Shores' Karel Blazes Smart Path to Stardom

January 5, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Samuel Karel is not only the epitome of a true student-athlete. He is also proof that there are many different roads to becoming a high school all-stater.

Especially in wrestling.

“You don’t always have to be the most athletic or the most naturally talented to win the match,” explained Karel, a senior returning all-state wrestler for Muskegon Mona Shores, who is 15-3 with 10 pins this season at 160 pounds.

“You can put in time and effort and find a way to come out ahead.”

Karel has certainly done that, improving from a mediocre grappler as a freshman to a legitimate MHSAA title contender as a senior. But his ascent has been aided by an often overlooked skill in athletics, an intangible which has decided more games and matches than anything else in prep sports but is not as readily apparent as size and speed.

That skill is intelligence.

In addition to pursuing his championship dream on the mat, Karel sports a gaudy 4.24 grade-point average while juggling a class load featuring four Advanced Placement classes – AP Statistics, AP Literature, AP Environmental Science and AP Microeconomics.

Mona Shores coach Blake Groenhout said Karel brings that cerebral approach to the wrestling mat, which has enabled him to figure out a way to beat many opponents who possess superior athletic ability.

 “Samuel’s biggest strength is that he is a real technician,” explained Groenhout, who said Karel has always been good on his feet but has improved on the mat. “He works really hard, and he’s always thinking ahead and is able to pull off some big wins in that way.”

A great example of that came at last year’s Division 1 Individual Finals, when Karel found himself in the infamous “blood round” where a victory would make him an all-stater as a top-eight placer at 152 pounds. Unfortunately, his opponent had beaten him 9-2 just one week earlier at Individual Regionals.

This time, Karel fought a smarter match.

The low-scoring bout turned into a chess match, which played into Karel’s hands. Karel scored a takedown in the first period, while his opponent evened the score in the second – and the score remained 2-2 until just a handful of seconds remained. With overtime looking like a certainty, Karel was able to get away for an escape and a 3-2 victory as time expired.

 “I was jumping around and going crazy after that,” Karel said with a laugh.

It was quite an achievement for someone who couldn’t even manage a winning record his freshman year, finishing 14-14 at 145 pounds. He improved to 28-10 his sophomore year at 160 pounds, including city and Ottawa-Kent Conference Black titles, but fell one win short of making it to the MHSAA Finals. He finished 44-9 last year at 152 pounds, repeating as city and conference champion and capping things off with his 8th-place finish at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Making all-state was a notable athletic achievement since most of his accolades have come as a student.

Karel was one of three Muskegon-area high school seniors to be named a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist this fall. He will find out this spring if he is a finalist for a National Merit Scholarship pool, which totals $32 million.

He credits his experience in sports – both as a standout and team captain on the wrestling team and as a reserve and role player on the Sailors’ football team – for giving him discipline and resilience to be successful in school and the rest of his life.

“Wrestling can get boring, working on the same things over and over, so you have to find a way to keep it new and fresh,” said Karel. “I try to have fun in the room every day and try to think back to what motivated me when I first started wrestling.”

Two more secret weapons for Karel are his family and faith.

The youngest of Paul and Deb Karel’s four children, he has plenty of support from older sisters Martha and Lydia, both students at Lee University in Tennessee, and older brother Simon, a freshman offensive lineman at Trinity College near Chicago.

The Karels have been fixtures in the Mona Shores district for almost 20 years and even longer at Olivet Evangelical Free Church, where Samuel plays guitar and drums at church services (“Music takes away my stress,” he explained).

Karel also will be heading out of state for college, as he will join the club wrestling program at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He plans to major in mathematics and then pursue a career as a mathematician (possibly working for the National Security Agency) or an actuary.

For right now, he is focused on making the most of his final high school season on the mat.

Karel reached the coveted 100-win plateau last month at the Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern Invitational. Last week, he finished 3-1 at Grandville’s tournament to improve to 15-3 with 10 pins this season.

As a team captain, he also wants to help two of his teammates try to close out their senior seasons as all-state wrestlers. Sean Halverson is 11-2 at 112 pounds, and Nick Brown is 10-6 at 215 pounds. Those two, along with Karel, form the “Big 3” for Mona Shores wrestling, Groenhout said.

“I made him a captain as a junior, which is rare, but he has such great dedication and enthusiasm for the sport,” Groenhout explained. “He is the one who sets the standard. Our younger guys, like (standout freshman) Josh Hill, they all want to be like Sam.”

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) Mona Shores senior Samuel Karel, the youngest of Deb and Steve Karel's four children, has won more than 100 matches already in his career, with most of his senior season still to come. (Middle) Karel is a standout on and off the wrestling mat. The senior returning all-stater, also a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, recently won his 100th career match. (Photos courtesy of the Karel family.)

