D2 Preview: Red Arrows on Target Again

February 26, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Arguably, no team has been a bigger title favorite from start to finish in MHSAA wrestling this season than two-time Division 2 reigning champion Lowell.

The Red Arrows need only three more wins to make good again on those high expectations. 

But that's easier said than done, especially with rival St. Johns back in the mix after a year away from Finals competition. 

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 6 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at noon Saturday and the championship match at 3:30 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.TV. For results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.

The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.

#1 Lowell

Record/rank: 20-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White.
Coach: R.J. Boudro, second season (49-5)
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2015), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jeff Leach (28-8) fr.; 125 Lucas Hall (25-0) sr.; 125 Sam Russell (24-11) jr.; 130 Avry Mutschler (33-6) fr.; 140 Zeth Dean (27-4) sr.; 145 Bryce Dempsey (28-11) jr.; 160 David Kruse (19-1) soph.; 160 Keigan Yuhas (35-7) soph.; 171 Danny Kruse (30-2) sr.; 189 Max Dean (30-0) sr.; 215 Eli Boulton (25-13) jr.
Outlook: Lowell has wrestled in four straight championship matches and won two straight titles, and has been the unquestioned favorite all season. Hall and Zeth Dean are reigning MHSAA individual champions – Hall has won two titles in a row – and Danny Kruse and Russell also placed last season. A total of 16 wrestlers have at least 20 wins, including four reserves.

#2 St. Johns

Record/rank: 26-4, No. 3
League finish: Tied for first in Capital Area Activities Conference Red. 
Coach: Derek Phillips, fourth season (87-13)
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), one runner-up finish.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Brendan Zelenka (32-4) soph.; 112 Emilio Sanchez (37-10) jr.; 125 James Whitaker (15-6) fr.; 135 Trent Lashuay (39-9) jr.; 140 Ian Parker (42-2) sr.; 152 Brett Fedewa (45-4) jr.;160 Lucas McFarland (34-5) jr.; 285 Jake Gnegy (42-2) sr.
Outlook: St. Johns is back after missing the Quarterfinals last season despite entering the postseason ranked No. 1, and the Redwings will be plenty motivated to make a sixth championship match in seven seasons. St. Johns defeated No. 7 Eaton Rapids and No. 2 DeWitt on the way to CMU. Parker is the reigning champion at 125 and was runner-up at 103 as a freshman, and Lashuay, Gnegy and senior Derek Droste also placed in 2015.

#3 Gaylord

Record/rank: 41-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Big North Conference.
Coach: Jerry La Joie, 22
nd season (600-128-2)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Derek Giallombardo (52-3) soph.; 112 Trevor Giallombardo (51-5) sr.; 119 Dominic La Joie (56-0) jr.; 130 Jon Martin (53-3) sr.; 140 Brady Schulz (27-13) soph.; 171 Nate Nutter (44-13) sr.
Outlook: Gaylord made its second Quarterfinal in a row by beating No. 9 Flint Kearsley among others after locking up a ninth-straight league title. Dominic La Joie is a two-time individual champion, winning 103 as a freshman and 112 last winter, and Trevor Giallombardo was the runner-up at 103 and Martin a placer at 125 in 2015. Gaylord as a team has more than 40 wins for the second time on Jerry La Joie and first time since 2003-04 after suffering its only loss last season in the Semifinal to eventual champion Lowell.  

#4 Goodrich

Record/rank: 33-4, No. 5
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red.
Coach: Ken Sirignano, sixth season (record N/A)
Championship history: Division 3 champions 2008 and 2009, runners-up 1997 and 1999.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Caleb Teague (41-9) fr.; 119 Dominic Edwards (33-19) fr.; 135 Nathan Ellis (46-3) sr.; 135 Cody Orcutt (36-16) jr.; 152 Honour Kline 39-12) fr.; 160 Nick Foglio (33-17) sr.; 171 John Penfold (44-6) sr., 285 Blake Coffell (26-24) fr.
 Goodrich is making its first trip to Finals weekend since its last championship season of 2009, and also its first trip in Division 2. Ellis and Penfold were individual placers last season and are among four seniors in a lineup that could be scary the next three seasons; eight freshmen start, including four Individual Finals qualifiers.

