Tom Lehman, a member of the National Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame, saw his share of outstanding wrestling teams in his 37 years as coach at Middleville Thornaopple-Kellogg.
One of those may very well have been his 1996 state championship Trojan squad, however, the former Middleville coach doesn’t remember seeing one as dominant as St. Johns.
“There have been a number of great teams, but we’ve never seen a team be so dominant for as long (four years) as St. John’s has been,” Lehman said.
The Redwings supported Lehman’s comment, by capturing a fourth-consecutive Division II state title, Saturday at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek with a 42-20 shellacking of Lowell.
“It means a lot to rebound from last year (graduation losses) It’s a relief to be able to keep things going. A couple of quick pins early got us rolling,” said St. Johns’ wrestling coach Derek Phillips. “That helps make things easier for the other guys.”
Redwings Jason Schmidt (130) and Logan Massa (135) logged back-to back pins in less than a combined minute of mat time to stake St. Johns to a 12-0 lead.
Lowell’s Jordan Hall briefly stopped the bleeding with an 8-7 decision against Redwing Mark Bozzo. The Redwing force of five that followed were too strong and too good good. Ben Whitford (145) and Drew Wixson (152) of their Red Arrow counterparts, expanding St. Johns’ lead to 24-3.
Josh Pennel then recorded a 5-0 decision, pushing the score to 27-3.
It ballooned to 31-3 when former Lowell wrestler, Angus Arther dominated Kanon Dean at 171 pounds, with an 18-5 major decision. Arthur, who was booed by some Lowell fans prior to the match, taunted them following his victory. The display cost his team a point for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“This rivalry is personal for half of their wrestlers and the other half wrestle with class which is what it should be. It always seems like a carnival, but it is what it is.” said Lowell wrestling coach Dave Dean. “St. Johns got us in a lot of different ways. They are obviously a very talented team that has worked very hard. We showed up to compete, however, and I am very pleased with the way our young team performed. We are building on some good foundation.”
Payne Hayden (189) upped the Lowell deficit to 36-3 with a pin over Pierce watson (2:41) before the Red Arrows found some traction and posted five consecutive victories of their own.
Garett Stehley (215) decisioned Blake Cooper 7-0; Taylor Kornoely (285) defeated Ben Proctor 10-6; Lucas Hall (103) bettered Ian Parker 11-5; Derek Krajewski (112) posted an 11-3 major decision against Derek Droste; and Zeth Dean (119) claimed a13-1 major decision over Dillon Cornell, completing a 17-0 run and cutting the deficit to 36-20.
In the final match of the state championship St. Johns’ Zac Hall pinned Bailey jack in 41 seconds of the first period.
“Our guys are really emotional and passionate about this sport,” Phillips explained. “A team like Lowell brings that out. That’s a program that has long tradition of good wrestling.”
The first-year coach has studied his history. Lowell has been in the team wrestling state finals nine of the last 15 years. Three of those visits produced state championships.
The Red Arrows advanced to the state finals with a 31-26 win over Niles. St Johns, meanwhile, punished Allegan 64-6.
In the quarterfinals on Friday night, Lowell upended former O-K White rival, Greenville, 38-25.