By: John Raffel
Chippewa Hills wrestling back for more
Chippewa Hills' wrestling team enjoyed a taste of Division 3 state championship contention last season.
This winter, the Warriors are once again working their way to the state championship with visions of victory at the front of their minds.
Coach Nate Ethridge's Warriors were state runners-up last season. They lost in the finals 40-16 to Dundee, following a 31-27 win over Lake Fenton in a dramatic semifinal victory.
Key returners include Bray Haynes (42-13), a regional qualifier; Mason Hayes (41-14), who placed sixth in the state; Kaden Ellis (44-10), a state qualifier; Brandon Russell (25-25), a regional qualifier; Austin Spedowski (30-13), a state qualifier; Nolan Saxton, a transfer from Lakeview, who placed fifth in the state a year ago; Austin Young (19-9), a regional qualifier; Jaycob Sharp (51-7) state runner-up; David Spedowski (42-12), who placed sixth in the state; Luke Henderson (39-17), a state qualifier; Billy Koepf (51-7), who finished sixth in the state; and Andrew Vinton (40-16), who placed seventh in the state.
Ethridge has 43 grapplers out for the program this season. "I think we were at around 39 last year," Ethridge said. "We usually however, get between 35 and 40. The spots where I would call young, we're actually not young. They're people that maybe statewide you haven't heard of, but we know they're competitive kids who will be able to compete at a high level. What we have a little more of this year is high-end talent."
The Warriors graduated only two wrestlers from last season
"Every year, we're going to put out kids that will fight and be physical and be tough and win a lot of matches," Ethridge said. "We haven't had this many kids as capable of winning state titles and being on the (state finals) podium as we have now. That's what's different about us now."
Being second in the state was a significant mark for the program last season.
"Every program in the state, whether you win it or lose it, they want to be wrestling on Saturday night at team state," Ethridge said. "That means you're putting yourself in an opportunity to win a state title."
The Warriors have gotten off to an impressive start and had a big day on Dec. 17 at their home Joe Loren Memorial Invitational. They scored 345 points to finish ahead of Clinton (184.5), Tri County (176) and Traverse City West (160).
The Chippewa Hills Red team was fifth with 135, followed by Shelby (134), Berrien Springs (106), Beaverton (102), Battle Creek Pennfield (95), Lakeview (85), Farwell (52.5), Onaway (29), Chippewa Hills Blue (28) and Benzie Central (27).
“We had seven champs and five other kids in the finals, and that was just our A team,” Chippewa Hills coach Nate Ethridge said. “Whatever team they were on, we placed a lot of kids.”
The first places came from Austin Spedowski (135), Nolan Saxton (140), Jaycob Sharp (145), David Spedowski (160), Robert Granberry (171), Luke Henderson (189) and Billy Koepf (215).
The Joe Loren tournament usually provides tough competition for the Warriors.
“Clinton is ranked fifth in Division 4 right now,” Ethridge said. “We obviously lost some teams because of the weather. It was still a great tournament.”
Chippewa Hills has been ranked fourth in Division 3 since preseason.
Sharp is a junior who took second place in the state individual finals.
“It was a solid season,” Sharp said. “I didn’t wrestle too well at the team state tournament. But I had a pretty good individual state tournament. The kid I lost to is at Iowa State right now.”
He was at 145 pounds last season and Sharp is set to be at 145 or 152 this year.
Sharp had a productive offseason.
“I didn’t really wrestle but I train a lot,” he said.
Sharp and other Warriors wrestlers have enjoyed working out in the new wrestling building across from the high school on the east side of M-66.
The Warriors were second in the state last season and, “only time will tell,” Sharp said, if they can move one step upwards this season. “We need to train hard.”