#5 Allegan

Record/rank: 30-5, unranked
League finish: First in Wolverine Conference. 
Coach: Murray Rose, 29
th season (748-157-2)
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2007 in Division 2), two runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Davynn Schneider (45-8) jr.; 112 Jake Orr (31-13) soph.; 130 Ricky Jefferson (34-17) jr.; 135 Joey Orr (44-5) sr.; 160 Trey Boerman (45-8) sr.; 171 Levi Sabin (39-8) sr.; 189 Austin Farrell (46-10) sr.
Outlook: Allegan is back in Division 2 after a time in Division 3 and making its eighth straight trip to the Quarterfinals. A group of six seniors fill every weight but one from 140-215, and Sabin, Farrell and junior Chase Beard were individual placers last season in Division 3 – with Schneider, Jefferson and Orr also among returning qualifiers for next weekend.

#6 Warren Woods Tower

Record/rank: 26-6, No. 6
League finish: Third in Macomb Area Conference Red. 
Co-coaches: Greg Mayer, 16th season (301-232)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 David Stepanian (39-7) fr.; 103 Chaise Mayer (47-5) fr.; 112 Elijuh Weaver (53-1) jr.; 135 Joe Schindler (40-10) jr.; 140 Nico Martini (32-13) jr.; 152 Jajuan Lovejoy (40-18) soph.
Outlook: Warren Woods Tower is back at Finals weekend for the second time in three seasons and with its most wins under Mayer. Eight underclassmen and only one senior starter make for some exciting possibilities in the future as well. Part of having that much youth is having no returning individual placers from a year ago, but the Titans have gained valuable experience wrestling in a strong league and with assistant Russell Correll serving as a co-coach with Mayer.

#7 Dearborn Heights Annapolis

Record/rank: 38-3, unranked
League finish: Second in Western Wayne Athletic Conference Red.
Coach: Vic McGuire, 24th season (548-183)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Justin Manuel (51-6) sr.; 130 David Knapp (49-9) sr.; 145 Dustin Gross (51-3) soph.; 189 Jon Cox (54-1) sr.; 215 Gregory Johnson (48-8) sr.
 Annapolis is returning to the Quarterfinals for the first time since back-to-back trips in 2009 and 2010 after keeping two District and one Regional opponent to 20 or fewer points. Gross was an Individual Finals placer last season as a freshman and he adds high-pressure experience to an already-veteran lineup including eight seniors and two juniors.

#8 Sturgis

Record/rank: 27-7, unranked
League finish: Second in Wolverine Conference.
Coach: Bryan Boughton, ninth season (242-122)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 160 Luke Carver (48-2) sr.; 215 Anthony Neal (31-4) sr.; 285 Jake Stevens (30-3) sr.
Outlook: Sturgis has won four District titles under Boughton, but this is the first trip to the Quarterfinals in program history. The Trojans defeated annual power Stevensville Lakeshore by three in the Regional Semifinal as part of this run, and are setting up nicely to continue contending with only six seniors in the starting lineup. Carver and Neal were both Regional runners-up.

PHOTO: Gaylord and Lowell met during MHSAA Team Finals weekend in 2015 and could face off again this weekend in Division 2. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.) 

Lowell Enters Another Elite Group of Champs with 11th-Straight Finals Win

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

February 24, 2024

KALAMAZOO – There’s nothing quite like the roar of a crowd after your team has clinched an MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals title.

That’s true whether it’s for title No. 1, or, in the case of Casey Engle and his Lowell teammates Saturday, for their program’s 11th-straight Division 2 championship.

“It’s unreal,” Engle said. “It’s something I look forward to every year.”

Lowell extended its record run of wrestling team titles by defeating Freeland 49-21 in the Division 2 Final at Wings Events Center.

