

Ira Jenkins-led Vikings capture another West Michigan Conference title, but Hart wrestles tough.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

MONTAGUE – When Whitehall’s Ira Jenkins captured the 285-pound title in Saturday’s West Michigan Conference wrestling tournament at Montague, official Edmundo Flores made sure Jenkins received a proper send-off to his indelible career in the league.

Flores raised Jenkins’ arm in victory not once, but three times, as they turned to face different parts of the gym so everybody could see the Vikings’ standout senior and express their appreciation for a great career.

“I think it’s pretty cool because, I mean, I do a lot of work, especially like over lots of years. It’s definitely cool that everybody has that kind of support for me,” said Jenkins, the University of Michigan signee, who was an unbeaten state champion at 215 pounds last season.

Jenkins pinned Hart sophomore Ivan Lara in 1 minute, 8 seconds, to seize his fourth conference title in as many years and run his season record to 38-0. Fellow Vikings seniors Nick Blanchard (171) and Riley Buys (130) also captured their fourth-straight league championships individually.

As expected, Division 2 second-ranked Whitehall collected another conference title as a team, but Hart gave it one heck of an effort with a strong runner-up finish. Whitehall captured the championship with 239 total points, followed by Hart with 185.5.

“Conference accolades are great for the kids – something that they’ll always have,” Whitehall coach Justin Zeerip said. “To me, it’s kind of that segue between the regular season and postseason.

“You know, we wrestled solid today. We obviously could improve in a lot of areas, but I thought everybody wrestled hard and that’s all we can ask is their best effort.”

Whitehall co-coaches Collin Zeerip, left, and Justin Zeerip watch as one of their wrestlers compete during the West Michigan Conference tournament Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, at Montague High School. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Montague finished third as a team with 121.5 points, followed by Shelby in fourth at 95. Ravenna, Mason County Central and Oakridge rounded out the field in fifth (59), sixth (40.5) and seventh (4), respectively.

Also winning conference championships individually for Whitehall were Nolan Taranko (103), Alec Pruett (152), Wyatt Jenkins (160) and Shane Cook (215). The Vikings have won every West Michigan Conference title since 2007, according to longtime assistant coach Craig Christensen.

Leading the way for Hart with individual titles were Trayce Tate (119), Ty Thomas (125), Mason Cantu (145) and Leo Guadarrama (189).

Other winners on the day were Montague’s Cale Coppess (135) and Tristan Winkleblack (140), along with Mason County Central’s Hunter Sanford (112).

With the conference portion of the season in the books, teams and individuals shift their focus on this week’s districts. Team districts are held Wednesday and Thursday with individual districts on Saturday.

Whitehall (22-0), which was Division 3 state runner-up last season, opens the postseason in Wednesday’s Division 2 district at Reeths-Puffer. The Vikings will face the winner of Reeths-Puffer and Muskegon at 6:45 p.m.

Whitehall will host the individual district on Saturday. Buys believes the Vikings are ready to make another deep state-tourney run on the heels of a perfect regular season.

Official Edmundo Flores works the West Michigan Conference wrestling tournament Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, at Montague High School. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

“It gives us a lot of momentum because, I mean, we scored I feel like as many points as we could today,” Buys said. “I have a really good feeling about postseason for individually and a team because our team’s looking way better. We’re getting better every day wrestling each other in the practice room and just getting where we need to be.”

Montague is hosting a Division 3 team district on Wednesday. The Wildcats take on Shelby at 5 p.m. with the winner face Hart in the finals at 6:15 p.m. Those schools will be competing in individual districts Saturday at Orchard View, which also includes Oakridge.

Oakridge is in the Division 3 team district Wednesday at Orchard View, squaring off with Muskegon Catholic at 5:30 p.m. with the winner facing the host Cardinals at 6:45.

“We wrestled pretty well overall,” Montague coach Kris Maddox said about Saturday’s league tourney. “We had one round that things just didn’t go our way. We were winning six matches in the semifinals that we ended up losing. I was a little disappointed in that round, but felt overall we performed as expected.

“Many of those matchups we will see again this week (in districts). We look to rebound from those losses when it really counts on Wednesday and Saturday. Winkleblack is really wrestling great this time of year. I’m proud of the way he has been wrestling. It’s not as easy task to win the city and conference in the same year.”

Ravenna competes in the Division 4 team district Thursday at Holton, taking on the host Red Devils at 5 p.m. with the winner facing Hesperia in the finals at 6:15. The Bulldogs are heading to Carson City-Crystal on Saturday for individual districts.

Mason County Central is in the Division 4 team district Thursday at Manton, taking on Fife Lake Forest Area at 6 p.m. with the winner facing Manton or LeRoy Pine River in the final at 7:30. The Spartans will be in Oscoda Saturday for individual districts.

“We’re really looking forward now, we’ve got like a four-week sprint,” Zeerip said. “We’ve been working for this all year long, so we’re excited.”

CatchMark SportsNet streamed the West Michigan Conference tourney Saturday. There are two videos because we experienced some technical issues along the way. The bottom video includes the awards ceremony.

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

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