St. Joseph’s Nolan Wertanen is the only area wrestler rated No. 1 in his weight class and division heading into this weekend’s individual state finals at Ford Field in Detroit.
Wertanen, a sophomore who missed last year’s state tourney due to a fractured wrist, sports a 42-2 record at 103 pounds in D2.
“I’d say he has an excellent chance of bringing home a state title,” states Taylor Misel, St. Joseph’s head coach. “In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the four semifinalist at his weight are the four kids who advanced out of our regional.”
Wertanen is one of seven of the area’s 43 state qualifiers in divisions 2, 3 and 4 that won regionals. The others are Lakeshore’s Aaron Lucio (119) and Micah Hanau (130) plus Edwardsburg’s Jacob Reece (145) in D2; Coloma heavyweight Cole Alsup in D3, and Decatur’s Jared Checkley (171) and Lawton’s Landyn VanWyk (140) in D4.
Area matmen rated third or higher besides Wertanen in Michigan Grappler’s final individual rankings include: Lakeshore’s Shane Williams and Lucio, plus Brandywine’s Hunter Heath (140 in D3) and Checkley and VanWyk in D4. Williams is rated No. 2 at 135, while Lucio, Heath, Checkley and VanWyk all hold down No. 3 ratings in their respective division and weight class.
“Winning an individual state title is easier said than done,” stated veteran Lakeshore coach Bruce Bittenbender, now in his 50th season at the Lancers helm. During his tenture at Lakeshore he has produced 15 matmen that have a combined 21 individual state crowns. “Last year the area didn’t bring back an individual state champion, but hopefully that will change this year. Anything can happen at state, and usually does with a surprise or two.”
Last year, Niles’ Jamison Zimmerman was the area’s only state runner-up at 103 pounds. But this year he’s at 112 and currently rated No. 9 in D2.
Bittenbender says he feels Williams, a senior, who has placed fourth and third the last two years at state, has the best shot at winning another individual title for the Lancers. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if (sophomores) Lucio, Hanau and Cam Litaker (112) make long runs, along with senior Zeke Rohl (215).”
Round one begins on Friday at 11:30 a.m. with 103 pounds the starting weight. Round two consolations are at 2:45 p.m. followed by the quarterfinals at 4:15, consolation blood (elimination) round at 6, and the winner’s bracket semifinals at 7:30.
Then on Saturday, the third and fourth consolation rounds begin at 9 and 10 a.m., respectively, with place matches (third through eighth) at 11 a.m. The finals will begin at 3:30 p.m.