The Algonac wrestling team seems to be picking up right where it left off last winter.
The Muskrats, who finished last season with seven all-state wrestlers, kicked off their 2022-23 campaign yesterday by winning the Battle for the Belt, an annual meet between Algonac, Marysville, Port Huron, and St. Clair.
They first defeated Port Huron (66-12) while St. Clair defeated Marysville (48-33). Algonac then defeated St. Clair 70-6 in the championship.
“We’ve just been chomping at the bit to wrestle somebody else besides a fellow Muskrat,” head coach Brian Ranger said. “We’ve got a pretty tough squad and they just battle every single day in the practice room, so it was really nice and refreshing to get to wrestle an opponent.”
Ranger said his “usuals” like Sky Langewicz, Lucky Gartin, Chris Campbell, Steven Shannon, Josh Kasner, and David Clemons – many of whom were all-state last year – performed as expected, picking up solid wins to start their seasons.
And while the majority of Algonac’s lineup remains the same as last season, there were a couple of freshmen Ranger said he was particularly excited about.
“Jack Reyes (106-lbs) only weighs 91 pounds….he’s giving up 15 pounds every time he wrestles, but the kid is a phenomenal wrestler,” Ranger said. “When he won that first match 4-3, I thought that was awesome and it kind of got the crowd going.”
And at 150-lbs, freshman Julian Walker won both of his matches on the day, ending with an aggressive 19-7 major decision victory over St. Clair.
“He came off the mat and was a little upset with himself and I said, ‘Julian, you scored 19 points, you must’ve done a few things right,’” Ranger said.
While winning the Battle for the Belt might not be new for the Algonac wrestling program, as the team has won it every year since 2016, this time was a bit more exciting as the Muskrats got to compete in front of their entire student body in the first-ever assembly dual.
During the competition with Port Huron, hundreds of seventh- through 12th-grade students filled the bleachers to cheer on their classmates. Ranger said he was thankful to the administration for allowing the inaugural event to take place, as well as the Big Reds for being willing to wrestle in front of “700 screaming muskrats.”
“I thought Port Huron wrestled their butts off. They came into a pretty hostile environment with a young team and they battled,” Ranger said. “I thought they battled from the first match to the last match. They made our guys earn every single point so I appreciated that.”
Port Huron head coach Brandon Wardlow said he was proud of his young team’s effort.
“I’m excited to see where we end up. Last year was our first year of putting together some actual dual wins in a long time. I took the program over last year and prior to that, I think they had five kids,” Wardlow said. “I did a lot of recruiting. We filled the lineup last year, we’re filling the lineup this year, and I think we have a good chance of doing something in our MAC. I’m not going to say outright that we’re going to win, but that’s our goal.
“I know our kids are hungry. If you were to ask Algonac, they’d probably say our kids had more fight than most that were here today, and that’s what we pride ourselves on.”
Port Huron sophomore Christopher Hinojosa (285-lbs) won both of his matches on the day, highlighting the Big Reds’ performance. He was one of just three wrestlers to defeat a Muskrat, and he helped his team to a narrow victory over Marysville, securing the pin that gave his team a lead with one match to go. Sophomore Brenden Vertigan (106-lbs) then won the final match by pin.
“[Hinojosa] was one of our varsity wrestlers last year. We started off last year with a really, really young team. We had nine freshmen in our varsity lineup, and he was one of them. His dedication in the offseason has really shown,” Wardlow said. “I think this year it’s going to be pretty surprising for people to see him as a sophomore on varsity winning as many matches as he’s going to. He’s a really hardworking kid, he knows what he’s doing and he’s a smart kid, and he’s always trying to get better.”
Wardlow also called sophomore Parker Quinn (165 lbs) a “nice surprise” after he picked up a win over Algonac as well.
“He was able to go out there and get a pin against an equally matched opponent,” Wardlow said. “When you have an opponent who’s equal and you can go out there and pull out a win, it tells me that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Much like Port Huron, Marysville is also experiencing a growth in numbers in the practice room, which head coach Doug Ferrier said has been both exciting and challenging.
“We’ve never had a team this big, so kids are still trying to get acclimated to having a lot of kids in the room,” Ferrier said. “But having a full lineup is going to be a big difference for us. Usually, we give up 20 to 40 points every time we wrestle, so this was the first dual meet in probably four years that we didn’t have a void.”
Against St. Clair, despite the loss, the Vikings managed to recover from an 18-9 deficit before earning three straight pins from Connor Babel (138-lbs), James Onyski (144-lbs), and Colin Sabo (150-lbs) to take a 27-18 lead.
“It just shows that our older guys feed off each other. Once the ball gets rolling, the older guys can usually keep it going, and then inexperience kills us,” Ferrier said. “But I’m proud of the guys, they’re working hard…Hopefully once everybody falls in the right weight classes instead of being so bunched up together, we’ll be able to compete a little bit better.”
As for St. Clair, head coach Jake Scillian said he was glad to see his athletes respond well in their match against Marysville as they were able to pin four of their last five opponents to secure the team victory.
“I liked that they were able to step up and get the job done. We knew that it was a close match and we talk about bonus points all the time. We gave up some bonus points, but they came back,” Scillian said. “They’re listening, they’re doing a good job of trying out some of the moves from the room and listening to the corner, we’ve just got to get a little more intense, a little tougher.”
The Saints will also need to get a little healthier, as they were missing 11 from their lineup yesterday due to illness and injury. But Scillian said his team will be back and ready soon.
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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