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Strong yield

Duncan MacLean • Feb 11, 2019 at 1:04 AM

A long winter of growth for a young crop of Grand Haven wrestlers produced a plentiful harvest Saturday, as the postseason got underway with the individual district tournament.

The Bucs qualified four wrestlers to move on to the regional tournament, taking home a pair of bracket titles, along with one runner-up and one third-place finish. Senior Cody Miller fought through the 125 lbs bracket to win his first individual district title, while Riley Rhone finished atop the 103 lbs bracket, avenging a runner-up finish from last season.

Trevor Rademaker won his 152 lbs consolation final to take third place and reserve a repeat trip to the regional tournament, while first-year wrestler Hefzur Rahman advanced to the 112 lbs final before falling in a close decision.

“We wrestled very well in that final round,” said Grand Haven head coach Vince Gervais. “Trevor, Riley and Cody have been consistent all year, and they did what I expected them to. Hefzur was a pleasant surprise as a first-year wrestler. He navigated a pretty tough chart to find his way to the final.”

The crop was almost double for Grand Haven, as six Bucs fell in the blood round — one win away from a top-four finish and a trip to the regional tournament. That group also included some surprisingly fresh wrestlers, showing promise for the future.

Kirk Marsman (21-17), Zach Boersen (26-11), Kyler Spangler (21-14), Kaleb Butcher (24-18), Michael Russo (4-4) and Elijah Copado (20-15) all lost in the blood round, one win away from a trip to the regional tournament.

“There were some mixed emotions with six guys losing in the blood round,” Gervais said. “We got four through but could have had as many as 10.

“To have a first-year wrestler make the final and a few second-year wrestlers be a match away is great, though. Copado is a second-year wrestler, Russo is a second-year guy coming off an ACL injury who really hasn’t wrestled that many matches, Marsman is a second-year wrestler. Those guys are right there.”

The early postseason success, even those disappointing last-round losses, reflects the work ethic and dedication of the 2018-19 Grand Haven wrestling squad. From their high-achieving stars to their newcomers, development over the course of the season has been obvious.

“They are buying in,” Gervais said. “They hold each other accountable to work hard and do the right things. They bought into our program and our system. It means the future looks really good for us. Those guys are already talking about spring wrestling and camps and getting in the weight room. There isn’t a shortcut for hard work, so it is fun to have them buying in as a young team.”

That development has come in large part to the teams’ leaders, who put their skill on display in the championship round Saturday.

Miller (40-1) was the first to the mat in the final round after a dominant run through his bracket. The senior recorded pins in each of his first two matches before winning via technical fall, 16-1, in the semifinals.

His championship bout lasted just 1:20, as he took down Hunter Nykamp (31-16) with a first-round pin. Miller was calm, cool and collected throughout the match, despite Nykamp pulling a few successful moves to begin the fight.

“He put in a lot of time in the offseason,” Gervais said of Miller. “He was a state qualifier last year, did 35 matches this spring, went to three camps, that does a lot for a kid. He has that confidence that he is one of the best out there and performs like it.”

“I just stayed poised,” Miller said of the match. “He went to where I am really comfortable, so I just waited for him to make a mistake and made him pay for it.”

After back-to-back runner-up finishes for Miller, there was no denying him in his final district round.

“I’ve always wanted to win this tournament,” Miller said. “I’ve finished second twice, so it felt really good to be up top on the podium. My mentality is what made the difference. Last year, I was in it to win it, but not 100 percent committed. This year, I put all my effort in and only lost one match, and it was close. Now, I have my sights set on winning regionals.”

Rhone (34-2) saw an even less contested run to the finals, as the 103 lbs bracket featured just seven challengers. The top seed from Grand Haven picked up a bye into the semifinals before grabbing a high-scoring win, 23-7, over Matthew Hakken of West Ottawa. In the finals, Rhone took down another O-K Red Conference opponent, pinning Bryson Aulbach (25-15) of Rockford in the second round, after jumping out to a 7-0 lead through the first period.

“Riley did just what I expected,” Gervais said. “I knew he was the best kid in the bracket. I told him to just go out and do what he has all year — be dominant. He has had a lot of success and believes in himself. He is one of the best kids in the state for a reason.”

The Bucs’ last championship appearance came at 112 lbs, as Rahman finished off an unlikely run through the tournament with a runner-up finish.

The sophomore (22-11) stepped onto the Grand Haven wrestling mat for the first time this fall, immediately taking to the sport. In his first individual postseason appearance, Rahman picked up a pinfall victory in the quarterfinals and an 8-2 decision over Emilio Castenada (20-8) in the semifinals, clinching a spot in the regional tournament.

Rahman met top-seeded Cade Graham out of Caledonia in the finals, battling to a 0-0 tie through the first period and holding a 1-0 deficit after the second. A near-pin in the third threatened to end the run on a sour note, but an impressive escape and reversal got Rahman on the board in the 5-2 loss.

Rademaker (27-15) fought his way into the regional tournament the hard way with a third-place finish atop the 152 lbs consolation bracket.

The junior picked up his first win via pinfall after receiving a bye through the opening round. A tough matchup with James Samuels (42-5) out of Hudsonville ended in a technical fall, 15-0, for Rademaker in the quarterfinals. A quick pin in the consolation semifinals earned him a chance at a top-three finish against Moses Bosscher (15-8) of Rockford.

The match got off to a tough start, as Rademaker trailed 2-0 after the first round before falling behind 4-0 early in the second. A textbook reversal and takedown evened the score at 4-4, before Rademaker picked up the winning two points with 30 seconds on the clock to finish off the comeback victory.

“He just had to stay composed,” Gervais said. “That’s the thing about wrestling. If there is time on the clock, there is time to score.”

While just four Bucs made it through to the next round, the entire team will continue to practice and support the regional qualifiers over their four days of practice this week. With all four qualifiers in good position, expectations are high for Grand Haven when they host the regional tournament Saturday.

“We got four through. They all put themselves in a good spot with two champions and a finalist and a third-place,” Gervais said. “This was a tough district, so hopefully that translates to success next week.

“We have four days in the room to prepare and will have the whole team there to help and support them. That is what we expect. Everyone is going to do their best to get guys prepared to punch some tickets.”

The regional tournament is scheduled to kick off at 9 a.m. Saturday, with the top four wrestlers in each weight class earning a bid to the state championship tournament.

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