By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
Ten years removed from a Regional Finals appearance, the White Pigeon wrestling program has awakened from its hibernation.
The Chiefs’ 18-7 overall record isn’t particularly astonishing. But given that several losses were to bigger schools outside of the state of Michigan, including three to Indiana squads this past weekend, it’s a solid mark so far.
A victory over third-ranked (in Division 4) Decatur earlier this year opened White Pigeon’s eyes as to how good it could be this winter.
“The kids’ resiliency and perseverance,” 14th-year head coach Jay Sosinski said when asked what has stood out to him this season. “It doesn’t matter to them who they’re going up against. Big or small, good or bad, they go out there and wrestle hard and give it their best. That’s all I’ve ever asked of any of my teams. They do it probably better than any team I’ve had before on a consistent basis.”
To put that statement in context, Sosinski hypes his team as often as most people stick to their New Year’s resolutions.
There’s no denying that confidence has trickled down to the individual wrestlers, four of whom are among the top-10 ranked athletes in their respective weight classes in Division 4 by MichiganGrappler.com.
Ranked No. 3 at 130 pounds, sophomore Kyle Black is 22-2 on the year and eyeing a return trip to the MHSAA Finals. He’ll likely drop down to 125 to do so. Classmate Evan Atherton is ranked No. 10 at 130 but has since moved to 125.
“It makes us feel good,” Atherton, who is 20-3, said of the high praise from Sosinski, “because they used to talk about how there used to only be three kids on the team. “I’m pretty excited about it. It pushes me harder.”
Junior Nate Weber is 21-4 and ranked No. 6 at 135. He, too, will probably move down a class by the end of the year in order to try to get back to the Palace of Auburn Hills. Meanwhile, senior Hunter Rummler, ranked No. 7 at 171, just eclipsed the 100-victory mark for his career over the weekend and is pushing toward his first Individual Finals appearance.
Especially for the young men in the lower weights, stiffer competition is rarely found outside their own practices this year.
“We do a lot of live wrestling in the room, and it sure helps to have those guys around with all the variety it brings,” Weber said. “Me, Evan and Kyle all wrestle different styles. We see all these different techniques, and it sets us up to wrestle all these other teams.”
Black had just one word to describe practice sessions: “Intense.”
The other word that came up frequently was inspiration. The source? Sosinski.
“I would never have guessed that is the answer they would have given,” Sosinski said with a laugh. “As a wrestler myself and growing up in the sport, when people get beat, either as an individual or a team, I know how that feels. They beat themselves up and are upset. Me being upset with them or screaming and yelling at them doesn’t make them feel any better.
“I believe it probably makes them feel worse and can have a negative effect. My goal is to help them reach their goals. I’m happiest when I see them reach their goals and their potential. If being more soft-spoken and more of a fatherly type figure and voice does that, and it has worked so far, that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
With only two seniors on the varsity roster, the Chiefs are undefeated in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference. Rummler, who said reaching the century mark “hasn’t really hit me yet,” knows the strength of the team is in the lower and middle weights, which includes stalwarts Hunter Jourdan, Sebastian Castro and Carlos Castro, and feels a responsibility to hold up his end of the bargain.
For Rummler, a gifted running back and sprinter, most of the battle is mental — a fight he admits struggling with last season. Sosinski believes the senior is primed for a noteworthy finish to his career.
“He is confident,” Sosinski said. “I believe he has high goals and expectations of himself. He is confident he will meet those goals. Sometimes you need that swag, I guess. If I had to take a guess at (what’s different this year), just from knowing him for four years, it’s just his mentality.”
The same can be said for the rest of the wrestlers on the team, many of whom have sacrificed for the betterment of the squad.
“They want to be good as a team, and that’s first and foremost,” Sosinski said. “They have their own individual goals in their head, but they’re finding a way to do both.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) White Pigeon’s Kyle Black works to gain control during a match against Berrien Springs. (Middle) Evan Atherton, here working from the top, also powers the Chiefs’ strong lower weights. (Photos courtesy of Wes Morgan.)