This weekend had to resemble, at least slightly, a typical dual match for St. Johns coach Zane Ballard – except he was at The Palace of Auburn Hills for the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals.
But with 13 qualifiers, Ballard guided all but one of his regular line-up at some point over the tournament’s three days. Seven Redwings won championships and two more finished runners-up, just more reminders of how his program has evolved over the last four seasons from solid to arguably the state’s strongest.
St. Johns was 59-51 in the four seasons before these seniors entered high school. The Redwings finished 121-7 during their four-year run and won a third-straight MHSAA Division 2 team title Feb. 25. They haven’t lost to an in-state opponent since 2010. And four of those champions -- plus three more Finals placers -- should be back next season.
Second Half caught up with Ballard on Saturday after one final podium appearance – and the placing of one last medal around the neck of four-time undefeated champion Taylor Massa.
Did you ever imagine you’d have almost your entire line-up at the Individual Finals?
I never envisioned it in the past. But this year, I knew it was possible to do it. This is one of those tournaments, it’s so tough. It’s grueling. … To pull that all together to get nine guys to the Finals, that’s unimaginable. Everything has to go right.
How has coaching changed for you in the last four years, as opposed to first four of five at St. Johns?
It’s like an almost entirely different job. I’ve grown as much or more as any of the wrestlers have. Before four years ago, we had a middle school program but they came in pretty fresh wrestlers. The last four years, kids have been coming in with the capabilities to win a state championship right off the bat.
Is it more fun to coach now, or just different?
Winning’s fun. But it’s different. You’ve got to train them. You’ve got to keep them focused. You have to create workouts for them to keep their attention. They might think they have an easy weekend, and you have to keep them focused. And there’s a lot that plays into it behind the scenes than just the training part.
How do you guys improve on this? How do you keep them coming back for more?
It’s cliché, but we’ll take it one year at a time. We’ll come back next year and have a great showing and do whatever we can to get back. It’s not going to be for lack of training, because if I know these guys, probably most of them will work out tomorrow. They’re ready to go.
Shayna Hruska ♦ Iron Mountain
Junior ♦ Wrestling
With an 8-2 decision win in the 106-pound final Saturday, Hruska became the first female champion at the annual Upper Peninsula Championships, and she then was selected the event’s “Outstanding Wrestler” for going 3-0 also with pins in her first two matches of the tournament. Those victories improved her record to 18-6 this season.
Hruska began wrestling in third grade and finished fourth at 97 pounds as a freshman at the 2021 Michigan Wrestling Association Girls Championships. She then finished second at her District to reach Regionals competing in the bracket with the boys last season. She entered last week’s U.P. Championships title coming off a runner-up finish at the Escanaba Elks Invitational on Jan. 7 and the championship at 106 at Kingsford’s Ray Mariucci Wrestling Invitational on Jan. 14.
@mhsaasports 🤼♀️POW: Shayna Hruska #performanceoftheweek #wrestling #upchampionship #outstandingwrestler #congrats #meetchamp #uppower #mountaineers #ironmountain #MHSAA #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #TikTok #mistudentaid #fyp @shaynahruska ♬ Beat Automotivo Tan Tan Tan Viral - WZ Beat
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Dec. 16: Tuff Scott, Holton bowling - Report
Dec. 9: Macey Fegan, Standish-Sterling basketball - Report
Dec. 2: Treyton Siegert, Gladwin football - Report
Nov. 24: Lily Witte, Dexter diving - Report
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Nov. 10: Derek Huisman, Holland Christian soccer - Report
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Oct. 27: Justin Wickey, Colon football - Report
Oct. 20: Owen DeMuth, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood tennis - Report
Oct. 13: Mia Melendez, Ann Arbor Greenhills golf - Report
Oct. 6: Shawn Foster, Grand Ledge football - Report
Sept. 30: Hannah Smith, Temperance Bedford swimming - Report
Sept. 22: Helen Sachs, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Sept. 15: Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8: Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1: Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25: Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report
(Photos courtesy of the Iron Mountain High School athletic department.)