'Best' Algonac Unbeatable So Far as Highly-Anticipated Drive for Finals Begins

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

February 10, 2022

Jake Kasner knows the hard work is still ahead for him and his Algonac wrestling teammates.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate what the Muskrats already have accomplished.

“It’s great,” the Algonac senior 152-pounder said. “We had a couple tournaments cut short, and we had some teammates out – really the only dual we had our whole team was against Richmond. Everyone has been stepping up when we need them, and we continue to win duals whenever possible. I’m very proud of our team in that way.”

Algonac is 21-0 and ranked No. 4 in Division 3 and won Wednesday’s Team District with a championship victory over Clawson. The team collected hardware throughout the year and finished a program-best second in the Macomb County Invitational.

While that incredible season did not include a Blue Water Area Conference championship, the Muskrats were 5-0 in the league, including a win against perennial state power Richmond, something no BWAC team had achieved since 2004.

“We’ve been trying to harp on consistency,” Algonac coach Brian Ranger said. “In past years, we had some tough teams where one week they looked amazing, and the next week not so much. We’ve been working to have that same, consistent effort every week and being the best version of ourselves. We don’t have kids worry so much about the other teams. We’re good enough now where if we wrestle to the best of our abilities, we can wrestle with anyone. We’re making sure we bring the same championship-level effort every time.”

Ranger took over at Algonac before the 2011-12 season, inheriting a program with no youth feeder system and 11 high school wrestlers.

Over his first 10 seasons, Ranger turned the program around, winning five District championships and – along with the help of his friend and assistant coach Ken Thomas – built the youth program to more than 70 wrestlers.

Algonac spent plenty of time over those 10 years among the top teams in the BWAC and ranked among the top 10 in Division 3.

The team also ended each of those previous 10 seasons with a District or Regional loss against Richmond.

“For whatever reason, we never wrestled as well as we should have at the end of the season against Richmond, and it pained me,” Ranger said. “I was always kind of searching every offseason for why we weren’t performing better against some of these better teams. This year, we focused on being the best us. If we’re the best us, we’re pretty hard to beat.”

Algonac’s best could be enough to end the streak this year, but it’s tough to fault the Muskrats for previous defeats. Richmond – the alma mater of both Ranger and Thomas – has won eight Division 3 Finals titles since 2000 and has been a Division 3 finalist eight of the past 10 seasons.

The Blue Devils won the BWAC title this year, taking first at the league tournament and edging Algonac in dual points thanks to the Muskrats having to cancel an early-season league date against Imlay City and Croswell-Lexington.

Richmond may be waiting for the Muskrats in the Regional Final, but first must wrestle No. 10-ranked Yale, the tournament host next Wednesday. On the other side of the bracket, Algonac will face Imlay City, which Ranger considers a top-10 caliber team.

While Algonac may have put a target on its back with the earlier win against Richmond, the bigger takeaway could be the confidence gained by the Muskrats heading into the postseason.

Algonac wrestling“It was a little bit more of a mental victory, if anything,” Ranger said. “For so long, we haven’t performed when it came to a match like that. We’re still proving to ourselves that we are good enough for those moments.”

The Muskrats are a young team, with 10 underclassmen in the starting lineup, including seven freshmen. The final five matches against Richmond were wrestled by Algonac underclassmen, as they pulled out a 31-29 victory. Six freshmen – Chris Campbell (second, 103), Sky Langewicz (fourth, 103), Lucky Gartin (third, 112), Steve Shannon (third, 119), Alex Bright (third, 125) and Reid Hiltunen (second, 160) – placed at the BWAC tournament.

“I saw it coming,” said Kasner, who won a BWAC title at 152. “We’ve had all the younger kids coming up through the youth program. There was a big gap the last few years in the lower weights, and we knew we were going to get a lot of that filled, so if you ask me, this isn’t really a surprise. (The younger wrestlers) come to practice every day, and we expect the same thing from them as we expect from everyone else. They give it their all every day, including the Richmond match.”

Those younger contributors not only came up through the Algonac youth program, they thrived while taking part.

“My young kids, this is kind of all they know,” Ranger said. “They’re not super surprised; they’re kind of used to it. I think it’s surprising to some people around our community and other communities. I think (this season) took that belief to another level, but they kind of already had that inside of them, that we’re this good and we need to be like this every year.”

As the talent base was building, Ranger also was working on himself as a coach. The former Elmhurst University wrestler has been tweaking his approach over the past decade – not so much in what he physically teaches, but the mental aspect.

“I’ve always known how to show wrestling moves, but it was kind of some of that mental preparation – how to get them ready mentally and physically, how to peak at the right time,” Ranger said. “Most of my philosophy I use here has been stolen from about 27 different people, plus (former Richmond coach George Hamblin), and my college coach was a Division I national champion. I still haven’t learned it all. I’m also trying to stay positive in the corner as much as I can. I’m an emotional guy, and if something goes wrong, I used to wear that in my body language too often.”

That emotion is sure to come out, though, if the Muskrats can accomplish what is now in front of them – advancing to the Team Wrestling Finals for the first time in program history.

“We all love (the coaches), everyone on our team,” Kasner said. “They work so hard for our team. Coach Thomas drives 45 minutes just to get to practice every day. To (beat their alma mater) for them after all the years and all the stuff they did for us, we were happy for them, too.

“We’ve prepared all season and took it one day at a time. We’re going to be ready. We’ve been ready. I think we have a good shot to be the first team to make it to team state from Algonac. But there’s no for sures.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac coach Brian Ranger gives Alex Bright a pep talk this season. (Middle) The Muskrats’ Lucky Gartin works for a pin. (Photos courtesy of the Algonac wrestling program.)

Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

March 10, 2023

SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.

Greater DetroitThat question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”

“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.

It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.

Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.

It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.

“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”

Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.

The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.

“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”

Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.

But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.

Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.

Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.

“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”

Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.

With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.

“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.

Both also learn from each other’s experiences.

“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”

Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”

This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.

With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.

That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.

But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.

With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)