Taylor Massa enters his final high school wrestling competition today at The Palace of Auburn Hills the same way he started it -- without a loss.
Massa is one of 896 wrestlers who will compete this weekend. But he can become just the 16th in MHSAA history to graduate with four individual championships. And his 217 consecutive wins rank fifth on the all-time MHSAA list. With three wins this weekend, he’d move up to fourth.
“Taylor has absolute dedication to the sport. During the season he is on the mat seven days a week training,” St. Johns head coach Zane Ballard said. “Off the mat, he’s a normal teenager who likes wake-boarding and hanging out with his friends. He also is a very good student.”
The MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals begin at 2 p.m. today. They continue through the Semifinals early Friday evening and into the championship matches Saturday afternoon. Click for a full schedule, plus brackets and results as they are filed.
After claiming titles at 145 pounds as a freshman, 152 as a sophomore and 160 a year ago, Massa has his sights set on the 171-pound crown. He also led the Redwings to three straight team titles, the most recent last weekend at Battle Creek.
Massa was on the mat all of 3 minutes and 8 seconds in pinning three opponents at the Team Finals. He spent most of the rest perched just behind his coaches, helping instruct his teammates with the knowledge that has made him nationally recognized and earned him a scholarship to Michigan.
His leadership has continued to grow in step with his elite mat skills over the last four seasons. Ballard said Massa mediates conflicts between teammates on top of passing on advice.
“We all help each other, show each other what’s happening,” Massa said. “You can’t get good without your partners. I look to my partners for advice. We’re all really good at different things.
“I think a lot of kids come to me if they have questions. (But) you know, if I’m not doing something right, I’ll ask someone that’s doing it better than I am what I’m doing wrong.”
If he's done something wrong on the high school mat, it's been tough to tell.
Ironically, Massa’s first individual championship at the Palace in 2009 came at the expense of Greenville’s Jordan Thomas, 5-2, in a battle of freshmen. Since that season, Thomas has stayed a weight heavier than Massa, winning the title at 160 in 2010 and at 171 a year ago. Thomas goes for his third consecutive championship, at 189, this weekend. He and Massa will lead the Finals Grand March together as flag bearers on Saturday.
After this spring, Massa will join the Wolverines and study pre-med. He’d also like to make a push for the Olympics, and already has competed internationally.
But for all the accolades, Massa prefers to let his actions do the talking.
“He is a quiet and unassuming person,” Ballard said. “You would never know he wrestles unless the topic is brought up.”
MHSAA four-time champions
Mike Mills, Mt. Pleasant—98-112-132-138 (1976-79)
Gregory Elie, Escanaba—98-105-112-119 (1980-83)
Robert Mariucci, Iron Mountain—112-126-145-155 (1981-84)
Michael Murdoch, Montrose—119-132-145-145 (1983-86)
Larry Raether, Iron Mountain — 112-119-132-132 (1984-87)
Brandon Chesher, Adrian 112-125-134-145 (1993-96)
Jeremiah Tobias, Manchester — 125-130-135-145 (1997-00)
Nick Simmons, Williamston — 103-103-119-119 (1998-01)
Andy Simmons, Williamston — 112-130-135-140 (1999-02)
Roger Kish, Lapeer West — 160-171-189-189 (2000-03)
Joe Mendez, Lowell —103-112-130-135 (2002-05)
Brent Metcalf, Davison —130-140-145-145 (2002-05)
Justin Zeerip, Hesperia —125-145-152-160 (2004-05-06-07)
Mark Weber, Goodrich - 103-112-125-135 (2005-08)
Kyle Waldo, Rockford – 103-103-112-119 (2006-07-08-09)
(NOTE: Detroit Catholic Central’s Alex Mooradian also is competing for a fourth MHSAA title this weekend. Click to read more about his accomplishments.)
PHOTOS: (Top) St. Johns Taylor Massa and (middle) Greenville's Jordan Thomas. See more photos at High School Sports Scene. Report was compiled by the MHSAA's Rob Kaminski.
