MUSKEGON — Due to its long record of success, Whitehall wrestling is rarely in a position where revenge is on its mind, but the Vikings were in that spot Saturday, facing Reeths-Puffer for the GMAA Tier 1 championship. R-P had upset the Vikings twice last season, first ending its lengthy run of titles at the GMAA meet, then knocking them off in the district tournament.
Whitehall got its revenge in emphatic fashion, defeating the Rockets 42-21 in an impressive performance that showcased its depth. Each team also defeated Orchard View and Ravenna in the quad meet; the GMAA, normally a 10-team individual-based event, was split into three quad dual meets to comply with MHSAA precautions regarding COVID-19. (The Rockets' winning scores were 56-14 over OV and 56-24 over Ravenna, while Whitehall beat OV 72-11 and topped Ravenna 71-3.)
"Every single kid went out there and competed," Whitehall coach Justin Zeerip said. "Everybody did their job. We won some crucial matches, one-point matches...I couldn't be more proud of their effort today."
Zeerip didn't say much to the team on the motivation front going into the match. It's very unlikely he had to, as many of the Vikings on the mat were on that team last season and remembered the bitter defeats.
"We just said, hey, we have fresh faces, it's a new year," Zeerip said. "Last year, the city meet and districts didn't go our way. So we wanted to come out here today and compete every single match and capitalize on bonus points when we could. I thought our guys did that."
The Rockets got the upper hand early in the final match, with the benefit of a 152-pound starting weight, which sent several of R-P's berst to the mat early. The first four bouts were six-minute wars, with the Rockets winning three of them, including an overtime decision for Thade Radosa over Nick Blanchard in the first bout.
However, from there it was all Whitehall. The Vikings ripped off the next 27 points to take a 30-9 lead, with pins by Shane Cook, Ira Jenkins and Nolan Taranko, a forfeit win by Dylan Osborn, and a dramatic overtime decision win for Ty Whalen over Connor Bloomstrom. Jenkins' win was the 100th for his career.
R-P won the next three matchups to stay alive - an Alex Chipman 10-9 come-from-behind decision over Aiden Weiler was a highlight - but Viking studs Max Brown and Marco Moore finished things off with pins. (Brown had won his own 100th career match earlier in the day against Ravenna.)
"We knew after last year, they're going to come at us hard," R-P coach Matt Brink said. "There's no doubt about it. Our guys were as prepared as we can be. It's only been a couple of weeks, but they've got a really tough team this year and I know they're going to do really good."
Whitehall has a long tradition of getting major GMAA contributions from less-heralded wrestlers, and certainly that was on display again Saturday when Connor Young scored Whitehall's first win of the R-P dual, a 9-4 decision against longtime Rocket starter Payton Dobben. Young being a senior just added to the meaning of the win.
"Connor is a senior, and I'll tell you what, he does all the right things on and off the mat," Zeerip said. "He works really hard, and I thought he really deserved to win his match. He wrestled really hard. He was paying attention to fine coaching details."
"It shows how strong we are as a team when guys are out there doing their job plus more," Brown said of Young's win. "It gets the whole team pumped when everyone goes out there and does their best."
While the Rockets fell short to Whitehall, they had one major thing to celebrate. Three-time GMAA champ Jacob Blawat won all three of his matches Saturday to stake his claim to being a four-time champ - only six other wrestlers have accomplished that feat, most recently Whitehall's Reiley Brown from 2013-16.
It's not known how the record book will reflect Blawat's work since this year's GMAA had to split up the 10 teams that usually compete, but Brink said Blawat has earned the title as far as he's concerned.
"In my book, he should be," Brink said. "He won his matches tonight. I don't know how they're going to handle that, if they're going to award city champs. For the conference, I know they're going to vote on it. Maybe the city coaches will vote on who's the champ."
Brink said the team format this year was fun and certainly understandable given the circumstances, but he prefers the usual format of the event with all 10 schools at one site.
"I like all the teams being involved," Brink said. "For me, I like the individual city champs and that kind of stuff."