The 2016 finals featured wrestlers from all over the state, and plenty from the area, but saw the Trojans fall just short of qualifying.
This year, they are back. Senior Levi Six and junior Zach Sykes are ready to take Fruitport back to the top of the wrestling world, after being robbed of the spotlight last year.
Six, who earned All-State honors after his sixth-place finish in his sophomore season, was sidelined for his junior year with a broken arm. His state-bound teammate, Sykes, lost in the blood round of the regional tournament last season— falling one victory short of a dance at the Palace.
“It stunk last year seeing kids I had wrestled and beaten placing high at the state meet,” Six said of watching from the stands. “I’m ready to go out there and wrestle out of my mind.”
“I lost in the blood round to a kid I could have beat,” Sykes said. “My mind was going a mile a minute. I’m not going to let that situation repeat this year.”
The revenge tour began as soon as last season ended, with Sykes rehabbing his ego, and Six, his arm.
“With Zach, his practicing has gotten a lot better. He hasn’t really stopped wrestling since that loss in the blood round,” Fruitport head coach Rick Sykes said of his state-bound son. “I think it was probably one of the best losses he ever took. He really hasn’t stopped. He got a lot of off-season workouts in and now, I’ll admit, he is even stronger than me, mentally.
“Levi (Six), he is just an athlete. I kept telling him to chip away the rust after being out for so long. Because of the athlete he is, I knew he would get back there.”
Even with the hard work and natural ability, there was no smooth sailing into the state meet. The revenge tour took its first stop in the district tournament, one of the tougher venues on the road to the Palace.
Of the 56 wrestlers in the district, 40 advanced through the regional to the state finals, making a district title hard to come by.
Sykes got his first dose of success there, capturing a district championship over the state’s sixth-ranked wrestler in his weight class of 103 pounds.
“Going in there, I knew I had to wrestle the sixth-ranked kid, I was eighth. Not that rankings mean anything, but it is a thing,” Sykes said of the title match. “I just knew when I went out there it didn’t matter, and that it would be good.
“My dad asked, ‘You ready kid?’ and I just said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I got this.’”
“If I go up to him and he says, ‘I’ve go this’, I know he is good,” dad said. “If he sits there and listens to me that means he wants to, if not, he tells me to just stop talking,” he joked.
While Sykes got his first taste of redemption, the district tournament left another bad taste in Six’s mouth. He finished runner-up at 152 pounds, losing in the title match.
The top-four wrestlers from each weight class move on to regionals, where the results repeated themselves, with Sykes grabbing a title and Six taking second.
“It prepares you,” Six said of the tough playoff run. “I’m not upset with having a tough district because it shows me what I have to work on and pushes me a little bit. You do get sick of seeing the same kids, but the more times you wrestle them, the more chances you have to beat them.”
“I like having the tougher competition,” Sykes said. “It means more winning against tougher people than being 40-0 against bad competition.”
The run to the state meet took all they had individually, now, the two wrestlers are representing much more than themselves, a fact that is not lost on the duo. For Six, his final bout as a Trojan carries special significance.
“I love Fruitport,” Six said. “I want to do my best for the school, the town and the community. It doesn’t feel good to be close to done with Fruitport sports, I’ve been in them my entire life.
“I always wanted to be a Fruitport varsity football player and Fruitport varsity wrestler. It is crazy it is done so soon. So I am going to make the most out of this weekend and go out with a bang.”
“I would do anything for this school,” Sykes echoed. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
With a chip on their shoulder and a community on their minds, the Trojan duo has high hopes for their final show at the Palace.
“My goal is to place at least top-three,” Six said. “Sophomore year I wrestled out of my element and took it to the next level, that’s what I’m trying to do this weekend, just go out there and whoop on everybody.”
In his first state finals appearance, Sykes has his sights set high.
“My original goal was just to make it there,” he said. “Now, I want to be greedy, and be a state champion. You have to just keep adding to your goals and keep making them tougher.”
The Fruitport coaching staff has no problem with the bravado.
“I would not be shocked at all if we saw both of these guys in the finals,” coach Sykes said. “Their progression through the season has been amazing, they are peaking at the right time.”
“Through the whole season, even when we faltered, all our kids fell forward. When we take a loss, we take it on the chin and fall forward. I have all the faith in the world in our boys,” assistant coach Craig Steward said.
The selling point for coach Sykes is the perspective these two boys, and their teammates, have found through adversity.
“They got out of their heads,” he said. “Winning is important to them, but they are enjoying the whole process. “The winning, the losing, the training, the team, the whole process of this sport, they are enjoying.”
With all their hard work, their teams’ reputation and their own psyches on the line, Six and Sykes are ready to finish off the tour, with nothing but victory on their minds.
“If you ain’t first,” Six said. “You’re last.”