D3 Preview: Spoilers Look to Advance

February 21, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Dundee and Richmond have met in seven of the last nine Division 3 Wrestling Finals, and it’s hardly a shock they are the top-seeded teams heading into this weekend at Kalamazoo’s Wings Event Center.

But there are potential spoilers waiting. Remus Chippewa Hills is only three seasons removed from a title match appearance, and Whitehall brings 10 Individual Finals qualifiers and a pair of coaches with championship experience as it looks to make a move toward the top.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 3, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 4:30 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at noon Saturday and the championship match that afternoon at 3:45 p.m. All matches this weekend will be viewable live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.

#1 Richmond

Record/rank: 24-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference 
Co-coaches: 
Brandon Day, 15th season (452-95); Preston Treend, third season (70-9)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Hunter Keller (22-4) soph., 112 Daniel McNichol (27-8) sr., 112 JD Gross (24-10) jr., 125 Austin Kilburn (22-6) jr., 130 Hunter Seguin (23-14) sr., 140 Hayden Bastian (26-5) sr., 145 Ethan Wyatt (16-11) sr., 171 Wesley Peters (30-11) fr., 215 Luke Davis (37-5) jr., 285 Dan McKiernan (29-14) soph. 
Outlook: After winning the Division 3 Final in 2017 by tie-breaker criteria over Dundee, Richmond fell in the 2018 Final to Dundee 40-15. Among those back for possibly more are returning Finals placers McNichol, Bastian and junior Josh Barton. McNichol and Bastian are two of just four senior starters, but 13 starters and 14 Blue Devils total have at least 20 wins this winter. They once again eliminated No. 5 Algonac on the way to Kalamazoo.

#2 Dundee

Record/rank: 15-5, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association 
Coach: 
Tim Roberts, 20th season (512-74-1)
Championship history: Ten MHSAA championships (most recent 2018), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Casey Swiderski (39-2) fr., 112. Austin Fietz (32-9) soph., 135 Jonathon White (32-9) sr., 135 Tyler Swiderski (22-10) soph., 140 Christian Killion (38-5) jr., 145. Grant Ott (32-11) sr., 154. Stoney Buell (38-8) soph., 171 Jaxon Guinn (16-6) jr.
Outlook: Dundee is wrestling for its fifth Division 3 championship over the last seven seasons, with a roster that impressively has just three seniors and five juniors – and five upperclassmen expected to start. But Buell is a reigning individual champion and Killion and Tyler Swiderski were Finals runners-up a year ago, while Fietz, White, Guinn and senior Cal McAvoy also were placers.

#3 Whitehall

Record/rank: 28-2, No. 3
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference 
Co-coaches:
Justin and Collin Zeerip, first seasons (28-2)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Aidan Weiler (33-9) fr., 125 Max Brown (38-4) fr., 135 Jacob Haynes (14-12) soph., 140 Marco Moore (21-18) soph., 145 Kyler Honore (30-12) jr., 152 Ira Jenkins (34-6) fr., 160 Trenton Blanchard (34-6) sr., 189 Kayleb Venema (40-2) jr., 215 Allen Powers (37-4) sr., 215 Jarrean Sargeant (34-10) jr.
Outlook: Under the Hesperia champion Zeerip brothers, Whitehall is making its fourth straight Quarterfinal appearance and move up a seed this season after reaching the Semifinals a year ago. With just two seniors on the roster, and five freshman starters, this is another team with an exciting future to go with the present. Blanchard, Venema and Powers were Finals placers a year ago.

#4 Remus Chippewa Hills

Record/rank: 27-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Gold
Coach: 
Kevin Edwards, first season (27-1)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2016.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Taylor Gibson (35-11) jr., 112 Daylin Wittig (30-6) soph., 119 Gavin Miller (22-15) soph., 125 Carson Hayes (35-9) soph., 135 Bray Haynes (36-9) sr., 140 Mason Hayes (40-0) sr., 160 Trenten Wiggins (31-7) soph., 171 Gabriel Petoskey (36-11) jr., 189 Chayton Wiggins (45-1) jr., 215 Carl Whipple (27-7) soph., 285 Colby Roosa (35-1) soph.
Outlook: Chippewa Hills will wrestle in its eighth straight Quarterfinal hoping to advance to a fifth straight Semifinal. Edwards took over this season for longtime coach Nate Ethridge after serving as an assistant during Ethridge’s 18 running the program. Haynes was a Finals placer last season and is one of four repeat qualifiers. There are only three senior starters, but 12 of 14 in the expected lineup have won at least 25 matches this winter.

