BY DAN STICKRADT
OXFORD — Like many of his teammates, Josh Wood had a vision quest for several years. It was a trip to Battle Creek.
Now a senior at Rochester High, Wood and the rest of the Falcons’ wrestling team can now live out that vision.
Rochester captured its first regional title in the 25-year span of the team dual format Wednesday in anticlimactic fashion, pining down Troy 68-12 in the semifinals and Utica Eisenhower, 66-11, in the finals at Oxford High school.
Eisenhower rallied past Birmingham Seaholm, 40-36, in the other semifinal, a match that went down to the final weight class.
As for Rochester, who lost in the regional finals to Oxford, 31-27, last season in a meet that went down to the last bout, this is a great stepping stone for a program that has seen dramatic improvement in recent years.
“We’ve talked about this since we were freshmen and now we get to be the first team in the history of our school to get to go to Battle Creek,” offered Wood, one of the state’s top wrestlers in the 125-pound division. “We have been close in the past, but just came up short. Now we feel like we can go even further.”
Rochester coach Frank Lafferty, who took over the program in 2003, was an assistant coach at Clarkston back in the 1990s when the Wolves made a few trips west to Battle Creek.
Rochester, which is 23-11 this season due in part of having multiple injuries all season long, finally got its entire team back last week for the start of the state tournament. The seventh-ranked Falcons downed sixth-ranked Oxford, 34-28, in last week’s district finals in another match that went down to the final weight class.
“I think in a lot of our losses, we were a Josh Wood away from winning. We had some guys out the whole year and we lost a ton of matches by just a couple of points. I think we would have won a lot more with a full lineup,” said Lafferty, who admitted he was quite nervous before the meet despite his team being heavy favorites.
“I was nervous, because anything can happen. I know people thought that we would win because the other teams here are rebuilding. But if the other team is fired up and you are not prepared, anything can happen,” said Lafferty. “But we came in here and did what we had to do and I am so proud of them. I have been to Battle Creek as an assistant at Clarkston. My sons wrestled there. But these are my sons, too, and I am so proud of them to finally get a chance to go. We have been building for this for a around the past five years.”
Eisenhower, 26-11, was short-staffed with three wrestlers out of the lineup with the flu. Their availability wouldn’t have mattered.
“We were outgunned, no matter what,” sighed Eisenhower coach Ricky Hinchliffe. “We knew they were a very good team, loaded really. If we had everyone, it might have helped with cosmetic reasons and helped the score a little bit. But we lost to a great team that might do some damage in Battle Creek.”
Rochester raced out to a 27-0 lead before the Eagles knew what hit them, as Dean Vettese (160), Shane Shadaia (171), Chris Russell (189), Shwan Shadaia (215) and Cameron Daniels (285) all recorded pins to set the tone.
Eisenhower’s Vince Marceau (103) picked up a win by void and Carlo Marceau (112) added a win by major decision in the next two matches for Eisenhower’s only points.
Rochester responded with Justin Kim (119, decision), Josh Wood (125, pin), Joey Gunther (130, pin), Ryan Morgan (135, pin), Dillon Maier (140, pin), Kaelen Richards (145, pin) and Aaron Morgan (152, pin) all winning their matches.
In all, Rochester won 12 of the 14 weight classes with 11 pins.
Against Troy, the Falcons built an 18-0 lead and also won 12 of 14 matches, most by pin, against the outmatched Colts.
First-year Troy coach was not disappointed in the Colts’ defeat, as he saw mass improvement in his team this season.
“I think at the beginning of the season, no one thought we would win a district,” he said. “I am proud of my team of getting here. It’s a step in the right direction.”
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