The Ram wrestling team poses with the Michael Young Memorial tournament Trophy. ~ Contributed Photo
ROCKFORD – It only seemed right. On Saturday, Jan. 12, the Rams varsity wrestling team claimed first place in their annual wrestling invitational. The Rockford wrestling program had changed the name of their annual Rockford Varsity Invitational to the Michael Young Memorial Tournament in 2017, after the untimely death of the former Rockford City Manager. Young had dedicated countless hours to the youth and high school wrestling programs as both a coach and mentor, and also spent time as a wrestling official. The program wanted to honor him and his dedication to the sport in a special way, and changed the name of the tournament. The victory of the 12-team tournament was another wonderful way to pay tribute to Young.
“It’s always an honor to win this meet,” said Rams head coach Brian Richardson. “Michael was a big influence in several of our wrestlers’ lives, especially our seniors, and certainly in mine. It was a special win and we were very happy to be able to do that.”
On their way to the title, the Rams were able to down No. 4-ranked Chippewa Hills and No. 3-ranked Whitehall, both D3 teams, and went 5-0 on the day. The victory moved their overall record to 21-1 on the season. The Rams also saw four wrestlers go a perfect 5-0 on the day, and three go 4-1.
The Rams kept the day exciting as they were actually on the wrong end of a 33-30 score against Chippewa Hills in the semi-finals. The team had fought hard in all their matches against the ranked team, and every point counted as they worked their way through the roster. And, in the end, it all came down to the last match of the semis – at the 103-pound weight class. The Rams put their only freshman out on the mat – Brysonn Aulbach.
Aulbach not only claimed the victory – he did it by pinning his opponent. The team won the semis by a 36-33 score and earned the right to move on to the finals.
“I was so happy for him,” said Richardson. “Brysonn handled the pressure like a pro. He wasn’t fazed. That little stud kicked that 103-pounders rear end with determination and attitude. it was a great opportunity to be the hero, and he got the job done.”
As if that wasn’t enough, the final was equally exciting. The Rams faced off against Whitehall, and again, it came down to the last match, and again, the team battled for every point. This time the Rams were ahead by a narrow 29-27 score, and all it would take was a Ram loss as slim as one point in the match for the Rockford to have Whitehall walk away with the hardware – and the title.
The atmosphere in the gym was electric and both teams had their fellow wrestlers ringing the mat. Being both D3 schools, (not to mention the Rams’ close victory) Chippewa Hills made it obvious they were pulling for Whitehall. Luckily for Rockford, the Rams’ Varsity B team had concluded their meet in the gym, and the Varsity C team had just returned from Fruitport to cheer on the Rams.
This time it was up to 119-pounder Ashton Halland.
“I was nervous before the match,” shared Richardson. “He wasn’t having a good day. Actually, he was having a poor day, to be honest.”
But, Richardson also knew what a talented wrestler he was, so he bolstered him and put his wrestler on the mat.
In the second period, Halland was down 5-4 when he got a reversal, flipped his opponent over and promptly pinned him. The Ram fans went wild and the team claimed the 35-27 victory – and the tournament title.
“I was so impressed with the way he handled the situation,” said Richardson. “Ashton had the opportunity to step up for the team and I think he relished the opportunity. Without a doubt, he did a nice job. He was losing in the match at the time and wound up pinning the kid – he showed great resolve. He took care of business. Both of these wrestlers were able to show how talented they are and how much they care about their team.”
Richardson was thrilled with how his Rams performed because it was an entire team effort, with plenty of highlights.
Four wrestlers went 5-0 on the day. Two were sophomores Trenton Wachter (130) and Cole Gleason (160), and the other two were Evan Kaser (140) and Tyler Waterstrat (171).
“Trenton and Cole are the hammers in our line-up,” said Richardson. “Cole earned his record in impressive fashion – registering five pins. Both have been wrestling since they were little so they’re not strangers to the sport. Both have been youth state champs, so they’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I think it’s great that both their work-out partners, Evan and Tyler, both went 5-0, also. It shows our team motto of ‘Iron Sharpens Iron.’ How cool is that the workout partners are all making each other better?”
There were also three wrestler who had an impressive 4-1 day. They were Aulbach, Connor White (145) and Jack Richardson (152). Richardson also made Ram history by being only the 15th Ram wrestler to notch 150 high school career wins.
“It was a big weekend,” said Richardson. “We intentionally sought out good competition and both Chippewa Hills and Whitehall are both traditionally strong teams on the west side of the state. Last weekend we wrestled against the top talent on the east side of the state. Match by match, we are becoming stronger and shoring up our weaknesses. We are getting better on the weekends to take care of business on Wednesday nights. We are 3-0 in the OK Red. First, we work at the conference and then we’ll prepare for regionals down the road.”
Richardson continued, “The nice thing is this group of young men are buying into what we are coaching right now. It’s a blessing to have a team like this. It’s a lot of fun to see the joy on their faces.”
Next up for the Rams is a home meet against West Ottawa, Wednesday, Jan. 16. The meet starts at 6 p.m.