Niles hopes history repeats itself

Published 9:08 am Thursday, February 21, 2019

NILES — The Niles wrestling team does not have to look very far into its past to draw some inspiration for the Division 2 state quarterfinals at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo on Friday.

In 2017, the Vikings, a No. 6 seed, were the underdogs in their quarterfinal matchup against No. 3-seeded St. Johns.

Niles upset St. Johns 36-26 to advance to the semifinals where they lost to No. 2-seeded Warren Woods-Tower 36-31.

The Vikings are a No. 7 seed heading into Friday night and will face No. 2-seeded Goodrich at 6:45 p.m. The winner advances to the noon semifinals on Saturday.

Niles has never lost a quarterfinal match.

“Wasn’t much wiggle room in the seeds,” said Niles coach Todd Hesson. “Four, five and eight are all in the same bracket as No. 1 Lowell. So based on that, the seventh seed works for us. We haven’t spoken much about not having lost a quarterfinal match. However, we have spoke about being in a similar situation in 2017 when we beat St. Johns. I think St. Johns was a No. 3 seed at 26-2, and fortunately, we were able to knock them off. This year’s match up seems very similar.”

Like Niles, Goodrich was not in the state finals last year. In fact, Goodrich has not reached the state quarterfinals since 2016 when it defeated Allegan 33-19 before falling to No. 1 Lowell 35-27 in the semifinals.

Both teams have put together solid seasons and have been enjoying success in the postseason, both as a team and as individuals.

Niles is sending eight wrestlers, including three champions, to the Division 2 individuals state finals at Ford Field in Detroit March 1-2, while Goodrich advanced seven wrestlers to the state finals.

Like the Vikings, they also have three individual regional champions.

Hesson thinks teams from this part of the state get overlooked in general, which hurts them when it comes to seeding the state tournament.

“I think being in the corner of southwestern Michigan allows us to fly under the radar with most teams we see, but it is also a disadvantage when it comes to the team state seeding,” he said. “Beating Goodrich will require the same approach as most big duals. Getting the right match-ups, scoring bonus points and staying off our back and not giving up bonus points. Sometimes it is as simple as winning the coin toss. If you win the toss you have a little more control of the match-ups.”

According to Hesson, the key matches will come at 103, 112 and 119. The middle weights will also play a big role in determining the outcome of the match.

“It will be huge to pick up those three wins,” he said. “Then at 130 could be a big match-up between ranked wrestlers. We also need to pick up some wins through the middle, so 135 to 160 pounds could be some huge swing matches. Then need to win two out of four matches between 171 and 285. Lots of moving parts in those 14 weight classes.”

Hesson and his team have been working on fundamentals in practice. He knows that there is not a lot that can be changed at this point of the season.

“From our end, not much changes from last week to this weekend,” he said. “You are not going to improve dramatically in the four days leading up to team state. The mental part of the match and each wrestler understanding what their job is, that is the critical part. Don’t get overwhelmed with the situation, stay focused have some fun and do your job.”