Division 2 Team Preview

By Steve Widzinski
MI Grappler High School Analyst

1. St. Johns
Ranked Wrestlers: Drew Wixon (#4 103), Zac Hall (#1 112), Logan Massa (#8 119), Jacob Schmitt (#1 125), Cam Bender (#7 130), Brant Schafer (#2 135), Rory Bender (#6 135), Josh Pennell (#2 140), Ben Whitford (#1 145), Travis Curley (#2 152), Jordan Wohlfert (#1 160), Taylor Massa (#1 171), Payne Hayden (#5 189), Conrado Dominguez (#3 215)
Key Losses: Taylor Pemberton (215)
Impact Newcomers: Drew Wixson (Freshman), Logan Massa (Freshman), Ben Whitford (Transfer)

Outlook: St. Johns entered the 2010-2011 season with through the roof expectations, and did not fail to disappoint.  The Red Wings lived up to the billing of Michigan’s top team, running the gauntlet and winning every dual meet and tournament they competed in.  They capped their remarkable season in grand fashion by storming through the competition at the team finals, beating their opponents by a combined score of 177-33.  After losing just one senior to graduation and adding some additional firepower to their team, the Red Wings will have national championship aspirations in 2011-2012.  Currently ranked #3 nationally by Intermat and #4 by WIN Magazine, they will make their case for a top national ranking in scheduled dual meets against St. Edward and DCC.
Six wrestlers ranked in their weight class nationally by a major publication
will be the key ingredients to the Red Wing’s success.  At 171lbs Taylor Massa
returns for his senior year with an unblemished record in high school
competition.  He is ranked as the top senior in the country at any weight class
by Intermat, and gives the team a virtually guaranteed six points every time he
steps on the mat.  Another Red Wing held in high regard across the country is
Ben Whitford who could see time at 140 or 145.  After winning state titles in
Illinois the past two years, Whitford has returned to St. Johns for his junior
season.  He was won everything under the sun, and Intermat currently has him
ranked as the number two junior in the nation at any weight.  Having Whitford
and Massa gives St. Johns a duo of truly elite wrestlers that would be hard for
any other team in America to match.
Others on the St. Johns roster who also appear in the national rankings are
Zac Hall at 112, Jacob Schmitt at 125, Josh Pennell at 140 and Jordan Wohlfert
160.  With the exception of Pennell, all of these wrestlers are state champions
currently ranked first in their weight class in D2.  Pennell has narrowly missed
out on a state title the past two years, and is currently ranked second at 140lbs. 
Others with impressive credentials include Brant Schafer at 135, Travis Curley
at 152 and Payne Hayden at 189 who have all been All-Americans at major
national tournaments. 
This collection of superstars will be complimented by a very solid group
of role players who would be considered top wrestlers on most teams in
Michigan.  Cam Bender, Rory Bender and Conrado Dominguez are all returning
state qualifiers ranked in their weight class.  Additionally the Red Wings will gain
the services of highly regarded freshmen Drew Wixson at 103 and Logan Massa 119.  Both are ranked to start their prep career, and will fill two key spots in the Red Wing’s lowerweights.  With this wide array of talent up and down the lineup, St. Johns appears to have the best team the state of Michigan has seen in quite some time.  As of now the biggest obstacle standing in their way of a national title are MHSAA regulations that prevent the team from competing at major national tournaments like The Clash, Cheesehead and Iron Man.

2. Lowell
Ranked Wrestlers: Bailey Jack (#2 103), Nate Limmex (#2 125), Jordan Hall (#9 130), Gabe Morse (#1 140), Andrew Morse (#1 152), Angus Arthur (#5 152), Jake Stehley (#4 171), Gabe Dean (#2 189), Garrett Stehley (#4 189) Luke Stephens (#5 285)
Key Losses: Dan Fleet (152), Wade Schlosser (171)
Impact Newcomers: Nate Limmex 125 (Freshman), Jordan Hall 130/135 (Freshman), Angus Arthur 152 (Freshman), Josh Colegrove 215/285 (Freshman)