Preview: 1,120 Reasons to Spend This Weekend Among State's Finest at Ford Field

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

February 29, 2024

Because that’s how many wrestlers will compete for one of 70 championships. Because two have an opportunity to join one of the most exclusive clubs in Michigan high school sports. Because the girls division, in its third year, has added another jolt of excitement to one of our grandest season-ending events.

Those are just a few reasons to check out the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals this weekend at Ford Field.

The Grand March on Friday begins at a10 a.m., with wrestling through semifinals that evening. Wrestling begins again at 9 a.m. Saturday with championship matches at 3:30 p.m.

Among the 1,120 competitors taking the mats Friday and Saturday, Detroit Catholic Central’s Darius Marines and Dundee’s Kade Kluce will attempt to join 35 others who have won four Finals championships. Nine more contenders are wrestling for a possible third title.

Tickets may be purchased from Ford Field. All matches will be broadcast live on, and we’ll talk to all 14 champions in each division for our coverage published later that evening and overnight. See the Wrestling page for more information and to follow results this weekend.

Following are glances at just some of the many contenders who will compete this weekend.

Division 1

113 Wyatt Lees, Detroit Catholic Central sophomore (43-5) – After opening his career last season with a championship at 106, Lees moved up a weight and is the top seed at 113 this weekend.  

126 Bohdan Abbey, Hartland sophomore (51-0) – Last season’s champion at 113 is a combined 95-3 over his first two and another top seed this weekend.

132 Josh Vasquez, Grandville junior (33-2) – He missed out on last season’s 120 title with an overtime loss in the final, but returns as the top seed at his new weight.

138 Wyatt Hepner, Grosse Pointe South junior (44-0) – Last season’s runner-up at 126 hasn’t lost since that deciding match and is another top seed this weekend.

144 Justin Gates, Davison senior (35-2) – The top seed at this weight is seeking to finish his career with a third Finals title after winning 138 last year and 103 as a freshman, and finishing runner-up at 119 as a sophomore.

157 Darius Marines, Detroit Catholic Central senior (43-0) – As noted above, he’s one of two candidates for the four-championship club, having won previously at 145, 152 and 157 pounds.

215 Connor Bercume, Detroit Catholic Central junior (37-3) – Last season’s champion at this weight also is the top seed for the second-straight season.  

285 Ryan Ahern, Rockford senior (44-0, 190 last year) – The top seed at this weight is looking to finish with his first title after finishing seventh at 160 as a freshman, third at 189 as a sophomore and runner-up at 190 last winter.

Other 2023 runners-up: 113 Brice LeFleur, Saline sophomore (16-2, 106 last year); 120 Archer Anderson, Clarkston junior (28-5, 113 last year); 150 Mason Stewart, Detroit Catholic Central senior (44-3, 138 last year); 157 Jay’Den Williams, Roseville sophomore (46-0, 144 last year); 150 Vinnie Abbey, Hartland senior (45-3, 157 last year).

Additional No. 1 seeds: 106 Steve Vaughn, Davison freshman (29-8); 120 Archer Anderson, Clarkston junior (28-5); 150 Mason Stewart, Detroit Catholic Central senior (44-3); 165 Zachary Taylor, Gibraltar Carlson junior (49-0); 175 Dylan Scott, Waterford Kettering senior (34-2); 190 Brock Trevino, Clarkston senior (21-1);

Also undefeated: 126 Jace Morgan, Rochester Adams junior (39-0); 144 Zephan Catalina, Northville senior (34-0); 157 Hector Jimenez, Portage Central senior (37-0); 285 Richardo Wourman, Livonia Stevenson senior (42-0).

Division 2

113 Cristian Haslem, St. Clair sophomore (46-0) – The top seed at his weight is a combined 92-2 over his first two seasons after finishing runner-up at 106 last winter.

120 Brady Baker, Stevensville Lakeshore junior (28-4) – Last year’s champion at 106 jumped up two weights this winter and is a combined 76-6 over the last two seasons.

120 Malachi Kapenga, Hamilton junior (39-1) – Another 2023 champion at this weight, Kapenga won at 113 a year ago and also finished fifth at 103 as a freshman.

132 Jackson Blum, Lowell junior (28-1) – He’s a top seed again this weekend as he seeks a third title to go with his championship at 120 last year and 112 as a freshman.

138 Brody Orcutt, Goodrich senior (34-0) – He’s the top seed at this weight after finishing third at 132 a year ago, and the bracket includes two more undefeated contenders and a Finals runner-up from 2022.

144 Owen Segorski, Lowell junior (27-6) – The 125 champion in 2022 finished runner-up at 138 last winter and is the top seed at his weight this weekend.

