3 Manistee grapplers qualify for regionals

GRAYLING – Manistee wrestling competed in a Division 3 individual district tournament in Grayling Saturday. Of the five Chippewas who competed, three of them – Bryson Jensen, Connor Barke and Keaton Ensley – qualified for regionals. And for some of them, the most challenging part may have been just getting there as the van transporting them to the event slid into a ditch and wound up overturned along M-55 late Friday afternoon.

Even though the team wrestling season ended for Manistee Wednesday when it fell short of a district team title at home, Manistee wrestling coach Darrell Burchfield said it took a team effort to afford the Chippewas an opportunity to compete.

“A lot went on for us to even make it there,” Burchfield said. “We were supported really well by the school, the administration, the bus drivers that volunteered to come in and pick us up from the hospital and take us, and that was a pretty neat thing that the Manistee school district did for us.

“Then once we got there, the day after an accident, some of the guys might be feeling a little bit stiff and weren’t at their best, et cetera, but three of the five people we took there placed,” he continued. “All of them won matches there, so every one of won some matches.”

Jensen took first in the 160-pound weight class, Ensley took second at 152 and Barke took third in the 171-pound class to punch their tickets to the Division 3 regional tournament Saturday in Kalkaska.

“I was really proud of all three of them, and how they did,” Burchfield said. “They just wrestled their hearts out and did everything they could to set themselves up in a good place.”

Jensen enjoyed a first-round bye before he pinned Kalkaska’s Tomorr Cullhaj in the waning seconds of the first period.  He went on to record a 15-4 major decision over Benzie Central’s Joe Orfe, setting himself up to face Chippewa Hills’ Trenten Wiggins in the 160-pound district final.

“With Bryson, it’s his senior year,” Burchfield said. “He doesn’t get a whole lot of respect from the Michigan Grappler state rankings. Two other kids in his weight class on the other side of the bracket – Wiggins from Chippewa Hills and (Trevor) Povolo from Kingsford – were ranked in the state while Bryson’s not. (Beating Wiggins) was a good win for him.”

Jensen took a 3-2 decision victory in the final, earning two points in the waning seconds of the first period with a takedown that proved to be the difference in the match.

“(Jensen) wrestled a good match,” Burchfield said. “It was a tough match, but really at no time did the other wrestler have anything that looked like an advantage on him. Several times we were about to score and he either went off the mat or time ran out. Bryson pretty much controlled the match the way he usually does.”

Burchfield is confident that Jensen will be able to hold his own next week in the regional tournament.

“This sets him up pretty well this next week,” Burchfield said. “He’s got two top guys coming across and there’s another one that’s adding into the mix so it’ll be a tough regional, but he should do all right.”

In the 152-pound weight class, Ensley also received a first-round bye. In the second round, he pinned Kingsley’s Alex Smith just 36 seconds into the match, and also bested Menominee’s Hunter Wroblewski in round three. Gladstone’s Cole Hansen defeated Ensley via a 17-1 technical fall but Ensley had already qualified for regionals.

“It was probably the best Keaton’s wrestled all season,” Burchfield said. “The most consistent throughout the day. He’s always had some good matches here or there, but sometimes he makes some mistakes. He’s young and it catches up with him, but (Saturday) he just went through the bracket, got into the final, ran into a guy who is the third-ranked kid in the state and just has more experience.

“He’s a senior, a little more mature, and Keaton’s not there yet,” Burchfield continued. “He’s made real good progress. His regional weight class is tough to get through next week, but he set himself up with a good shot to make it through to state.”

Barke suffered a sprained ankle early on in Saturday’s tournament but seemingly willed himself into the regional tournament with gutsy performances in the 171-pound weight class. After a first-round bye, Barke earned a 9-1 major decision over Gladstone’s Paul Barrios, but lost via a 5-0 decision to Chippewa Hills’ Gabriel Petoskey. In the losers bracket, Barke earned a 10-6 decision over Grayling’s Eli Bindshcate and took a 6-3 decision over Barrios to qualify for regionals.

“Connor Barke fought through a tough day,” Burchcfield said. “He injured himself early on. He sprained an ankle in one of his first matches, and then he had to fight his way into making it. I think if he’s fully healthy, he’s right there with the best guys in his weight class. He just wasn’t fully healthy that day. He did what he could to qualify and come back and take third.”

Burchfield is going to allow Jensen, Ensley and Barke time to recuperate a bit so they are able to enter the regional tournament at their very best.

“The rest for all of them will be welcome,” Burchfield. “We have practice, but we’re going to take a couple days where we’ll go light and just drill. We’ll get in our swimming pool and work out for our cardio that way instead of hard hand-fighting and risking further injury. So that will give (Barke) time to heal a little bit before we go into regionals.”

Manistee had two wrestlers in the 215-pound weight class in Billy Henkel and Keith Barke. After Henkel recorded a pin in the third period of his match against Ludington’s Tyson Beetz, he fell to eventual second-place finisher Carl Whipple via pinfall. Keith Barke enjoyed a first round bye, but fell to Gladstone’s Cole Dawson in the second round. Much to Burchfield’s chagrin, Henkel and Keith Barke had to wrestle each other, with the loser being eliminated from the tournament.

“It’s no fun,” Burchfield said. “It was one of those things. Sometimes you double-enter people at a weight class and it’s never fun when two boys wrestling each other. And one of them had to knock the other out of the competition, but at that stage, I just let them wrestle and whatever happens, happens.”

What happened was Keith Barke took a 13-0 major decision to earn a matchup against Kingsley’s Ben Stanish. Stanish took a 10-5 decision and the Chippewas’ hopes of qualifying a wrestler at the 215-pound weight class were ended.

“Keith Barke who lost in the blood round – that’s Connor’s brother – we bumped up a weight class thinking it might be a little bit better opportunity for him,” Burchfield said. “He just got caught. It was a 0-0 match. He got caught in a cradle and he gave up some points. He just couldn’t make up the difference by the end of the match. If he didn’t get caught in the cradle he’s right there and possibly qualifies himself. I was proud of how he wrestled as well. He’s come a long way this year.”

Burchfield was also proud of wrestling newcomer Henkel, who has made tremendous progress throughout the season.

“Billy is another one who has come a long way this year,” Burchfield said. “This is his first year of wrestling, period. … From the beginning of the year where he was kind of a walking pin – he was not very good because he lacked experience – to the end of the season where he gave everybody a fight. On Wednesday he wrestled the kid who won the district at our team district and that boy couldn’t pin him – couldn’t even tech him.

“(Billy) went the whole distance with the kid,” Burchfield continued. “He’s become a fighter. He’s come a really long way.”

While Burchfield is sad to see some of his wrestlers reach the end of their season, he is excited to see how Jensen, Connor Barke and Ensley will do at the regional tournament.

“These things are never easy,” Burchfield said. “It’s kind of a bittersweet time of the year, when you see the season come to an end for a lot of kids. But it’s also a happy time for those kids that continue their season, keep moving on to the next step and I think we’ve got three good ones moving forward.”

Jensen, Ensley and Connor Barke will compete at the Division 3 individual regional tournament Saturday at Kalkaska.




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