Outlook: Despite reaching the state semifinals and crowning three individual state champions, last year will probably go down as a bit of a disappointment for most Red Arrow fans.  The team never really peaked all the way, losing regular season duals to Tecumseh and Greenville that earned them the unfavorable draw of wrestling St. Johns in the semifinals at the state meet.  While it was not a bad season by any means, Lowell is a school that prides itself on excellence, and the Red Arrows may be growing a bit anxious after falling short of a state title the past two seasons.  However optimism is high in Lowell, as the team returns the majority of their firepower from a year ago and will be bolstered by the addition of a stellar freshman class.  Nine wrestlers are in the top five of their weight class in the preseason rankings for the Red Arrows, and they are pegged as a top fifty team in the country by Intermat.
All three individuals who won state titles for Lowell last year will be back
for their senior season.  Gabe Dean, ranked top five at his weight class nationally
by every major outlet, will anchor the Lowell upper weights at 189 and 215. 
Joining Dean as returning state champions are the Morse brothers, Gabe and
Andrew.  Gabe will likely see time at 140 and 145, while Andrew will wrestle
primarily at 152.  All of these wrestlers are already committed to wrestle for major
DI programs next year, and will be the back bone of the Red Arrow’s lineup.
Other Lowell wrestlers with big time experience include Bailey Jack and
Garret Stehley who were both state placers as freshman last year.  Stehley will
likely alternate with Dean at 189 and 215, while Jack will anchor the bottom of
the lineup at 103.  Other returning state qualifiers are Kanon Dean at 160, Jake
Stehley at 171 and Luke Stephens 285.  This group of established wrestlers will
be joined by a phenomenal group of freshman that is filled with future superstars
who are prepared to make an immediate impact.  At 125lbs Nate Limmex has had
a great preseason, and is currently ranked second in D2.  Angush Arthur comes
in ranked fifth at 152, and is our top ranked wrestler at any weight in the class of
2015.  Others including ninth ranked Jordan Hall at 130 and Josh Colegrove at
215/285 make this class as good as any in recent memory.
Despite all this talent, the cards are still stacked against Lowell as far as
winning a state title.   Unlike St. Johns, they have some unaccounted for weight
classes where they will need new faces to emerge.  There is no question that a
lot of things will have to go in their favor if they are going to win a title, but it is
definitely not out of the realm possibility.  With this much firepower and the
exceptional coaches around them it is far too early to count out the Red Arrows.

3. Greenville
Ranked Wrestlers: Mike Schmidt (#3 103), Alec Ward (#9 125), Devon Lehman (#6 140), Lukas Gilmore (#6 145), Jordan Thomas (#1 189), Kaleb Bell (#10 189), Colt Harrington (#9 285)
Key Losses: Josh Juarez (140), Adam Bonner (160), Justin Zimmer (285)

Outlook: 2010-2011 will go down as a successful season for the Yellow Jackets, who improved throughout the year and seemed to really hit their full potential in the later stages of the season.  They scored some big wins to reach the state finals, where their season eventually came to a halt against the formidable St. Johns.  Individually Jordan Thomas won a state title, and three others reached the podium.
While they lose a few big guns, the bulk of their lineup is back for 2012.  In Jordan Thomas they have a true superstar that any team in the state would envy.  Thomas has won state titles the past two seasons, and is ranked top ten at 182lbs by every major national outlet.  Outside of Thomas they don’t have any big names, but the lineup is littered with solid wrestlers who have all-state potential.
Anchoring the lower weights will be returning starters Mike Schmidt and Alec Ward.  Schmidt will likely be back at 103 after qualifying last year, and is ranked third to start the year.  At 125 Ward returns after coming a match away from the state meet as a freshman in 2011.  In the middle of the lineup Devon Lehman and Luke Gilmore give the Yellow Jackets a pair of reliable veteran wrestlers.  Lehman is a returning state qualifier who will wrestle at 140 and 145, while Gilmore has placed at the state meet twice and will likely see time at 145 and 152.  Joining Thomas in the upper weights will be regional qualifiers Kaleb Bell at 189 and Colt Harrington at 285.  Both are ranked in their weight class and round out Greenville’s lineup very nicely.