190 Easton Phipps, Goodrich senior (21-0) – The reigning champion at this weight is the top seed this weekend, looking to repeat after winning last year’s title in an ultimate tiebreaker.

285 James Mahon, Goodrich junior (37-2) – He’s another top seed for the Martians and another reigning champion returning to the same bracket after winning 285 last year with a last-minute takedown.

Other 2023 runners-up: 120 Carter Cichocki, Lowell junior (23-9, 113 last year); 215 Joey Scaramuzzino, Croswell-Lexington senior (42-4, 215 last year).

Additional No. 1 seeds: 106 Jarrett Smith, Lowell sophomore (32-1); 120 Carter Cichocki, Lowell junior (23-9); 126 Ricardo Saenz, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice junior (45-2); 150 Fabian Facundo, Freeland junior (40-0); 157 Jared Boone, Lowell senior (27-8); 165 Harrison Meekhof, Allendale senior (42-3); 175 Derek Badgley, Mason senior (35-2); 215 Logan Demarest, Bay City John Glenn senior (40-1).

Also undefeated: 132 Trenden Bashore, DeWitt junior (35-0); 138 Adam Polk, Pontiac senior (27-0); 138 Landon Thomas, St. Joseph junior (45-0); 150 Lane Button, Wayland junior (44-0); 175 Jack Mills, Carleton Airport senior (36-0).

Dundee’s Kade Kluce, standing, works toward a victory to open the Division 3 Final that afternoon.

Division 3

113 Haydn Nutt, Dundee sophomore (32-7) – He’s a top seed for the second-straight season after opening his career by winning the championship at 106 a year ago.

120 Dale Gant, Grand Rapids Catholic Central sophomore (40-2) – He also started his career last season with a championship, finishing first at 113.

126 Drew Hanson, Gladstone senior (42-1) – A third-place finisher all of his first three seasons, he’s the top seed at this weight, making him the main obstacle in Kluce’s quest for a fourth title.

126 Kade Kluce, Dundee senior (24-9) – He’s looking to cap a career that’s included championships at 103, 112 and 120 pounds.

132 Cameron Chinavare, Dundee senior (32-2) – He’s the top seed at this weight and seeking a third championship after winning at 125 as a sophomore and 126 as a junior.

157 Kole Katschor, Dundee junior (38-6) – Another Dundee top seed, he’s the reigning champion at 150 after winning last season’s title match in overtime.

215 Elizin Rouse, Kingsford senior (32-1) – He’s seeking a second-straight championship at this weight after winning last year’s in overtime as well.

285 Bennett VandenBerg, Constantine senior (48-0) – He’s the top seed at this weight after finishing on the other side of Rouse’s overtime win at 215 a year ago and also placing sixth at 189 as a sophomore.

Other 2023 runners-up: 113 Mason Haines, Dundee sophomore (25-12, 106 last year); 113 Talan Parsons, Ovid-Else senior (42-1, 113 last year); 132 Gavyn Merchant, Kingsley senior (17-0, 126 last year); 138 Michael Wilson, Grand Rapids Catholic Central junior (14-0, 132 last year); 144 Blake Cosby, Dundee sophomore (37-1, 144 last year); 165 Tyler Schofield, Olivet senior (53-0, 157 last year); 175 Gavin Craner, Whitehall junior (47-0, 175 last year for Belding).

Additional No. 1 seeds: 106 Mason Katschor, Dundee freshman (40-6); 138 Michael Wilson, Grand Rapids Catholic Central junior (14-0); 144 Blake Cosby, Dundee sophomore (37-1); 150 Donny Beaufait, Dundee sophomore (34-8); 165 Tyler Schofield, Olivet senior (53-0); 175 Gavin Craner, Whitehall junior (47-0); 190 Cole O’Boyle, Alma senior (44-0); 215 Jack Ward, Belding senior (50-2).

Also undefeated: 150 Darnell Mack, Whitehall senior (47-0); 215 John Petersen, Hillsdale junior (35-0).

Division 4

106 Logan Gilbert, Martin junior (45-3) – He’s the top seed at this weight after finishing runner-up at the same in 2023 and winning 103 in 2022.

113 Alex Rodriguez, St. Louis sophomore (41-2) – He also is returning as the top seed at the weight at which he finished runner-up last season.  

120 Nicholas Sorrow, Hudson sophomore (45-1) – He won 106 to begin his career last year and is the top seed at his weight for the second straight.

126 Sammy Stewart, Manchester sophomore (51-1) – He also opened his career with a championship last season, at 113, and is the top seed in his bracket this weekend.

132 Haylen Buell, Climax-Scotts/Martin sophomore (38-4) – Last year’s runner-up at this weight is the top seed this time.

138 Landyn Crance, Union City senior (45-4) – The reigning champion at 132 is seeking his third title after also winning 125 as a sophomore.

