Alpena High grapplers headed to D-2 state finals
ALPENA — Just go out and wrestle.
Through all the pauses and uncertainty and scheduling changes brought on by the pandemic, Alpena High senior Austin Bush has kept this simple mantra in mind each time he goes to the mat.
It’s paid off well so far. The 125-pounder is 18-2 this season, won a district title, finished second at regionals and now has a chance to finish his career with all-state honors.
Bush will be one of three Alpena wrestlers competing in the Division 2 state finals Friday at VanAndel Arena in Grand Rapids, along with Mason Bray (160) and Declan Genova (145).
“I’m pretty excited, just to be able to get the opportunity to wrestle in my last high school tournament,” Bush said. “My expectations (going into the season) were to just go out and wrestle. (It’s my) last season, just do what I’ve learned throughout (my) years wrestling.”
All three Wildcats — two of whom are seniors — have worked hard to reach the state finals, but their accomplishment is still impressive considering how compressed the schedule was. The Michigan High School Athletic Association allowed the first wrestling contests of the season to be held on Feb. 12 with the postseason starting a little over a month later.
“It says a lot (for them to get here). I mean these guys are extraordinary young men. It’s tough work in any year to get to the state finals, even to be a wrestler and be on the wrestling team,” Matt Kowalski, who’s in his first season as Alpena’s coach, said. “These guys have shown (a lot) sticking through it, working hard and getting through all that adversity that we had.”
The trio gives the Wildcats representation at the state finals for the first time since 2014 when R.J. Centala qualified at 140 pounds.
Bush and Genova (24-2), both seniors, finished second at regionals in Fremont last weekend, earning a spot in the finals as one of the top four finishers in each weight class.
Bray (18-10), a junior, took a different route to get there, finishing third and rebounding from an opening round loss. Bray lost his first match in a 3-2 decision, but finished the day strong. He won a 5-3 decision in his first consolation match before earning pins in his last two matches; the last one came against Holly’s Jeff Preston, who defeated Bray in the opening round.
“After losing the first one, I just kind of had to say, ‘I’ve gotta go. I have two more chances to go and I just have to wrestle through that,'” Bray said. “It was a lot of work. The matches were getting closer and they became tighter.”
Should one of them finish with all-state honors — awarded to the top eight finishers in each weight class — they’ll be the first Wildcat to do so since Kevin Dault did it in 2008.
“They’ve got to keep doing what they’ve been doing. They’ve got a great opportunity to be all-state and maybe even state champs,” Kowalski said. “I told the guys, one day at a time, we’re going to get our opportunity. We got our opportunity and we’ve definitely taken advantage of it, so I’m really excited.”