The Red Arrows joined the Grosse Pointe South (1976-86) and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (1980-90) girls tennis programs in winning 11 straight Finals titles. Only East Grand Rapids boys swimming & diving, winning 15 straight from 1948-62, and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice boys lacrosse – with 13 straight from 2005-17 – have longer Finals championship streaks in Lower Peninsula or statewide competition.

“I mean, it’s possible (to reach 15),” said sophomore Jarrett Smith, whose pin at 106 pounds clinched the title. “It’s hard to predict that far, four years into the future. We’re losing some key guys, but we graduated 14 last year, five this year, so we’re returning some firepower.”

Lowell is always returning firepower, and it’s consistently adding it, too, giving new waves of Red Arrows the chance to raise a wooden mitten. 

That’s why for coach RJ Boudro, each title remains just as sweet as the last.

“Why would it get old?” said Boudro, who has been in charge for 10 of those titles. “Look at the crowd. When I first walked in here, I looked up, and you see that we have more fans here than anybody else, and that’s what it’s about. Next year will be fun, too. When you can still bring crowds in and you can do it 11 years in a row, there’s more to that than just winning. If it was just about winning, why else would they come? They would probably think it was a foregone conclusion. They love the kids; they love the community.”

One could forgive an outsider for believing it’s a foregone conclusion when Lowell takes the mat for the Division 2 postseason, as it’s won the Final by more than 20 points in each of the past five seasons and in seven of its 11 straight championship victories.

The Falcons’ Elijah Murphy, left, locks up Lowell’s Ari McFarland at 215. So to avoid that feeling creeping into his wrestling room, Boudro makes it clear the Red Arrows’ responsibility isn’t just to win on the mat, but to strive for something bigger.

“We’re not doing it to just win state championships,” Boudro said. “We’re trying to find out who we are, we’re trying to be better men, better women, better coaches. So, it’s not just about winning, it’s about being a better person. Whether I’m a coach or a kid, just trying to find a way to be better. When you’re doing that all the time, you get better, but you feel like you have a purpose. Every single guy on the team feels like they have a purpose, and that’s really important.”

Just 14 wrestlers can step onto the mat in a single dual, and the same number is the max a team can enter into the individual postseason, so accomplishing that can sometimes be as tough as anything else for Lowell wrestlers, and certainly helps motivate them throughout the season – foregone conclusions or not.

“One of our signs up there I saw, it says, ‘Tradition never graduates,’ and it’s true,” Smith said. “We just keep the kids coming. Even our B Team, C Team are competing at the highest level. At the beginning of Districts, we had 17 ranked guys, and you can only send 14. So we have just great partners all around.”

Freeland, meanwhile, was making its first appearance in a Final, after getting to the Quarterfinals for the third time in program history. 

“Outstanding. Outstanding. They’ve been giving their all every match,” Freeland coach Scott VanLuven said. “They’ve been doing it all year. We beat Brighton, we weren’t supposed to. We beat (Bay City) John Glenn in our conference, then we had to beat them again in our District Final when we weren’t supposed to. No one gave us really a chance down here, I think. But they believed, and they did well.”

The Falcons (25-3) still had a shot with three matches to go, trailing 31-21. But Smith put a quick end to that with his pin at 106, and that was followed by a pair of pins from Cole and Carter Cichocki at 113 and 120, respectively.

Of the Arrows’ nine wins in the dual, eight came by either pin or technical fall, as Jackson Blum (138), Jared Boone (165) and Engle (190) also won by pinfall. Logan Dawson (132) and Owen Segorski (144) each won by tech. Cody Foss (126) opened the dual with a win by decision for Lowell (22-3).

Fabian Facundo (150) and Bringham Smith (285) each won by pin for Freeland, while Noah Graham (157), Gibson Shepard (175) and Elijah Murphy (215) all won by decision.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Lowell’s Cole Cichocki, left, lines up against Freeland’s Michael Wilson at 113 pounds Saturday. (Middle) The Falcons’ Elijah Murphy, left, locks up Lowell’s Ari McFarland at 215. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)