Niles’ Casey Burandt returns to the starting lineup for Thursday’s Division 2 Team District Tournament at Edwardsburg. (Leader photo/File)

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Niles looking to repeat as district champs

Published 10:33pm Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Niles wrestling team finished the regular season 29-1 in dual meets, third-ranked (Division 2) in the state and as the outright Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West Division champions.

Even with all those accomplishments, Vikings wrestling coach Todd Hesson wasn’t happy on Sunday.

A second place finish at last Saturday’s Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference Meet disappointed the Niles coach.

“At the conference meet we looked average,” said Hesson. “We were complacent. That’s not going to work. It’s crunch time now and we’ve got to be ready to go.”

The start of crunch time is the Division II team wrestling districts that take place Thursday at Edwardsburg High School. Niles meets Sturgis and Edwardsburg faces Three Rivers in semifinal matches at 6 p.m. The winners meet for the district title later in the evening.

The Vikings are looking for their second straight team district title.

“Last year, we won the team district and it was new for us,” Hesson said. “I don’t want us this year to look beyond the team districts. It’s a step by step process.”

Niles didn’t compete against Sturgis in a dual match during the regular season.

“They’re very well coached and fundamentally sound,” Hesson said. “They’re solid through the middle weights up to the heavier weights.”

Niles goes into the postseason solid throughout its lineup. Leading the way on the mat for the Vikings are 189-pounder Ryan Casey (43-0), 152-pounder Fritzel Findiesen (43-4), 119-pounder Nicholas Zimmerman (35-3) and heavyweight Derek Scott (35-7). Casey is fifth-ranked in the state at 189 pounds, Findiesen has 150 career wins and Zimmerman has 100 career wins.

Niles’ lineup will even be stronger this week with the return of 140-/145-pounder Casey Burandt (19-1). Burandt has been out since early January with a broken hand.

“He’s been cleared to wrestle,” Hesson said about Burandt.

Hesson feels his team will be successful if it continues to have a big edge in bonus points.

“We typically get some pins,” Hesson said. “It’s a matter of us not being pinned. Then we can separate.”

Unlike Niles, Edwardsburg isn’t healthy going into the team districts. Eddies coach Mike Higley isn’t sure how well 189-pounder Brandon Parsons (12-5) and 135-pounder Michael Kempton (16-5) will wrestle this week. Parsons has had to fight through a broken hand and shoulder injury, while Kempton has been limited because of a broken hand, along with shoulder and elbow injuries. Kempton was a state qualifier in his first three years.

“Kempton had a chance to be Edwardsburg’s all-time wins leader if he didn’t have the injuries,” said Higley.

Higley confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Kempton will not compete in the team event Thursday, but will wrestle at individual districts Saturday.

Because of injuries, the Eddies placed only fifth last Saturday at the Wolverine Conference Meet. Edwardsburg finished the regular season as the Wolverine Conference West Division champion.

Edwardsburg beat Three Rivers by double digits in a dual match during the regular season.

“To get through, we have to wrestle our best and be prepared,” Higley said. “I’m stressing the mental part to our team. If you take care of your match the rest will take care of itself.”

Some young wrestlers have stepped up big this year for Edwardsburg. Talented young Eddies to watch are 103-pound freshman Mike Higley (the coach’s son who’s 37-4), 112-pound freshman Hunter Vargo (23-11), 130-pound freshman Lucas Marks (18-10) and 125-pounder sophomore Dustin Vires (26-17).

Edwardsburg veterans that have wrestled well are senior heavyweight Seth Barnett (33-8) and senior 140-pounder Danny Rousseau (18-12).


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