Lowell Unstoppable Again as Title Streak Grows to 8

By Dan Stickradt
Special for Second Half

March 30, 2021

KALAMAZOO — Not even a pandemic and a shortened season can slow down Lowell.

Nothing.

At least in recent years.

The top-ranked and top-seeded Red Arrows extended their MHSAA record of consecutive Team Finals titles to eight with a resounding 59-7 victory over third-seeded Goodrich on Tuesday in the Division 2 championship match at Wings Arena. 

“I can’t say enough about these kids,” said Lowell coach R.J. Boudro, who in his seven seasons as head coach has amassed an impressive 137-21 record. “Even in November, December and January when we weren’t wrestling and just waiting, they stuck together. We didn’t have any positive (COVID) tests. We worked hard and stuck together, and we’re able to win it again. It’s not easy. Winning one is not easy, let alone eight in a row.”

Lowell wasted no time in setting the tone, earning a pair of first-period pins for a 12-0 lead. Cole Huisman (140) earned a pin in only 29 seconds and William Link (145) followed suit by sticking his opponent to the mat in a mere 35 seconds. 

Leading 35-0 through seven matches, Lowell 285-pounder

Lowell/Goodrich wrestling 2Keegan Nugent earned another pin in just 16 seconds to clinch the title for the Red Arrows (20-3). 

“Effort,” beamed Nugent, who will also be shooting for an individual crown this weekend with a 27-0 record. “We have great effort as a team.

“It’s all about tradition and doing what you need to do to keep it going,” continued Nugent. “Not looking at what other people are doing, just working your butt off to contribute to the tradition.”

Overall, Lowell’s dominating effort resulted in wins in 12 of the 14 weight classes. The Red Arrows collected six pins, three decisions, two victories by technical fall and one major decision.

The title is not only the eighth straight for the powerful Red Arrows, it gives Lowell its 11th Finals title over the past 20 seasons. Tuesday also marked Lowell’s 17th appearance in the Division 2 Final over 23 years. The Red Arrows are 11-6 in title bouts dating back to 1999. 

“It’s hard to put it all into words, especially this year,” said Boudro. “We have so much support from the parents, administration. So many people help out. It’s a special community.

“You know I kept having anxiety every day because I kept hearing about teams withdrawing from the tournament because of positive tests,” continued Boudro. “My heart sank every time. But it goes back to us staying healthy and being able to come out here and accomplish this. These kids did everything right, everything that was asked of them.” 

Goodrich (18-1) slipped to 2-4 all-time in Finals matches, including losing to Lowell in 2019 (29-23) in the title bout. The Martians came in unbeaten on the season but couldn’t muster much against the state’s premier Division 2 program.

“They’ve knocked us out three times now since 2016,” said Goodrich coach Ken Sirignano, whose team was also defeated by Lowell in the Semifinals five years ago. “Lowell is a fantastic program; they are really tough. There’s not much to say other than they have a great team. They just beat us up today. We just have to get better.” 

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PHOTOS: (Top) Lowell and Goodrich locked up in Tuesday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) A Red Arrows winner celebrates a match victory against the Martians. (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.)