By Jason Wesseldyk
As he enters his 13th season as head coach of his alma mater, Steve Fries has a big goal for the 2022-23 campaign.
“One of our big goals this year is to support the girls on our team by sending them to as many girls only tournaments as possible,” he said.
Those girls include junior newcomer Diana Garcia, who is slated to compete at 115 pounds.
Other newcomers include junior Taylor Correa (190) and freshmen Hugh Lowing (126) and Jayden Sneller (144).
That group joins returning letterwinners like sophomore Cory Alsip (132), junior Bryce Trinklein (165) and junior Jacob Williams (285).
“This season we will be a little young, as far as experienced wrestlers,” Fries said. “However, we have a tough group of young men and women who will give us everything they have.”
That acronym—which stands for Respect, Encouragement, Accountability, Commitment and Trust—is at the heart of the way first-year Hamilton coach Trenton Holyfield plans to run his program.
“My philosophy is that if we follow these characteristics, we will not only be great wrestlers, but we will also be better human beings,” said Holyfield, who also spent four years as an assistant coach at Remus Chippewa Hills.
Although this is Holyfield’s first year as head coach for the Hawkeyes, he is no newcomer to the program.
I addition to starring for Hamilton on the mats during his high school days, Holyfield has served as an assistant coach with the Hawkeyes for the past two seasons under longtime coach Greg Stoel.
Holyfield inherits a team that posted a 29-3 record a season ago—with all three losses coming to Allendale—and won a district championship.
It the Hawkeyes are to replicate that level of success, then some younger wrestlers will need to step up as there are only two seniors on the roster.
Rather than viewing the youthful makeup of his team as a detriment, however, Holyfield sees it as the opposite.
“The fact that we’re a very young team is a strength,” he said.
Seth Nevins is one of the two seniors for Hamilton. He returns at 285 pounds.
Other returning wrestlers are sophomores Malachi Kapenga (113/120), Eli Ramsey (138), Jacob Chase (144), Nate Friday (157) and Shane Dams (215) along with juniors Ethan Goodwin (113/120), Michael Olson (132/138), Brandon Olson (144), Bryce Tucker (190) and Remy Foster (190).
Freshman Bryce Morrison (126) is among the newcomers hoping to make an impact.
As sophomores last year, Colton Kennedy and Max Pigeon shined for Hopkins, as both qualified for the Division 3 state finals.
This year, longtime Hopkins coach Joel Eding will be looking for more of the same from that dynamic duo.
“Colton and Max will lead the way for us,” Eding said.
Kennedy is slated to compete at 138 pounds, with Pigeon at 106/113.
Other returning wrestlers include fellow juniors Owen Jackson (144), Noah Wilfong (150) and Hannah Peck (110) along with senior Carson Schricker (165) and sophomores Jacob Helder (113), Caden Brown (132), Zac Weirenga (144) and Aaron Arnsman (157).
Newcomers who will vie for a spot in the starting lineup include freshmen Cooper Anderson (112), Abe Krussell (120) and Levi Jackson (165/175); sophomores Luke VanSlyke (150) and Wyatt Harmsen (285); junior Isaac Koperski (144/150).
Winning an individual state tournament as a freshman is an impressive task.
And that’s exactly what Logan Gilbert did last year as part of the combined Martin/Climax-Scotts squad.
Gilbert, who is slated to compete at 108 pounds, is one of 14 returning grapplers from a team that went 25-13 last season, winning conference and district titles along the way.
Having such an experienced roster will help Logan Curry as he navigates his first season as head coach.
Curry, who competed at Martin and served as an assistant coach the past several years, is taking over for legendary Clippers coach Pete Boyd. Boyd retired following last season.
“We return also our entire lineup, which obviously helps,” Curry said. “We do have a big group of kids who are all around the 113 to 132 weight classes, so we’ll have to figure out how to space out some of those kids to get them all in the lineup.”
Senior JR Hildebrand joins Gilbert as a returning All-State performer after placing fourth at the finals last year. He’ll compete at 165.