144 Coy Perry, Hudson senior (42-6) – He’s also seeking a third individual title as the reigning champion, and top seed, at this weight after winning 112 as a freshman at Clinton.

165 Sebastian Martinez, Riverview Gabriel Richard junior (50-0) – He’s won championships at 145 and 157 pounds over the last two seasons and is a combined 122-7 for his career entering as the top seed in this bracket.

Other 2023 runners-up: 144 Blake Sloan, Manchester sophomore (47-5, 138 last year); 165 Fulton Stroud, Iron Mountain senior (32-2, 165 last year).

Additional No. 1 seeds: 138 Cole Marry, Hudson senior (41-8); 150 Austin Marry, Hudson senior (35-7); 157 Gavin Schoff, Niles Brandywine senior (45-0); 175 Brady Jess, Charlevoix junior (48-1); 190 Lucas Sischo, Bark River-Harris senior (35-5); 215 Landon Swanson, Charlevoix senior (43-2), 285 Zachary Hayes, Bangor senior (47-1).

Brighton’s Sabrina Nauss, left, begins her Team Quarterfinal match Friday.

Girls Division

100 Madison Nieuwenhuis, Plainwell sophomore (14-0) – The reigning champion at this weight is the top seed heading into her second Finals.

110 Sky Langewicz, Algonac junior (8-1) – She’s won championships at 105 and 110 pounds her first two seasons.

110 Nakayla Dawson, Westland John Glenn sophomore (5-0) – Last season’s champion at 105 pounds is the top seed in her new weight class this weekend.

120 Faith Burgess, Grand Blanc junior (22-0) – She’s the top seed at her weight after winning 115 a year ago.

125 Serenity Hayes, Whittemore-Prescott junior (24-3) – She’s wrestling for a second championship in her second season after winning 135 in 2023.

130 Angelina Pena, Milan senior (12-2) – The top seed at this weight is seeking to add a third MHSAA championship after winning at 120 pounds as a sophomore and 130 last season.

135 Margaret Buurma, Fowlerville junior (20-1) – She’s also a top seed and looking to repeat as a champion after winning at 125 pounds last season and 115 as a freshman.

155 Maddie Hayden, Caledonia sophomore (7-0) – The top seed at this weight is also the reigning champion at 155 after winning her final by two points a year ago.

190 Sabrina Nauss, Brighton senior (5-0) – The first female to win an Individual Finals match at Ford Field two years ago is heading to her last MHSAA tournament as a top seed again and seeking to add to her titles at 190 last season and 170 in 2022.

235 Madasyn Frisbie, Belding junior (2-1) – She took the next step from runner-up in 2022 to champion at 235 last season as she defeated this weekend’s top seed at their weight.

Other 2023 runners-up: 105 Natalie Gibson, Remus Chippewa Hills junior (14-2, 105 last year); 115 Sunni LaFond, Gaylord junior (26-6, 110 last year); 130 Isabella Cepak, South Lyon East junior (7-1, 120 last year); 125 Jamie Cook, DeWitt junior (27-2, 125 last year); 125 Tyler Swanigan, South Lyon East senior (8-1, 130 last year); 145 Rihanna Venegas, Riverview Gabriel Richard junior (10-0, 145 last year); 170 Heaven Cole, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix junior (14-1, 170 last year); 190 Gabriella Allen, Marcellus senior (22-2, 190 last year); 235 Lillianna Garcia, Grand Blanc senior (16-2, 235 last year).

Additional No. 1 seeds: 105 Tricia Pyrzewski, Gladwin senior (38-4); 115 Sunni LaFond, Gaylord junior (26-6); 125 Tyler Swanigan, South Lyon East senior (8-1); 140 Belicia Manuel, Romeo sophomore (19-0); 145 Rihanna Venegas, Riverview Gabriel Richard junior (10-0); 170 Amarisa Manuel, Romeo senior (16-0); 235 Lillianna Garcia, Grand Blanc senior (16-2).

Also undefeated: 110 Cheyenne Frank, Oxford sophomore (12-0); 130 Cambrie Lawrence, Benzie Central senior (18-0); 145 Hailee Budrick, Rockford senior (8-0); 155 Krysta Luce, Chesaning senior (17-0); 235 Karina Witmer, Madison Heights Lamphere sophomore (5-0).

PHOTOS (Top) Darius Marines, left, has his hand raised in victory as he helps Detroit Catholic Central to a Division 1 Semifinal win Saturday at Wings Event Center. (Middle) Dundee’s Kade Kluce, standing, works toward a victory to open the Division 3 Final that afternoon. (Below) Brighton’s Sabrina Nauss, left, begins her Team Quarterfinal match Friday. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)