GREENVILLE – Several factors have contributed to the current success of the Greenville wrestling team.
However, one aspect of the program has been quite noticeable.
“I’ve received compliments by referees and other coaches just about how much bigger, stronger and faster they look now,” Yellow Jackets wrestling coach Brett Peterman said. “Greenville athletics, and the culture with Rick Court and our strength program, has changed. He has done an amazing job of getting the kids into lifting, and we have a great coaching staff."
“A lot of the sports are getting better now because of it, and our strength programs are loaded with kids now lifting, including at the middle school level.”
The Yellow Jackets recently jumped into the top 10 of the Division 2 state rankings after winning their fifth invitational of the season last week at Hudsonville Unity Christian.
An enhanced strength program, coupled with a diligent work ethic by a relatively young group, has signaled a turnaround for the better.
“We just have a great group of kids,” Peterman said. “The kids are coachable, they work hard and we are just seeing the results of that.”
Junior standout Nayte Dobson, who’s currently unbeaten at 24-0 wrestling at 157 and 165 pounds, said Court is a valuable piece to the winning puzzle that has been constructed.
“He always has good enthusiasm and good energy no matter what,” said Dobson, who placed seventh at last year’s Division 2 Individual Finals.
“He gives us time to work out, whether it’s zero hour, or after school. Whenever you want to work out, he’s there. He will come from his house to unlock the doors.”
Court’s workouts are specifically designed to help the wrestlers reach their full potential and give them an advantage.
“He puts us through good workouts that involve speed and acceleration training,” Dobson said. “You can definitely see the bursts we have out on the mat.”
The list of accomplishments so far this season has included wins at the Greenville Invitational, the Hudsonville Invitational, the Unity Christian Invitational, the Fruitport Invitational and the Pinckney Duals.
“There have been some good teams in those tournaments and good challenges for the kids,” Peterman said. “Winning is good, but the work never stops.”
Peterman anticipated success this season, despite the departure of key seniors.
The addition of a large incoming freshman class has boosted numbers and anticipation for the future.
“I thought we could have a good year,” Peterman said. “We had a lot of returners, including a few state qualifiers and some who fell just short.
“They worked hard in the offseason, and with the freshmen coming in, I figured we would be pretty good. I was amazed that we had 23 freshmen come in. That’s a big group.”
The Yellow Jackets possess talent up and down the weight classes, with several wrestlers posting impressive records.
Sophomore Caleb Lewis, a backup last season, has emerged and is 26-0 at 106 pounds.
Other top performers include junior Liam Dailey (23-2) at 138/144 pounds, sophomore Case Johnson (24-2) at 215 pounds, sophomore Kamden Witte (23-3) at 113 pounds and freshman Alex Buskirk (26-1) at 126 pounds.
“We are a very young team, but they’ve come in with a chip on their shoulder and they are working hard every day,” Dobson said. “How they work in the wrestling loft is showing out on the mat right now, and we are just giving them guidance and helping them out when we can.
“I expected this, and I knew this was going to be a good year for us because of the guys coming back and the freshmen.”
The Yellow Jackets will wrestle at the Ottawa-Kent Conference White championships, against a field that includes eight-time reigning team champion Lowell.
“It’s tough when you have a powerhouse like Lowell in your conference,” Peterman said. “There’s a possibility that we will see them several times in the upcoming weeks, and it will be a big challenge. We are going to do what’s right for the team on Friday and see how the results come about.”
The Red Arrows provide Greenville with a measuring stick, and they are eager to see how they fare against the best in the state.
“Lowell is just stacked all around and it’s going to be tough, but we also have to get through Byron Center, which has gone both ways this season,” Dobson said. “If we can see improvement from last year’s Districts to now against Lowell, then it gives us a good checkpoint of where we are at.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Greenville wrestler Isaac Daily celebrates a win during a match this season. (Middle) Yellow Jackets coach Brett Peterman guides one of his competitors. (Below) Greenville's Troy Courtney takes down an opponent. (Photos by Jamie McNinch Photography.)