Hartland wins 14th consecutive regional wrestling title; Division 1 quarterfinal is next
Walled Lake – Hartland coach Todd Cheney couldn’t have imagined a better sight than what he saw on Wednesday. As he scanned the faces of his wrestlers as they greeted their families, Cheney had a hard time keeping in his emotions.
So much so that he had to take a moment to himself alone, away from his team to let the moment sink in.
“When you draw these things up, you never think…you get pretty close…but you never think it’d be this close. It feels like an upset. Walled Lake Central is an incredible team, but we wrestled incredible,” he said.
“This is my 23rd year coaching, and I’ve seen some special things. But tonight is one of the greatest. I told the kids ‘today will be your greatest day’ and it was.”
The Eagles (28-3) captured their 14th straight regional championship with a 34-25 victory over host Walled Lake Central in a Division 1 regional final to secure a trip to the quarterfinals at Battle Creek next weekend.
What separates this year’s squad from previous years is that only two seniors were dressed and competed in the regional final. Despite its youth, Hartland scraped, fought, competed and was relentless.
Central took an impressive early lead thanks to wins by Ben Freeman, Dan Shear and Dom Paterra before Logan Visch and Sage Castillo stemmed the tide for the Eagles as the Vikings (23-2) held a narrow 13-12 lead midway through the match.
Those in the crowd were on the edge of their seats waiting for a crucial moment that would tip the scales. That moment came during the 171-pound weight class when Lucas LaForge won due to a disqualification to increase Hartland’s lead to 22-13.
“We showed our spirit. That’s the way we wrestle. Nobody wants to see a 2-1 win in a match. Wrestling is supposed to be about action and we had to attack,” Cheney said.
“We were completely prepared because we work hard. This is the youngest team I’ve coached in fifteen years. But they’ve worked harder than any team I’ve coached.”
That preparation was on display in the one of the biggest matches when Hartland junior Aaron Laird squared off with senior Alex Soval, one of the top wrestlers in the state.
Laird had an on again and off again relationship with the wrestling team, and came back only a few weeks ago, and had Soval pinned to the mat. But the senior showed his experience and earned a 10-8 win over Laird on a takedown to draw Central within 22-19.
“Aaron hasn’t practiced that much because he’s still getting into shape. We just needed him for a couple of matches, and he made me so proud. I couldn’t believe it,” Cheney said.
Senior Jake Economou helped seal the title when he injured Takale Ezell midway through the second period. As the two grappled, Economou gave a hip toss that slammed Ezell to the mat shoulder first, which created an opening.
“It became a target,” Economou said. “It became another thing to help me win.”
A few moments later, after the injury reset, Economou rolled Ezell into a small package for the pin and a staggering 28-19 lead that Noah Lopez would cap moments later with a pin of his own.
Economou and his teammates have confidence on their side as they prepare for the quarterfinals on Feb. 27. He knows that Hartland can hang with anybody.
“We’ve been doubted all season. Nobody had faith in us, but we came out and showed people we’re still in it. We know we can hang with any team in the state, and we’re gonna fight.”