#5 Montrose

Record/rank: 27-5, No. 6
League finish: Second in Mid-Michigan Activities Conference 
Coach: 
Steve Barnette, seventh season (140-76)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2005), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Jake Elasivich (42-7) soph., 145 Robert Skinner (26-11) soph., 171 Jack Kalakay (34-7) jr., 285 Griffin Barnette (45-4) jr.  
Outlook: Montrose is returning to the Quarterfinals for the first time since the last championship season of 2005, and defeated No. 7 Birch Run to help get here. The Rams finished second in their league to another contender, Division 4 power New Lothrop. Watch for them moving forward – they have one senior starter but 10 underclassmen in this weekend’s lineup. Elasivich and Griffin Barnette were Finals placers last season.

#6 Alma

Record/rank: 33-6, No. 8
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference Central 
Coach: 
Randy Miniard, eighth season (188-92)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Dametrius Castillo (32-4) soph., 125 Solomon Rosales (25-11) soph., 130 Josiah Baltierra (27-18) fr., 135 Jarrett Ferman (32-3) jr., 152 Justin VanBlaricum (28-9) jr.  
Outlook: The Panthers are making their second straight Quarterfinal trip coming off a third consecutive league title, and also moved up a seed from a year ago. Alma got past No. 10 Lake Odessa Lakewood to clinch what was also its second Regional title ever. Castillo also achieved some individual history for the program with its first Finals championship last season since 1993. There is only one senior on the roster and 10 underclassmen in the lineup for this weekend.

#7 Dowagiac

Record/rank: 24-9, unranked
League finish: Third in Wolverine Conference 
Coach: 
Colin Burandt, fourth season (76-35)
Championship history: Two runner-up finishes (most recent 1998).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Dylan Elmore (45-5) sr.; 285 Wyatt Bailey (33-11) soph. 
Outlook: Dowagiac returned to the Quarterfinals last season for the first time since 2004 and now has made two straight. The experience should continue to pay off as the team will graduate only three seniors with only two expected to start this weekend. Six wrestlers have at least 30 wins this winter.  

#8 Shepherd

Record/rank: 12-1, No. 9
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference Central 
Coach: 
BJ Cline, fourth season (57-19) 
Championship history: Four runner-up finishes (most recent 2001).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Kye Andrews (37-8) jr., 119 Lance Clark (26-6) soph., 145 Trevor Robinson (40-2) sr., 285 Kevin Smith (36-8) sr.
Outlook: Shepherd is returning to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, with three senior starters who all have at least 30 wins and also nine underclassmen among expected starters. Robinson was the Finals runner-up at 135 last season, and he also was a runner-up in 2016.

PHOTO: Remus Chippewa Hills, here at its league tournament, is one of the few to break into a Division 3 Final over the last decade. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Winningest Coach Moving on from Matside, but Leaving Lasting Lakeshore Impact

By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com

April 11, 2022

Bruce Bittenbender’s impact on the sport of wrestling in Michigan is immeasurable.

And the fact that he’ll no longer occupy a chair next to the mats at Stevensville Lakeshore High School is almost unfathomable after a legendary 52-year career there.

His list of accomplishments over that span is staggering, though the incalculable number of lives he touched — a realization that came from the outpouring of messages from his former student-athletes following his retirement announcement in late March — is what Bittenbender believes is the most important part of his legacy.

“It is absolutely heartwarming,” Bittenbender said at his retirement press conference April 1. “In many cases (some students) are on the edge. I had a guy say to me yesterday, ‘Coach, I didn’t have a father. I want to thank you.’

“How many state titles is that worth? There is a lot of that I appreciate.”

What can be quantified are the competition results during his tenure.

Bittenbender leaves with a dual meet record of 981-270-2 — the most victories in state history and the second most in the country. The program claimed 28 District titles, 13 Regional championships and 33 conference titles. The Lancers were undefeated in duals four times (1976, 1978, 1984 and 1986) and finished as MHSAA Finals runners-up twice (1986 and 1994).