4. Allegan
Ranked Wrestlers: Austin Kelley (#4 119), Kyle Simaz (#4 135), Taylor Simaz (#2 145), Andrew Kelley (#2 160), Chance Gorby (#7 171)
Key Losses: Andrew Betke (103), Mike Shaw (125), Steve Blank (215)

Outlook: Following the departure of a stellar senior class in 2010, last year’s Allegan team was filled with new faces and young talent.  While there may have been a bit of a learning curve at first, the Tigers improved as the year went on and came within sniffing distance of beating Tecumseh in the state quarterfinals.  Three key seniors from last year’s team are gone, but the majority of the lineup remains intact for 2011-2012.  The Tigers certainly have some firepower, and an extra year of experience should go a long way towards improving many of their role players who were first year starters last season.
The bulk of Allegan’s firepower will come from two pair of brothers with impressive track records.  The Simaz brothers, Taylor and Kyle, are part of an impressive tradition of wrestling success within their family.  Taylor will be a senior this year, and is the Tiger’s top wrestler.  He was a state champion in 2010, and is ranked nationally at 145lbs by WIN Magazine.  After an improbable run to the state finals last March Kyle will be back at 130 or 135lbs.  He made waves as a freshman last year, knocking off two former state champions along the way to his runner-up finish at The Palace.  The Kelleys are another pair of brothers who will be heavily relied upon by Allegan.  At 119lbs Austin is ranked fourth and will be the Tigers best weapon down low.  Andrew is ranked second at 160lbs after reaching all-state status the past two seasons.  The final ranked wrestler on Allegan’s lineup is Chance Gorby, a returning state qualifier who will wrestle at 171.

5. Tecumseh
Ranked Wrestlers: Rick Azelton (#10 103), Chase Lewis (#3 119), Ronnie Bechtol (#4 140)
Key Losses: Colin Lesko (119), Jeff Jenkins (130), CJ Tripp (140), Tom Carney (171), Gavin Burstall (189)

Outlook: Years of hard work came to fruition in Tecumseh last year
when the Indians broke out and had their best season in recent
memory.  After falling short of the state meet in 2009 and 2010, the
team dominated their way to a regional title and came within two
points of defeating Greenville in a back and forth dual in the state
semifinals.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Tecumseh’s
success was that it came despite the presence of many true stars. 
Only two Indians placed in the top six of their weight class at the
Palace, but they made up for the lack of firepower with outstanding
balance and solidarity.  
Now that last season is in the books, the Indians will have to
make up for the lost presence of several key seniors.  They lose
six seniors from the starting lineup, five of whom were state qualifiers.
The good new for Tecumseh is that their strong depth should help ease the losses from graduation.  The big guns in the Indians lineup will be Chase Lewis at 119 and Ronnie Bechtol at 140.  Lewis is a three-time state placer who has a history of giving his best performances on the biggest stage.  Bechtol is a former state placer who has had some big wins over the past two years and will be their biggest threat in the middle of lineup.  Anthony Lesko was a regional qualifier and a match from qualifying to the Palace last year, plus guys like Rick Azelton at 103 and Preston Pellham at 189 have already shown promise with good performances at off-season tournaments, showing they are capable of making up for the departed seniors.  As of now there are certainly a lot of question marks that need to be addressed if Tecumseh will return to the state semifinals.  However, the proven ability of the coaching staff to fill out the lineup and get the most out of their wrestlers gives them a great shot to be a top five team again this year.

6. Stevensville Lakeshore
Ranked Wrestlers: Key Returners: Tyler Daniel (#2 119), Travis Dragomer (#3 135), Kyle Spear (#2 215), Kyle Carlson (#7 285)
Key Losses: Tyler Frese (112) Sam Hanau (130), Nick Adams (171), Taylor Tiefenbach (189)

Outlook: Injuries and illness depleted a very talented Lakeshore team in 2010-2011.  The Lancers had impressive moments during the regular season, but were never really able to hit their stride due to the absence of some key components of their lineup.  They still managed to win a regional title, but lost convincingly to Lowell in the state quarterfinals.  They will definitely feel the impact of gradation losses this year, but they should also get a lift from having some guys back to full health who wrestled through injuries in 2011.
The team has three weapons spread well across the lineup that should give them enough firepower to win their fifth consecutive regional title.  At 119lbs Tyler Daniel is a former state champion whose season was hindered by injuries last year.  If he can regain his form of a few years ago, there will be few better lightweights in all of Michigan.  In the middle of the lineup Travis Dragomer returns after having a breakout season that ended with a fifth place finish at the state meet.  He is currently ranked third at 135lbs, and should be one of the Lancer’s most important wrestlers.  At 215lbs Kyle Spear will return after missing most of last year with an injury.  In 2010 Spear placed high as a sophomore wrestling 215, and could be a darkhorse to win a state title in his senior season.  Kyle Carlson, the other ranked wrestler for Lakeshore, is slotted seventh at 285 and gives them a reliable big man.  There are certainly some gaps to fill, but the key pieces are in place for the Lancers to make another appearance in Battle Creek.

