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Grand Haven, Spring Lake wrestlers using past results to fuel future gains

Josh VanDyke • Feb 28, 2019 at 2:15 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Grand Haven's Cody Miller and Riley Rhone are a combined 79-4 this season on the wrestling mat, but it's a handful of losses last season that the two standout grapplers remember most as they prepare for a trip to this weekend's individual state finals meet at Ford Field.

Miller (42-2) advanced to the grand finale last season, but dropped both of his matches, leaving a sour taste in his mouth that could only be quenched by a return trip to the 125 lbs bracket and a stronger showing than the year before.

"Last year showed me that I might be able to manhandle a few kids along the way, but at the state tournament, everyone is good," Miller admitted. "Looking back, I was really just putting in state-qualifier work and not medalist-level work leading into the tournament, and that's why I didn't do as well as I wanted to. I was just happy to be there and not focused enough.

"Just making the state tournament is a huge accomplishment, but it can be kind of distracting because it's such a big event. I think having experienced that atmosphere last year will help me just focus on wrestling this time around and hopefully, putting together a run in my bracket.

"I'd like a rematch with (Brighton's Eddie) Homrock in the final. He beat me 10-4 at the regional, but I think if I were to get another opportunity, it might go a little differently."

Miller pushed himself this offseason to perfect his form and not take as many risks on the mat.

"The season has gone well," he said. "I've really pushed myself and got the results that I wanted for the most part. I've really worked on my technique, so my attacks are a lot smoother and not as dangerous. I think that's really made a huge difference for me.

"What I've learned this season is that sometimes, you might doubt yourself, but the work you put in between matches really shows up. This year has proved to me that I'm a lot better than I sometimes think I am and that's because I have put in the work.

"Now, I believe I can beat anybody in the state if I wrestling to my abilities."

Rhone (37-2) saw his trip to Ford Field ripped away from him in the blood round of his 103 lbs regional tournament last winter, falling in a narrow 7-6 decision in the consolation semifinals. A win in that matchup would have punched his ticket to the state finals, but now, it serves as motivation.

"I was really upset, because I was seeded pretty high heading into that, and I lost both of my matches by one point," he said. "I really didn't take any time off after that. I just went right back to practice and worked on getting better because I didn't want to feel that way again.

"Seeing Cody prepare for the state finals last year really motivated me. I was so close to being there and I know he was disappointed about going 0-2 when he got there. That made me feel like I needed to push myself even harder, because I saw how hard he worked to get there, and I don't want to feel devastated at the end of the season like I was at regionals last year."

Rhone has been a technician on the mat this year, often using his opposition's mistakes against them. The end result was a regional championship and high expectations heading into this weekend's tournament.

"It's all about angles," he said. "You have to set up your opponent to take a bad angle, and then you have to capitalize on that. I try to be patient out on the mat. I don't want to put myself in a bad spot during a match, so I'll pick and choose when I want to be aggressive and when I want to attack. Being too aggressive is what cost me at regionals last year, so I learned to pick my spots better this time around.

"My goal for this weekend is to win a state title. Even if I don't reach that, I want to be able to say that I gave it my best shot. I want to major (decision) my way to the state finals and just go out there have fun."

For Grand Haven head coach Vince Gervais, Miller and Rhone's success are a combination of individual commitment, elite teammates and an extremely challenging schedule.

"I'm not surprised at all to see these two make it to the state finals this year, because they are our two hardest workers," he said. "They've put in so much preparation during the offseason to get better and I knew that was going to translate to the mat in the winter.

"They've had great workout partners, as well. You don't get to this point in the season without the help of someone pushing you at practice every day. It's a team accomplishment in a lot of ways.

"They've also wrestled a really difficult schedule, which only makes you a better wrestler. Cody and Riley have gone up against state-ranked kids pretty much all year, so they aren't just padding their records, they're going out and beating good kids."

The unforgiving nature of the state tournament can be a difficult task to manage, but Gervais has high hopes for his two veteran grapplers.

"They both should place," he said. "You never really know how things are going to shake out, but they are both capable of top four finishes. They just need to stay within themselves and not try to do something that they aren't good at.

"Most of the time, it's the mental game that separates the good wrestlers from the great wrestlers. Everyone at this event is going to be talented, so whoever comes out more focused and driven will likely be the one who wins.

"We always say, ‘Trust your training' and we feel like these two are as prepared as they can possibly be for this weekend. They've gained so much confidence over the course of the season that it really just comes down to execution now."

YOUNG GUNS

The Spring Lake wrestling program will be represented by two underclassmen at this weekend's Division 2 tournament at Ford Field, with sophomores Jack Parker (31-3) and Max Montgomery (31-6) both entered in the 103 lbs bracket.

A recent trip down memory lane for Spring Lake head coach Dan Robinson provided a vivid reminder of what hard work can accomplish.

"I had a Facebook post pop up on my newsfeed the other day in that memories section, and it was a photo of Jamie Holt and Jack lifting together at the gym the day after regionals," he said. "The very next day, the next post said, ‘a third member has joined the process', and it was Max.

"So, you look at the guys who were in the gym, putting in the time right after a big event like that, and those three were our best wrestlers this year. It's huge for our program to have underclassmen make a big impact like that. It shows the next group of guys that they don't have to wait. They can come in and be varsity wrestlers right off the bat.

"It takes a commitment though. You aren't going to just walk in and be good because you are on varsity as a freshman. You have to put in the work on the mat and in the weight room."

Practicing against a state-qualifier every day at practice isn't something that a lot of wrestlers have the opportunity to do, but that quality of competition has pushed both Parker and Montgomery to new heights this winter.

"Those two are so competitive and they both want to win," said Robinson. "Practices between those two are always fun to watch, because it's like watching a postseason wrestling match every day. And they really do make each other better by how hard they push each other."

Despite their success this season, you won't hear Parker and Montgomery talking much about it. They both bring a quiet confidence to the wrestling room at Spring Lake.

"They are both quiet guys that just want to come in and do their work," Robinson said. "They aren't going to sit there and brag about their successes. The only difference between them is that Jack is a little more technique-driven and Max is a little bit more of a brawler.

"I knew they would have a really good season this winter because they came in during the season last year and told me that they wanted to wrestle at the next level. They went to a few camps this summer and did everything they could possibly do to eventually get to that level.

"There's a difference between wishing for something and going out and making it happen, and these two exemplify what it means to commit to something and making it happen."

The friendly rivalry can sometimes get a little heated, however, but both grapplers never take it personally.

"Sometimes, when we are cutting weight, we can get a little mad at each other," Parker admitted. "For the most part though, we are just trying to make each other better by pushing each other every day at practice. I think going up against each other has helped prepare me for what I'm going to see this weekend.

"I'm not much of a technician, so it helps me a lot when I go up against Jack, because that's his style," added Montgomery. "I think practicing against a different style of wrestler every day at practice has made me a better wrestler."

With a successful two-week stretch of practices, Robinson believes his two grapplers are poised for a strong showing at Ford Field.

"The state finals are all about draws," he said. "I think Max should have a good shot at placing in the top eight with the route he has. For Jack, I really think the sky is the limit. He could push for top four or top two. It really just depends on if you get off to a hot start and if you can keep the momentum going through the weekend.

"They both have difficult matchups, but once you start wrestling, the results and records don't matter. It's all about technique and will power."

The MHSAA individual state finals will begin at 11 a.m. Friday at Ford Field with the annual Grand March proceedings, where each wrestler presents their school flag in a parade-like setting.

Following the opening ceremonies, the first matches will begin at approximately 11:30 a.m.

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