“There are no shortcuts to being successful,” Lakeshore athletic director Greg Younger said. “Coach is always here. He’s probably here more than most teachers (although he retired in 2010). He is in the building early and often. He’s scrubbing the mats. I know it doesn’t magically happen. He’s always here preparing for a match and doing something here, talking to kids in the halls and building those relationships.

“He’s been a testament to hard work and what it takes to really have a goal all the time. When he steps into the wrestling room he’s always prepared, he’s always planning for tomorrow and he’s always planned for what’s coming up next. Nothing has ever surprised him.”

Lakeshore wrestlingThere were a total of 26 Individual Finals champions and 116 state placers under his watch, with Micah Hanau (also a winner in 2020), Zamuel Thompson and Aaron Lucio the most recent to have stood atop the podium and celebrate championships with Bittenbender last month at Ford Field.

Shane Williams (2020), Riley Bettich (2018), Tyler Humes (2010), Tyler Daniel (2009), Ryan Huebner (2002), John King (1992), Scott Mabrey (1992), Mark McKie (1992, 1991), Jason Cluff (1988, 1987, 1986), Dave Strejc (1988), Matt Cluff (1987, 1986, 1985), John Spear (1986), Gary Smith (1981, 1980) John Murphy (1979), Doug Smith (1978), and Rick McGrath (1974) all were guided to the state’s top individual level by Bittenbender.

For his accomplishments, Bittenbender was named Regional Coach of the Year 11 times, Michigan Wrestling Coach of the Year by the Coaches Association (2002) and National Coach of the Year twice, by the National Federation of State High School Associations (2002) and National High School Athletic Coaches Association (2010). His rightful spot in the Michigan Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame was claimed in 2010, and he was inducted into the National Coaches Association Hall of Fame the following year. In 2012, his home state honored Bittenbender with an induction into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, and Milligan University (Tenn.), where he wrestled four years, did the same in 2019.

“We went through three years of pulling teeth and hard work,” said Bittenbender, who took over at struggling Lakeshore in 1970. “Finally, we hit pay dirt. We got a kid to be state champion (in 1974), Ricky McGrath. This guy opened it up. After that, kids wanted to be Lakeshore wrestlers.”

But there were thousands of others that also laid bricks over the years to help build the program up to where it is today.

“There were a lot of kids that weren’t state champions here; there were a lot of kids that weren’t District champions or Regional champions or even conference champions,” Bittenbender said. “But they were here everyday, they were working everyday, they were part of this program and you’ve got to give those kids credit.”

Ryan Quinn takes over the program after serving as assistant coach.

“I’m incredibly blessed, grateful and humbled to be part of this school, to be taking over the reins of such a successful wrestling program,” Quinn said. “It is truly an honor to succeed Coach Bittenbender. He has made such a lasting impression on my life in such a short period of time. I know with confidence he has made lasting impacts on all who are involved in his as well. His fingerprints will forever remain on this school district and wrestling program.”

Bittenbender thanked his family, all the parents, volunteers and sponsors that supported the program over the last 52 years.

“It was a great place to live; it was a great place to coach. I’m lucky. It is a great community, my kids got a great education here, and it has been great to see kids go on to be good fathers and go to work every day,” he said.

“I want to thank my family over the years. If you’re going to be a wrestling coach’s wife, you’ve got to be something special. We’re going to spend a lot more time together.”

When Bittenbender was named 2010 National Coach of the Year, Nebraska’s Tom Osborne was the keynote speaker. Bittenbender recalled him saying: ‘If you want to know if you’re a good man, write down the 10 things you want the guy to say in your obituary. If he says eight of them, you’re a good man.”

“I hope I’m a good man,” Bittenbender said.

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at wmorgan@joeinsider.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Retiring Stevensville Lakeshore wrestling coach Bruce Bittenbender, right, embraces Zamuel Thompson after Thompson’s Individual Finals championship win last month at Ford Field. (Middle) Lakeshore’s Matt Cluff lifts Eaton Rapids’ Scott Bolin during their 1986 Class B championship match. (Top photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com, middle photo courtesy of the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.)