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No rest for the champs

Duncan MacLean • Feb 13, 2017 at 12:14 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — With what has become a traditional team district championship in the bag, the Grand Haven wrestling team found no rest over the weekend. For the storied and successful Bucs wrestling program, there is always one more hurdle.

Grand Haven hosted the Division 1 individual district championship tournament on Saturday, testing wrestlers from the area against a gauntlet of high-level competition for district bragging rights and a spot at the regional championships.

Photos from Saturday’s individual wrestling districts

After what head coach Vince Gervais thought was a less than stellar performance by his wrestlers at the team event last week, the Bucs responded with resilience and toughness. They sent five wrestlers to championship matches and six qualified for this weekend’s regional competition.

“Much better,” coach Gervais said of the performance. “We responded, put five in the final and six through to regionals. I wish we had wrestled a little better in the final round, but it was good competition.

“We battled today, I’m pretty pleased with the way we performed today.”

Drake Morley finished off his day in style, donning an arm-brace and wrapped ankle, the 215-pounder rose through his bracket eventually making the championship bout. He took a hard-fought district championship by decision, 4-1.

“He has battled through adversity, he found a way to win and wrestled some close matches today,” Gervais said. “He is such a smart and gritty kid. He navigated a tough bracket and found his way to the finals. Just wrestling well, staying within himself.”

Morley did not dismiss the adversity; injuries to his arm and ankle have threatened his season, but rarely set him back.

“It feels really good,” he said of his title. “I won it last year so to come back and win it again feels great. I was just trying to wrestle smart and do what I had to do to win. It (ankle) hurts.”

“No one is ever 100-percent this time of year,” Gervais said of the injuries. “Very rarely do you find a guy who is 100-percent. Everyone is dealing with something — sickness, an arm, knees, back issues, it is always something. We are just finding a way to win.”

The other four Grand Haven wrestlers to reach the title round fell to stalwart competition.

In the 112-pound division, Cody Miller took on a defending state-medalist from Hudsonville, falling by decision, 7-3.

Caleb Braley ascended through the 118-pound bracket to take on a two-time state qualifier, dropping the decision, 8-2.

In the 130-pound bracket, Daniel Guillen’s challenger from Grandville had given up just three points on the day. Guillen fell by a narrow decision, 8-5.

Finally, Bryan Batten took on a defending state champion in the 152-pound title match, falling to the champ, 17-4.

“They wrestled to their ability,” Gervais said. “That’s the thing about our sport, you can wrestle your bet and still lose, they wrestled some good competition.”

The top four wrestlers in each bracket earn the right to wrestle on at the individual regional championship tournament on Feb. 18. Also qualifying for the Bucs was Caleb Monsma with a third place finish at 285 pounds.

The district tournament served as a confidence boost after a less than satisfying team title. Now, the Bucs look forward to a true test of grit in the team regional tournament on Wednesday.

The Bucs will take on perennial powerhouse Grandville in the first round of the regional tournament at Forest Hills Central High School. At Saturday’s district event, the Bulldogs qualified 12 wrestlers for the individual regional tournament, winning six weight classes in the process.

“Grandville is a really good team,” Gervais said. “We will do our best to get them (Grand Haven) prepared and see how they respond.”

The Bucs’ next move comes against familiar competition, with a few O-K Red Conference members clashing in the postseason. Should the Bucs pull of the upset in the first round, they will take on the winner of Caledonia vs. Rockford for the team regional title.

If Grand Haven is eliminated from the team tournament in the regional round, there still is a chance to send some Bucs to the big dance.

The individual regional tournament will take place on Feb. 18 at Pickney High School. Finishing top-four at the regional tournament grants a spot at the individual state finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills, March 2-4.

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