Hesperia Stars Guiding Whitehall's Title Drive
February 6, 2019
By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Whitehall wrestling already had a solid infrastructure in place.
The Vikings have been the dominant wrestling program in the Muskegon area since George W. Bush was President, recently winning their 13th consecutive Greater Muskegon Athletic Association city wrestling championship.
On the state level, Whitehall also has been a fixture at the Division 3 Team Finals in recent years – losing to powerhouse Dundee in the Semifinals both last year and 2016, and bowing to Lake Fenton in the 2017 Quarterfinals.
Could this be the year Whitehall breaks through with an MHSAA championship?
The Vikings hope that the hiring of young, first-year co-coaches and brothers Justin Zeerip and Collin Zeerip – legends from nearby Hesperia who went on to wrestle at the University of Michigan – is exactly what the program needs to take that final step.
“Honestly, it’s been an amazing experience being coached by them,” said Whitehall senior Allen Powers (189 pounds), who has a 32-3 record on the season. “It gives us a bunch of extra confidence knowing that they were just Division I college wrestlers – and they’re not afraid to get on the mat and show it to us.”
Whitehall, which has a 24-2 dual record and is ranked No. 3 in Division 3, starts its drive to the Team Finals on Thursday at the District tournament at Shelby. If the Vikings prevail Thursday, they would host Team Regionals on Feb. 13. A win there would put them back in the Finals at Wings Event Center on Feb. 22-23, with a chance to prove they have closed the gap on Dundee and Richmond – which between them have won the past nine Division 3 titles.
Last year’s loss to Dundee was particularly one-sided, 67-3, a pummeling which has motivated Whitehall to improve throughout the offseason and so far this winter. The Vikings’ only losses have come to Rockford and Hartland, both Division 1 schools.
“It’s been awesome watching these kids grow – both in technique and in their confidence,” said Justin Zeerip, the oldest of the three Zeerip brothers (Justin, Brandon and Collin), all of whom wrestled at Michigan. “My brother and I just want to bring that college wrestling atmosphere into the room. We’ve set high goals; we want to be wrestling on that final day. “
Suffice to say: when the Zeerips talk, the Vikings listen.
After all, Justin Zeerip, 30, brings instant credibility as a four-time Division 4 individual champion at Hesperia who graduated with a 260-0 record and 203 pins. He went on to win 100 matches during a five-year career at Michigan and now teaches middle school math at Hesperia.
Collin Zeerip, meanwhile, is 26 and was a three-time individual champion at Hesperia, graduating with 238 victories. He won 38 matches at Michigan before returning home to help run the family business, Heritage Farm Markets in Fremont.
While all three of his boys wrestled at Michigan, Justin and Collin’s father, Craig Zeerip, was a four-year wrestler at Ohio State. Craig Zeerip is now the head wrestling coach at Fremont.
“Our family has always loved the month of February,” said Justin Zeerip, who as a senior at Hesperia in 2007 became at that time the fourth wrestler in state history to finish a four-year career unbeaten and the 13th to win four Finals titles. “There’s a whole different feel. I’m really enjoying it as a coach as well.”
Whitehall’s strong wrestling foundation began in the 1980s under Rick Champion and Craig Christensen, who are still coaching in the program. Cliff Sandee coached the Vikings for the past 11 years – a tenure which was highlighted by 11 city titles, nine Districts, five Regionals and four Final Four appearances – before leaving to take an assistant principal position at Muskegon Reeths-Puffer last August.
That departure opened the door for the Zeerips, who inherited a young, but well-rounded team with just three seniors – Sam Baustert (112), Trenton Blanchard (160) and Powers – in the normal 14-wrestler lineup.
The strength is in the upper weights, starting with freshman Ira Jenkins (152) with a sparkling first-year record of 27-6. Trenton Blanchard is 29-4, junior Kayleb Vennema (171) is 34-2 and junior Jarrean Sargeant (285) is 28-8.
The impressive records continue when the match swings to the lowest weights, with freshman Aiden Weiler (103) at 29-6 and Baustert at 29-4.
“I know they are going to be really good the next few years with all of our young guys, but I really don’t see any reason we can’t win state this year,” said Baustert, an all-state track and cross country performer who will run at Grand Valley State. “The new coaches have given us all a whole new sense of hope. We all have learned a few moves that we haven’t done before.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Whitehall senior Sam Baustert works toward a pin. (Middle) Trenton Blanchard is another Vikings senior standout this winter. (Below) Whitehall co-head coaches Collin Zeerip, left, and Justin Zeerip, right, flank Baustert after an invitational victory earlier this season. (Photos courtesy of the Whitehall 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.
That 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 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.)