Whitehall wrestler Buck Houts is grabbed from behind by Richmond opponent Dalton Yore during their 152-pound match at the Division 3 state wrestling semifinals last Saturday in Battle Creek. Houts won his match in overtime, but Whitehall was eliminated by
BATTLE CREEK — After Whitehall made mincemeat of Parchment in the state quarterfinals last Friday in a 56-18 win, the Vikings had every reason to be confident that they could dethrone Richmond, the three-time defending Division 3 state champion. In particular, the Vikings had high hopes to gain wins from Logan Morningstar, Reiley Brown and Zack Cooper, all highly-ranked wrestlers that battled for state championship honors individually this weekend.
However, stunningly, all three got pinned, shocking Whitehall and setting the stage for a 39-31 Blue Devils’ win, keeping the Vikings from their goal of a state final berth.
Morningstar opened the match at 215, only the second time this season he has wrestled at that weight after spending most of 2012-13 at heavyweight. The senior surprisingly was pinned by Jake McKiernan of Richmond, who wrestled up from his normal 189.
Whitehall coach Cliff Sandee seemed upset with himself for moving Morningstar from his normal spot after the match, even though Hunter Shaw, who wrestled at heavyweight instead of Morningstar, took a decision victory.
“(Morningstar) wrestled at 215 once this year and took first at New Lothrop, the best tournament we go to,” Sandee said. “We thought we could get some matchups there. That was a coaching mistake on my part. We should have left it alone.”
Brown was swiftly pinned by Aaron Kilburn at 103, a match in which Brown was favored, coming in ranked #2 in the state. However, the most stunning was the third and final upset, in which Cooper, who entered the weekend 50-0 and #1 at 125 pounds, was pinned by Nick Burg, who generally wrestles at 130. Cooper had led Burg in the third period of the match before his Richmond opponent got the pin.
Sandee, usually excitable throughout a match, sat down after Cooper’s loss, probably as flabbergasted as anyone in the building. The pin dropped Whitehall from a 12-10 deficit to 18-10.
“We had three kids who I think will probably be in the state finals get pinned today,” Sandee said after the match. “It’s not because they didn’t try or do what they’re supposed to, either. It’s definitely not on him.”
“They’re Richmond for a reason. Every year, they get here and they wrestle better than they’ve wrestled all year.”
The Devils won five matches in a row starting with Burg’s victory to clinch the win with a 39-10 lead. Richmond coach Brandon Day ran out reserves in the final three bouts, and the Vikings earned pins in all three to narrow the final margin.
While Whitehall had plenty to take pride in for the seasn it had, not least ending the year with its best placing in the team-dual era as the #3 seed, Sandee couldn’t help but think the Vikings could have had more.
“I thought we were a state finals team,” Sandee said. “I think the boys felt that way. They are pretty disappointed. We went undefeated in the regular season and got back to the semis, but we wanted to be the best team in Whitehall’s history.”
The disappointment was clear in an emotional postmatch huddle. This year’s senior class was especially dear to an emotional Sandee, as they were the first students he ever had when he arrived at Whitehall.
“I’ve had them for six years now,” Sandee said. “They’re good people, and it’s tough to go out like this.”
Steven Sika, Joe Sika, Logan Irey, Buck Houts, Casey Robinson and Travis Friend were all senior winners for Whitehall against Richmond. Sandee expressed special pride in the last three, considering that since they didn’t advance to the individual finals, their battles on the mat at Kellogg Arena represented their last matches at Whitehall.
“They’re great kids who worked their butts off,” Sandee said. “Those seniors had a great weekend.”