D4 Preview: Champ Returns as Favorite

February 25, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The MHSAA Division 4 Team Wrestling Finals feature the smallest schools competing in our state. 

But they also included the headlining finish from last season’s championship matches at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

New Lothrop ended Hudson’s record five-year title streak by downing the Tigers 33-22 – and the Hornets return to Kellogg this weekend as favorites to repeat.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 1 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 9:30 Saturday morning and the championship match at 4 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.TV. For results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page. (Records below are based on those submitted for the Individual Finals.)

#1 New Lothrop

Record/rank: 26-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference.  
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 14th season (365-65)
Championship history: 13 MHSAA championships (most recent 2014), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Tommy Malloy (34-19) fr., 112 Connor Krupp (34-12) soph., 130 Dalton Birchmeier (32-9) sr., 135 Cole Hersch (46-0) jr., 140 Gabe Bennett (36-3) sr., 145 Steven Garza II (36-0) jr., 145 Trevor Copes (29-10) sr., 152 Johnny Robinson (33-11) jr., 160 Erik Birchmeier (34-8) soph., 171 Joe Fisher (16-5) sr., 189 Caleb Symons (44-1) jr., 285 David Robertson (34-19) sr.
Outlook: New Lothrop’s title last winter was its first since 2004 and keyed in large part by eventual and now-graduated individual champions Josh Wendling and Taylor Krupp. But Symons, usually unable to break into the lineup at the same weights as those two, also was a hero of last year’s final weekend. Bennett, Garza and Connor Krupp are returning Individual Finals placers, and Hersch is considered a contender next weekend as well.

#2 Decatur

Record/rank: 29-2, No. 4
League finish: Second in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Coach: Brian Southworth, 31st season (639-206-3)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 David Helmuth (44-8) soph., 130 Ethan May (45-11) soph., 145 Elijah Luth (41-10) jr., 152 Hunter Bell (50-1) sr., 189 Cole Southworth (45-7) sr., 285 Logan Kennedy (23-2) soph.
Outlook: Decatur returns to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012, having conquered No. 3 Lawton in their District Final after finishing behind Lawton in the SAC standings and falling to the Blue Devils in District Finals the last two seasons. Half the starting lineup is underclassmen, but Kennedy was an Individual Finals placer last season, as were Cole Southworth and Bell.

#3 Hudson

Record/rank: 21-5, No. 2
League finish: Tied for first in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Scott Marry, 27th season (713-151)
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), runner-up 2014.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dylan Leathers (24-13) jr., 119 Roddy Hamdan (37-7) sr., 125 Tyler Roberts (26-15) sr., 130 Michael Prock (34-12) sr., 145 Mason Lopinski (34-5) jr., 152 Kyle Johnson (41-6) jr., 171 Clayton Brockway (28-16) sr., 189 Mitch Ely (28-13) sr., 189 Tylor Grames (30-17) soph.
Outlook: Hudson is capable of starting another title run with five Individual Finals placers in the lineup this weekend including Johnson, the reigning champion at 152, and Hamdan, the runner-up at 112 last season. The Tigers edged No. 5 Springport in the Regional Final to advance after sharing the LCAA championship with Division 3 top-ranked Dundee.

#4 Manchester

Record/rank: 28-7, No. 7
League finish: Tied for first in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Steve Vlcek, 25th season (500-181)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Reese Fry (29-12) fr., 112 Brendan Abrigo (45-1) sr., 119 Ethan Woods (38-8) soph., 135 Nick Dettling (45-6) sr., 140 Brock Vlcek (45-3) sr., 145 Corey Johnson (41-7) sr., 152 Matt Cuevas (38-11) sr., 152 Garrick Ockerman (28-19) sr., 160 Trevor Humphrey (45-4) jr., 285 Stevie Suliman (33-17) jr.
Outlook: Manchester also is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. The Flying Dutchmen scored at least 60 points in all three of their postseason wins to get to Battle Creek after sharing their league title with No. 6 Addison. Abrigo was the Individual Finals runner-up at 103 last season, and Woods finished sixth at that weight.

#5 Leroy Pine River

Record/rank: 25-5, No. 8
League finish: First in Highland Conference.
Coach: Tim Jones, 16th season (424-95)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nate Park (38-7) jr., 103 Andrew Park (28-7) fr., 112 Jordan Stone (44-8) sr., 119 Tony Moore (44-6) sr., 125 Tucker Fansler (36-15) soph., 135 Phil Ragatzki (27-16) sr., 171 Jeff Gross (33-11) sr., 189 Tyler McCurry (39-10) sr., 215 Dominic Garcia (25-4) jr., 215 Josh Jackson (39-8) jr., 285 Chase Morrison (37-6) jr.
Outlook: Pine River has dominated its league and District with 15 championships over the last 16 seasons at both stages. This is the Bucks’ first trip to the Quarterfinals since 2008 and has come after four tournament wins by an average score of 67-13. Stone should be an Individual Finals contender after placing eighth at 112 last season.

#6 Norway

Record/rank: 18-5, unranked
League finish: First in Mid Peninsula Athletic Conference.
Coach: Nick Burkland, sixth season (84-32)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Dylan Hoffart (39-3) soph., 140 Cole Gonzalez (40-1) sr., 152 Tanner Gonzalez (36-4) soph., 160 Taylor Bonetti (47-4) sr.
Outlook: Norway’s surge continues as it is making the trip to Battle Creek for the third straight year and is a combined 68-6 in duals over the last three seasons. The Knights have moved up one seed each of these Quarterfinal trips and return 10 wrestlers from last season’s lineup. Cole Gonzalez and Bonetti both were Individual Finals placers in 2014.

#7 Climax-Scotts/Martin

Record/rank: 22-4, unranked
League finish: Third in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Co-coaches: Jason Wade, 10th season (N/A); Pete Boyd, 27th season (531-234) 
Championship history: Martin was Class D champion in 2008, Division 4 runner-up in 2004 and Class D runner-up in 1991 and 1987.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Dayton VanderPloeg (34-8) jr., 145 Todd Myers (35-8) jr., 152 Zack Mobley (43-9) jr., 215 Ethan Simmons (37-5) soph.
Outlook: These two schools formed a cooperative program this season for the first time and finished third together in one of the toughest small-school wrestling leagues in the state. VanderPloeg finished fourth at 103 pounds at last season’s Individual Finals and brings championship experience to a lineup with only two seniors. Climax-Scotts/Martin edged both Hesperia and Kent City by a point apiece to win the Regional.

#8 Cass City

Record/rank: 40-10, unranked
League finish: First in Greater Thumb Conference.
Coach: Don Markel, 30th season (521-343-2)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 140 Darrin Dickson (38-11) soph., 189 T.J. Moore (45-7) soph.
Outlook: Cass City is making its first trip to the Quarterfinals but has won nine league and five District titles under Markel, who took over the program heading into the 1985-86 season. The Red Hawks bounced back from two straight sub-.500 seasons to make this historical run with only five seniors on the roster but 10 wrestlers total with at least 30 wins this winter.

PHOTO: New Lothrop's Caleb Symons (right) earned a major decision in last season's Division 4 Final win and will be among those counted on again this weekend.  (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)