Division 2 Quarterfinals: Niles, Tecumseh have similaritiesPublished 8:13pm Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Tecumseh, ranked No. 6 in the final Michigan Grappler state rankings, is making its third consecutive appearance in the Division 2 Quarterfinals.
Niles, ranked No. 3 in the final poll, is making its first.
It has been a record-setting season for the Vikings already. Niles takes a 33-1 record into 7:45 p.m. match against a Tecumseh team that is 30-12.
Each of the past two seasons, Tecumseh has been eliminated in the state semifinals. Last year the team was bounced by eventual state champion St. Johns 59-6.
In 2011, Tecumseh lost to state runner-up Greenville 31-29.
Tecumseh reached this year’s quarterfinals by defeating DH Annapolis in the regional semifinal and then knocking off Trenton in the regional title match.
Last Saturday at the individual regional, Tecumseh advanced six wrestlers to the state finals, including regional champs Landon (189) and Preston (215) Pelham.
Also advancing were Ricky Azelton (103), Anthony Lesko (145), Cole Amstutz (16) and Joe Rebottaro (285). They all finished second.
Niles advanced to the quarterfinals by defeating Jackson Parma Western and perennial state powerhouse Lakeshore to claim its first regional championship in the team tournament era.
The Vikings last won a regional championship under the individual format in 1960. It is only Niles’ third regional title in school history.
Veteran Vikings’ coach Todd Hesson knows that he must balance the excitement of winning the title and enjoying it with staying focused and not getting caught up in all the hype surrounding the trip to Battle Creek.
Niles advanced six wrestlers to the individual state finals, including regional champions Nicholas Zimmerman, Casey Burandt and Fritzel Findeisen.
Also qualifying were Ryan Casey (189), Brenden Meek (112) and Darek Bullock-Mills (125).
“They are a lot like us,” Hesson said of Tecumseh. “We run head to head with a couple of their tough wrestlers. They are tough up top. They have a nice 145-pounder, so that will be a nice match up with Casey Burandt.
“On paper, it’s an even dual. It will come down to the same things we talk about every time — pins and not getting pinned. We will see some ranked kids. Casey will see a ranked kid and Ryan will see a ranked kid. Those will be good matches.”
One of the keys to advancing to Saturday’s semifinals will lay in the hands of the Vikings’ more inexperienced wrestlers.
“They are going to need to stay off their backs,” Hesson said. “Even against some of their tougher kids.”
Most of the juniors and seniors on this squad have wrestled in the Kellogg Arena before. Niles competed there two years ago in the Big 16 Tournament.
“I’m sure they (Tecumseh) will be a little bit more prepared for it than we will be,” Hesson said. “Some of our kids will be wide-eyed. It will be their first time under the big lights, so hopefully we will keep ourselves well-grounded for that first dual.”
Hesson has no illusions about what to expect. He has been there before as an assistant coach with the Brandywine Bobcats (1998) and knows he will have to keep both his and his team’s emotions in check.
“We have tried to embrace it as much as possible,” Hesson said. “We have told them to enjoy the moment. But I’m telling you when we get there and they start that march, it will be a little overwhelming for them. So the best thing I think I can do is get a little grouchy about it. It seems to help them focus.”
Niles hasn’t done much extra outside of getting prepared as best they can.
“I have tried to let the kids enjoy it,” Hesson said. “I’ve tried not to contain it because it is a once-in-a-lifetime for all of us. You always like to think that you will go back, but there are no guarantees ever.”
Tickets are available through TicketLeap. Just go to mhsaa.com and then to the wrestling page. Tickets are $6 for the quarterfinals and semifinals and $7 for the finals. Fans may also purchase an all-tournament ticket for $15.