Braves are champions at long last

MARQUETTE – The Gladstone Braves have waited a long time for this.

Gladstone, constantly among the top programs in the Upper Peninsula, finally gained its first U.P. title Saturday night by scoring 229 points.

The Braves were followed by three-time defending champ Escanaba 184 1/2 and St. Ignace 177 1/2.

“We had 12 kids place in the top four, which is pretty big points,” said Braves’ Jesse DeBacker. “This was just a great performance by all our kids. This is also huge for our program. Hopefully, this sets the tone for the rest of the season.”

Tournament officials opted to scramble the order of the weight classes in the title round, with Delta County wrestlers taking the first five titles.

Esky freshman Sergei LaMarch opened by winning the 103-pound bout, with Gladstone junior Brandon Gagnon (160), Esky junior Travis Heller (152), Gladstone sophomore Jack Cronick (189) and Esky junior Zach Priebe (125) following with championship performances.

“We wrestled a real good round,” said Esky coach Jamie Segorski. “Only, our lack of depth hurt us. Gladstone has a nice, deep team and that’s what wins tournaments. This was a good opportunity for our kids to gain individual titles. I’m excited about the future of Escanaba wrestling.”

This was the first time Gagnon (16-3) was crowned U.P. champion, taking an 8-4 decision from Menominee sophomore Justin Brilinski (22-8), in a match which all the scoring took place in the first two rounds.

“Being there last year definitely gave motivation coming into today’s tournament,” said Gagnon, who was runner-up at 152 pounds a year ago. “I had fewer butterflies in the stomach this time, plus we have a lot of good coaches who show us a lot of moves.”

Cronick (20-4) pinned Sault Ste. Marie sophomore Nathan LaJoie (23-2) three minutes, 25 seconds into the 189 final.

“He beat me in St. Ignace (on Dec. 8) and I wanted another shot at him,” said Cronick, who was fourth at 215 last season and won for the third straight weekends. “I’m in better shape than I was at that point in the season. I felt I had a little momentum coming in. Being here last year also helped.”

Esky junior Travis Heller (25-2) earned his third consecutive U.P. title, pinning Negaunee junior Tyler LaJoie (20-6) in 2:56.

“I wrestled him in the Esky Elks tournament (Heller also winning that bout), and I was able to get two takedowns on him in the first period,” said Heller, who also won for the third straight weekend. “Then, I put a half-nelson on him in the second period and was able to take him down. I knew what to expect coming in here, which was real helpful. The competition in all our tournaments is equally as good, plus we have some big ones coming up.”

Esky sophomore Zach Priebe (21-3) gained his second straight title by rallying past Norway sophomore Cayleb Winkler 12-11, dropping his opponent’s record to 18-8.

“I kept my head up high,” said Priebe. “I kept reminding myself to keep fighting. Winkler is a strong wrestler, but I started getting takedowns in the third period and stayed relaxed on my feet.”

Esky sophomore Kaleb Rahoi (29-3) made takedowns in each of the first two periods stand up for a 4-2 victory over Gladstone sophomore Jeremy Kadish (18-5).

“Coach Segorski (and staff) pushes us in practice and makes us better everyday,” said Rahoi, who copped his second straight U.P. title. “In the third period, I started getting takedowns and stayed relaxed on my feet. This has been my goal since I started high school.”

LaMarche, a hockey player turned wrestler, took a 16-8 decision from Menominee junior Haley Cruz (2-1) in the 103 final.

“I played hockey last year and tried out for the high school team this year,” said LaMarche (16-5), a freshman this year. “I also did a little wrestling last year and didn’t like it at first. But once I didn’t make the high school hockey team, I decided to give it another try. I’ve never had so much fun. I’ve gotten to know more people, and now I feel more comfortable in wrestling. I was so nervous before this match. It was a relief to look up at the clock in the end and see that I won it.”

Manistique sent two to the finals, with senior Mat Gonzalez (24-2), dropping a 7-6 decision on a late reversal by Sault junior Steven Kymes (30-1) at 145 pounds.

In another hard-fought final at 135, Manstique sophomore Cole Gonzalez (27-1) bowed 3-2 to Menominee senior Chris Briar (28-3).

The Emeralds wrestled without Zach Lindenmuth, who’s out with a broken hand.

“Overall, this was not a good day for us,” said Emeralds’ coach Gary Bowman. “I thought we’d be in the top six, although we knew it’d be tough without Zach. This is probably the worst day of wrestling we had all season.”

Curtis Labadie became the first Bark River-Harris wrestler to place in the U.P. Championships, taking third at 215.

“That was exciting,” said BR-H coach Mike Labadie. “This is a big accomplishment for Curtis. This gave him a good feeling. Kyle Dowd had two wins today. Kyle Mathias was hindered by a hip injury and was unable to place. Eli Oswald upset the No. 6 seed in the tournament and Morgan VanLanen gained valuable experience. Considering we had only five wrestlers, I’m proud of what the kids accomplished.”

St. Ignace senior heavyweight Joe Ostman, a two-time state champion, was selected the tourney’s Most Valuable Wrestler and earned the award for the most pins (four).

Also placing for Gladstone were James Bruce (112), Sam Taylor (135), Josh Kadish (145), Jake Cronick (171) and Tom Bailey (heavyweight) in third, and Jackson Simison (103), Jared Syverson (125), Bobby Beauchamp (130) and Cody Malinowski (215) fourth.

Esky’s Marlie Gillis (119) and Bill Soper (heavyweight) took fifth.