Local wrestlers ready for state finals

BIG RAPIDS — No matter that the wrestlers have worked hard for this occasion, they still get a bit nervous, said Big Rapids coach Dan Sleeper.

The individual finals are set to begin today at The Palace of Auburn Hills for each of the four divisions.

With nearly 900 wrestlers at the same place, the Grand March and then finally the wrestling, the less experience grapplers can be overwhelmed. That is why Sleeper has been talking to his team as the Cardinals take five wrestlers to this year’s final — Rabanni Nzeza, Sam Miller, Brandon Buck, Alim Muhammad and Kyle Carter.

Only Nzeza has been to the individual state final.

“You go down there and see the wrestlers and you know there names, it’s an eye opener,” Sleeper said. “You begin to think, ‘do I belong here?’ We talked about not being in awe of the situation.”

READY TO COMPETE: Chippewa Hills' Jason Peacock is vying for a strong finish at the state high school wrestling finals this weekend. (Pioneer file photo)

Chippewa Hills coach Nate Ethridge and the Warriors will be sending nine wrestlers to the final. Ethridge has pulled a trick from the movie “Hooisers” out of his hat, reminding his wrestlers that nothing is different except the venue.

Heading to the state meet for the Warriors are Damien Curtice, Quentin Moody, Zach King,Zack Cooper, Nathen Weckesser, James Leiter, Johnny Wernette, Jason Peacock and Latear Dukes.

“We talk a lot about how the mat at the state meet is identical to the one we have here,” Ethridge said. “You are still going to check in and step on the same line like you do on our mat.”

The tournament is spread out among three days which leads to long gaps between matches. The finals are set for Saturday afternoon.

How a wrestler can stay focused will have a lot to say about how they will do in the tournament.

“How you prepared for the season helps you prepare for this moment,” Sleeper said. “I want them to enjoy the experience and relax.”

How a wrestler reacts to all of the chaos around them can go a long ways in determining how they will do overall. Ethridge, however, hopes the goal for his wrestlers isn’t just to make it to the state final.

“You can’t be happy getting here because if the goal is to get here, then you should have stopped wrestling two weeks ago,” he said. “The goal has to be being a state medalist.”

Chippewa Hills is one week removed from falling in the team tournament, losing to Whitehall in the Division 3 quarterfinal. Though it could be tough for his wrestlers to get excited about the individual tournament, Ethridge believes his team will be ready to go.

“The guys don’t have to worry about the match ahead of them or the match behind them,” he said. “It is time to be selfish. It is the first time where they can just worry about themselves.”

Other area wrestlers at the state meet include Morley Stanwood’s Steven Malloy, Reed City’s Matt McGahey and Adam Kehr and Pine River’s Kyle Nixon, Abel Langworthy and Cason Rawson.

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