Expectations High for Battle-Tested Gaylord

January 5, 2018

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

GAYLORD – During the winter of 2001, Davison’s Chase Metcalf was in the process of winning a second consecutive MHSAA individual wrestling title.

Jerry LaJoie, the wrestling coach at Gaylord, was quite familiar with Metcalf and his younger brother, Brent, who would finish 228-0 as a prep and win two NCAA championships.

“I knew the family,” said LaJoie, whose nephew Tony was a two-time MHSAA Finals champion at Clarkston during those days. “The Metcalfs are a staple in Michigan wrestling. I got to watch the Metcalfs grow up in front of me. They were little kids coming on to the wrestling scene when I was a young coach.”

So when the LaJoies welcomed a baby boy on Christmas Day in 2001, they named him Chayse after Chase Metcalf.

“We wanted to make it our own (first name) so we added a ‘y’ to it,” said LaJoie.

Chase Metcalf went on to wrestle at the University of Michigan, then tragically died in an auto accident in 2005 at the age of 21.

As for Chayse LaJoie, he’s making his own mark on the mat. As a freshman last season, LaJoie captured the Division 2 individual title at 103 pounds. That same day, his brother, Dominic, claimed 125 pounds. Only a one-point loss at the 2016 Finals prevented Dominic from becoming a four-time state champ, matching Brent Metcalf’s feat.

It was a proud day for Jerry LaJoie, who has built the Gaylord wrestling program into one of the state’s best, as he watched his sons realize dreams on the same day.

“As a coach, it was awesome,” said LaJoie. “As a dad, it was very special. They were drill partners. All the hard work paid off.”

Athletic director Christian Wilson savored it, too.

“It was a special deal because not only are they outstanding wrestlers, but they’re great kids,” he said. “Anytime you have kids come through your school, and they’re able to see their goals achieved, it’s pretty neat. Not just for our wrestling program and school, but for our community.”

Dominic is now wrestling at Cornell University. Still, the Blue Devils return the nucleus of a team that lost a two-point match to St. Johns in the team Regional Finals a year ago, this after two consecutive MHSAA Semifinal berths. Four Individual Finals placers are back.

“We have high expectations because we have a veteran squad,” said senior captain Joe Markham, who took sixth at 285 last year. “We expect great things out of each other. We want to get back in the running for states.”

Gaylord, ranked No. 3 in Division 2 by Michigan Grappler, opened this campaign with tournament wins at Marquette and Greenville. The Blue Devils placed third at the Goodrich Tournament of Champions over Christmas break with 10 wrestlers.

Gaylord is especially strong in the lower weights with Chayse LaJoie, senior captain Derek Giallombardo and sophomore John Henry Sosa. The three are rotating, depending on style matchups, in the 119, 125 and 130 weight classes. Giallombardo finished fourth at 119 a year ago, while Sosa placed fifth at 112.

“We’re flexible,” said Jerry LaJoie. “We can move our lineup around, and our kids are still capable of performing at high levels.”

The lineup also features Will Sides at 112, Rico Brown at 130-135, Dmitri Smith, Cody Starks and Seth Gregory at 140-145; Jacob McKnight at 145, Kenny Smith at 152, Brady Schulz at 160-171, Cade Foster at 171-189, A.J. Krumholz at 215 and Markham at 285. Foster and Markham won the 171 and 285 weight classes at Goodrich. Giallombardo placed second to Utica Ford’s Terrin Machart at 125, while Chayse LaJoie was third at 119.

“It’s tough to find a couple holes in our lineup that we can’t protect or move around, and that’s what makes us tough,” said LaJoie, who entered the season with a 632-131-2 career record.

Over the holidays, five former Blue Devils returned home to work with the team, including three who are wrestling in college (Dominic LaJoie, Jon Martin at Central Michigan University and Trevor Giallombardo at Ohio University).

“We use the Christmas break to correct some of our mistakes and work on the finer things,” said LaJoie. “Plus, the college kids come in and show their techniques.”

Chayse LaJoie and Derek Giallombardo are training partners this season. Previously, they worked with their brothers.

“Coach likes to say, ’iron sharpens iron,’” Giallombardo said.

Chayse LaJoie appreciates facing good competition in practice. After all, working with his brother in the past helped him develop his work ethic and focus.

“You don’t have to push Chayse to work hard,” his father said. “He‘s a goer. He’ll battle with anybody. Dom was more technical. Chayse is more physical.”

LaJoie said his captains, Giallombardo and Markham, lead by example. Both are capable of winning Finals titles this winter, he said.

When asked what his most memorable moment has been on the mat, Giallombardo said that chapter has yet to be written.

“I’m hoping to make that moment happen at the state meet this year,” he said.

Markham, meanwhile, is motivated by how he finished 2017. He injured his ankle at the Individual Finals and had to default his last match.

“I felt kind of empty afterwards,” he said.” I’m using that to drive me.”

Markham likes the makeup of this team.

“I like our work ethic,” he said. “You’re not born with that skill, you have to work at it – and we have it.”

Still, he added, the Blue Devils must avoid complacency.

“Just because we have state medalists doesn’t mean anything coming into this season,” he said. “We have to keep working, keep building off what we have.

“And we have to stay mentally tough. It’s a long season, and we’re going to have to stay mentally strong if we want to finish the way we expect.”

The Blue Devils will be put to the test Saturday in a highly competitive six-team tournament at Grand Ledge.

“We’ll see some tough teams,” said Giallombardo, who has signed with Ohio University. “We need to do well for seeding.”

Chayse LaJoie can’t wait for the challenge.

“It excites me,” he said. “I love competition.”

After Grand Ledge, Gaylord will begin pursuing another Big North Conference crown. The Blue Devils have won 10 consecutive league titles.

“Both Traverse City teams are getting better, and Petoskey is always tough,” said Jerry LaJoie. “We’ll have to be on our game.”

But the Blue Devils have goals beyond that.

“If we stay healthy, I think we can get back to states,” said Chayse LaJoie. “But that’s if everybody stays healthy and dedicated.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Joe Markham’s arm is raised in victory during a triangular meet Dec. 21 against Ogemaw Heights and Sault Ste. Marie. (Middle) Derek Giallombardo, (top) and Chayse LaJoie are another pair of standouts for this season’s Blue Devils. (Below) Gaylord coach Jerry LaJoie, and graduated son Dominic (kneeling) watch one of their wrestlers compete during the tri-meet. (Photos courtesy of the Gaylord Herald Times.)

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.)