7. Mason
Ranked Wrestlers: Nick Starzek (#3 152), Adam Robinson (#2 285)
Key Losses: Conor Youtsey (119)

Outlook: With the obvious exception of three-time state champion Conor
Youtsey, nearly all of the Bulldog’s wrestlers from a year ago return for
2011-2012.  While Youtsey’s absence will certainly hurt, as a whole the
team should be a more experienced and balanced group.  They have a
few big weapons, and a supporting cast that should compliment them
nicely.  Also in Mason’s favor is their regional draw, which is more
manageable than last year.  They are no longer paired with Tecumseh,
and their top competition will be Fowlerville and Linden.
The two big guns in the lineup will be Nick Starzek at 152 and Adam
Robinson at 285.  Both are multiple time state qualifiers with a wealth of
valuable experience.  Starzek was a state runner-up last year, while
Robinson placed third.  Additionally guys like Thomas Beebe, Ryan
Droscha and Austin Droscha made big strides in 2010-2011, and could
be poised to breakout this season.  They are still a ways away from being
back in state title contention, but the Bulldogs should be in Battle Creek
this winter.

8. Holly
Ranked Wrestlers: Tyler Gibson (#6 119), Mason Cleaver (#3 125), Anthony Gonzales (#2 130), Zack Jones (#5 135), Shawn Scott (#3 189)
Key Losses: Dominic Russ (112), Esteban Gonzales (125), Mike Spencer (145), Mike Neal (152), Cas Gazdolli (160), Joe Piowarski (215)

Outlook: As a whole, it is hard to imagine last year going any better for Holly than it did.  The Bronchos made their first appearance at team state since 2005, head coach Don Pluta earned his 500th career win, and the team qualified eleven wrestlers for the individual state meet.  Of their eleven state qualifiers, five will be departing due to graduation.  Additionally, Dominic Russ has transferred to Davison.  However the good news for Holly fans is that of their five state placers from last year, four will be back in the lineup.
Like last year, the Bronchos will be a powered by an outstanding group of lowerweights.  At 119 Tyler Gibson is ranked sixth in D2 after coming a match away from placing at the state meet last spring.  Mason Cleaver is a two-time state placer who gives the Bronchos a rock solid 125lbr.  The most talented wrestler in their lower weights is 130lbs junior Anthony Gonzales who was a state champion in 2010.  Rounding out their big guns down low is Zack Jones, another all-stater who is currently ranked 5th at 135.  The upperweights will be a bit more suspect for Holly, who loses most of last year’s big guys to graduation.  They will rely heavily on Shawn Scott at 189, who was a state runner-up last year and one of the few proven wrestlers in the upper half of their lineup.  The best news for the Bronchos is they once again have drawn a very winnable regional, so back-to-back regional titles are certainly within sight.

9. Sparta
Ranked Wrestlers: Dan Graham (#5 130), Nick Trimble (#1 135)
Key Losses: Paul Dunneback (189)

Outlook: They may not be a team that is usually going to be in contention for a state title, but Sparta has been a model of consistency in Division 2 for quite some time.  They always have a solid lineup that includes at least one superstar.  In fact, since 2002 there has only been one season where they did not crown an individual state champion.  This year’s group is no exception to the typical mold.  They are lead by Nick Trimble, a returning state champion who has already committed to wrestle for Michigan State next year.  The supporting cast includes Dan Graham who is ranked fifth at 130, and James Rogers who was a match away from the state meet last year.  Unfortunately for Sparta they are in the same district as Greenville, so it will be tough for them to advance deep into the postseason.

10. Grand Rapids Northview
Ranked Wrestlers: Joe Preston (#6 145), Ben Clinkscale (#9 152)
Key Losses: Jake Livingston (130)

Outlook: Northview is another program that might not blow many people away, but has been consistently solid in Division 2.  They have been hurt by some unfavorable district and regional draws, so they have not gotten a chance to make an appearance at team states.  Once again their odds at a regional title are slim, as they are paired with Lowell.  Still, this should be a very competitive group throughout the season.  Their top wrestlers are Joe Preston at 145 and Ben Clinkscale at 152 who should both have a great chance of placing at individual states.

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Taylor Massa
Gabe Dean
Ronnie Bechtol
Adam Robinson