Dakota Juarez is no stranger to the individual wrestling state finals.
The Buccaneers’ senior placed seventh in the state as a freshman; third as a sophomore; and was fourth last year as a junior.
This weekend, Juarez hopes to become Grand Haven’s first individual state champion since John Houseman in 2008 when he leads a trio of Bucs to The Palace of Auburn Hills for the individual state finals.
“Obviously, I’m looking to come out on top,” the soft-spoken Juarez said. “I’m used to the experience. You have to stay calm and relaxed; act like it’s a normal practice; stay under control and not try to do anything that you’re not used to doing.”
Juarez has certainly been in control this season as he’s defeated every challenger, carrying a perfect 38-0 record into the finals at 160 pounds. He’ll open up against Zach Carter of Waterford Kettering (37-12) on Thursday afternoon.
While Juarez has experience on his side, the same can’t be said for his teammates. Junior Chase VanHoef is making his first trip to the finals, having overcome a brutal regional tournament to get there.
Fellow junior Aaron Cummings only started wrestling two years ago, proving he’s a quick study by reaching the state meet with so little experience under his belt.
“Dakota is a senior, a three-time state medalist, and he’s as good as anybody in the state if he wrestles the way he’s capable this weekend,” Bucs’ coach James Richardson said. “Chase had an unbelievably tough regional. The No. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9 ranked boys in the state were in his (285-pound) weight class, and only four go to state. He had to beat the No. 3 and the No. 7 kids to qualify, which is quite an accomplishment.”
As for Cummings, Richardson is wowed by how quickly the youngster has come along in a difficult sport.
“I’m really proud of Aaron. Not many second-year wrestlers qualify for the state tournament,” Richardson said. “He was runner-up in what was without question the toughest regional in the state. He had to beat a boy from Hartland who had pinned him earlier in the season.”
In that match, Cummings trailed, but scored a reversal in the final 15 seconds for a 13-12 win.
“He beat him with great effort,” Richardson said. “He wrestled well, but his effort was incredible.”
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