Heart rates speed up and adrenaline shoots through the body when they go from the warm-up area tucked below the Palace of Auburn Hills stands out to the floor in front of thousands of spectators.
And in a matter of minutes in the first round of championship bracket action, even the best high school grapplers Michigan has to offer see a state championship slip away in the meat grinder that is the MHSAA individual state wrestling finals.
That’s what happened to five of the seven entrants from St. Joseph County Thursday. For Constantine’s Andres Montoya and Andy Waterman, the dream is still alive after wins to start the tournament. The rest must traverse a consolation minefield in order to place in the top eight in their respective weight classes to earn all-state status.
Montoya, a 140-pounder fueled all year long by his early exit last season, kept his perfect record untarnished with a pin against Jonesville’s Ethan Lowry in 3 minutes, 45 seconds. The Falcons’ 46-0 senior, ranked No. 7 in his class in Division 4, pointed his way to a 12-3 lead before seeing his opportunity for a fall. Lowry was an honorable mention.
“I got a little bit sloppy and it got to the second period and he kind of gave up,” Montoya said. “I was a little nervous. I didn’t wrestle the way I wanted to in that first match, but a win is a win. In the first period he gave me a run for my money.
“It took a lot of the pressure off and now I can wrestle the way I want to without really having to worry much about what happens if I lose and what happens next.”
What happened before Montoya could even catch his breath was teammate and seventh-ranked Andy Waterman’s nail-biting bout at 152 pounds against Kent City’s KJ Herremans, who boasted a No. 9 state ranking.
Waterman collected a late takedown to tie the match at 9-9 and send it to overtime. After the first whistle, Waterman took a successful shot for a sudden-death victory.
“I was nervous and scared,” said Waterman, an 18-year-old junior who missed the podium last year and won’t get another shot after this season due to the state age limit for prep competition. “The move I was trying to get [in OT] was a double leg. I tried for it but it wasn’t really there. At the last second I made a move and I did the right one I guess.”
Others are likely second-guessing what they did while trying to mentally prepare for a long road ahead. With a field so loaded with talent, there’s no room for error.
Constantine sophomore Daniel Waterman (No. 10 at 160) experienced the other side of an overtime match, losing to Hudson Area’s Clayton Brockway 4-2.
Mendon junior heavyweight Cole Harrison lost to Whittemore-Prescott’s Ryan Prescott, who came in 31-0 and ranked No. 1, by pin in 1:29.
In Division 2, Sturgis Luke Carver’s record dipped to 42-10 after the sophomore’s loss by technical fall (18-3) at 152 pounds to sixth-ranked Trenton Holyfield of Hamilton.
Escanaba’s Travis Heller, ranked third in the state, improved to 42-3 this year after beating Three Rivers ninth-ranked senior Shawn Brew by a 13-4 major decision. Brew entered the state championship with a 28-9 record and will also have to work his way through the consolation bracket to get on the all-state podium.
At 189 pounds, state honorable mention Brandon Verwey, also of Three Rivers, was defeated by technical fall (15-0) in his match versus No. 2-ranked Garett Stehley of Lowell.
Friday’s consolation first round begins at 8:30 a.m. and the championship quarterfinals start at 11 a.m.