Other returning letterwinners include: seniors Drake Buell (150) and Aden Chambers (175); juniors Matt Noble (150), Kristian Heighton (113), Max Bleeker (285) and Josh Walmann (157); and sophomores Jayce Ritchie (120), Jonathan Owen (190), Matt Holmes (138), Cole Reitz (120), Sam Bleeker (215) and Jackson Bagwell (150).
Top newcomers include senior Chris Tuinstra (157) along with freshmen Hayden Buell (132), Jackson Andrews (150), Malcom Smith (165) and Ryan Pejakovich (190).
All in all, it’s a roster Curry believes in capable of some great things.
“Our team goal is to be wrestling at Wings Event Center (for the state finals) on February 24 and 25,” Curry said. “In the SAC, we should be right at the top competing for another conference title.”
Good leaders know the importance of surrounding themselves with a strong support network.
Plainwell coach Rodd Leonard—who has won the past two Wolverine Conference Coach of the Year Awards and was Regional Coach of the Year last season—has done just that with assistant coaches Jaylyn Bohl and Travis Reardon.
Bohl is a former standout wrestler from the area who was named Regional Assistant Coach of the Year last year, while Reardon previously served as head coach for the Trojans.
“My best accomplishment was hiring Jaylyn and Travis,” said Leonard, who is 101-51 in his six seasons with Plainwell. “They are the heartbeat of our success.
“The knowledge between the two of them makes my job as head coach much easier. They both have taken this team to a different level from the recent past and brought back Plainwell wrestling to where it used to be.”
The return of several talented wrestlers should also help Plainwell’s cause as the Trojans hope to defend last year’s Wolverine Conference title as the team posted an overall mark of 26-3.
Senior three-time state qualifier Trammel Robinson (165/174) leads the charge. Sophomore heavyweight Adin Young also qualified for the state finals last year.
Other returning wrestlers include seniors Tyler Preuss (190), Matthew Beck (157), Steele Madison (138), Landon Dixon-Schuhmacher (215), Luke Lyons (174/190) and Trenton Cooper (157); and juniors Mason Meert (150/157) and Michael Gonveau (138/144).
Newcomers include freshman Madison Nieuwenhuis (106), who is ranked 17th in the nation at 100 pounds for girls.
“We’re loaded with seniors and some quality underclassmen, which allows our lineup to be respectable,” Leonard said. “A key will be to stay healthy, as last year we had a starter or two out of every match.”
Preseason rankings have Plainwell at 10th in Division 2.
“We have revamped our schedule to wrestle high-quality tournaments to get us ready for the postseason,” Leonard said. “We’re focused on winning a third district team title in the last four years and making a run to team state.”
With a lineup filled with experienced returning wrestlers, it’s no surprise that Wayland coach Roy Harter has high hopes for the new season.
“We have a lot of returners who plan on having a very good season,” Harter said. “As far as team goals, we want to be district champs, academic All-State as a team and having three or less dual losses.”
On paper, Middleville should present the stiffest challenge for Wayland, both in the OK Gold Conference and at districts.
The Trojans won both titles last season, with the Wildcats placing runner-up.
“We plan on winning that district title this year,” Harter said.
Returning wrestlers include seniors CJ Karman (113/120), Lucas DeWeerd (132/138), Aadon Wagner (138/144), Emmet Manning (157/165), Dustin Loomans (165/175), Bronson Huyck (215/285) and Nick Erlanger (285); juniors Danny Keena (106/113), Ty Langley (126), Carter Nesbit (132/138), David Harter (157/165) and Cainon Fenn (175/180); and sophomores Jody Bitner (106), Lane Button (144/150) and Trent Sikkema (175/190).
Harter also expects big things from returning sophomore Alexis Hozeska (125) following her solid freshman season.
Several newcomers will compete for lineup slots as the team boasts more than 40 wrestlers.
“We have a big group, which is great,” Harter said. “We’ll rely a lot on the leadership from our senior and junior classes.”
NOTE: No preview information was received from Allegan or Otsego prior to deadline.