The Buccaneers entered Thursday’s team district competition as the favorite to add to their trophy case, but it wasn’t exactly a breeze for the squad.
After defeating O-K Red Conference foe West Ottawa, 54-19, in the district opener, the reigning champs were pushed by Mona Shores in the district final.
The Buccaneers used an early 18-0 advantage due to forfeits by the challenging Sailors to hold off the Sailors for a 41-27 win.
“They outwrestled us, in my opinion,” said Grand Haven coach Vince Gervais after the match. “They were more ready to go and more prepared. We came away with the win, but it’s not always about wins. Sometimes it’s about performance, and I thought they outperformed us, tonight.
“Some of the guys wrestled really well, but collectively, I wasn’t very pleased with the way we competed. Mona Shores wrestled more inspired than we did, and they were more aggressive. I think we’re much more capable than what we showed.”
After starting the match with an 18-point advantage, the Bucs dropped the first two matches of the round to the Sailors to bring the score to 18-11.
Allen Rademaker added a pinfall win (3 minutes, 42 seconds) at the 145-pound bout and Bryan Batten would add an 11-6 decision at 152 pounds to push the lead up to 27-11 for the Bucs.
After a major decision win by Mona Shores at 160 pounds, Brandon Diaz would add a major decision win (13-4) of his own at the 171-pound bout to balloon the lead to 31-15 for Grand Haven.
The teams would trade wins through the final five matches with Grand Haven senior Drake Morley adding a 13-5 major decision win at 215 pounds, followed by a pinfall win by Cody Miller at 112 pounds to close the match at its final tally of 41-27.
“Drake wrestled really, really well,” said Gervais. “Cody Miller also wrestled strong, tonight. In his first match against Jace Garza (West Ottawa), he won by a 1-0 decision. That kid had beaten him at the conference tournament last Friday and was a state-qualifier last year, so Cody wrestled really smart against him and followed that up with another strong match against Mona Shores.
“In the first dual against West Ottawa, Caleb Braley had a nice match, Rademaker had two solid matches and Nate Perez wrestled hard, too. He came up on the wrong side of the decision, but it wasn’t due to lack of effort. Riley Rhone wrestled well, too, but he just made a few minor mistakes that ended up costing him against a quality opponent.”
Advancing in the postseason is always a unique challenge year-to-year, but Gervais felt like his team left a lot on the mats Thursday night.
“This time of the year, you want to win and move on, but for me, I also want to feel good about how we performed, and I don’t feel good about how we wrestled, collectively,” he added. “I’m happy for the guys, and I’m glad we continued the tradition of brining home district titles.
“At the same time, I know we’re better than what we showed, and it’s my job as a the coach to make sure we don’t get complacent. I hope this motivated them for individual districts on Saturday. I told them after that match that Saturday is an opportunity to change from how we preformed today.”
The district title gives the Buccaneers wrestling program four straight championships and 17 titles in the last 19 seasons.
“It means a lot to me,” Gervais added. “Winning a district title is always meaningful. It’s something every team strives to do, so we don’t take it for granted. It means we get to continue to compete as a team for another week, so that’s always good for the program. It gives everyone a reason to be at practice longer, and that’s a good thing.
“That’s the reason I took over this program. I wanted to continue the tradition here at Grand Haven and make it even stronger over time.”
Grand Haven will have a short turnaround and as they now prepare to host the Division 1 individual districts Saturday beginning at 9:30 a.m.
“We have quite a few individuals that have a good chance of making it out of the individual district if they wrestle to their capabilities,” Gervais continued. “We had seven kids advance last year, and I think we could match that or even exceed that.
“What’s fun about the individual postseason is that whoever is working the hardest will advance. There are always kids that surprise me in a good way. These kids work hard and that always pays off eventually.”
As a team, the Buccaneers advance to face Grandville in the Division 1 regional at Forest Hills Central High School on Wednesday. The winner will advance to take on the winner between Caledonia and Rockford in the regional final.