TRAVERSE CITY — Vincent Priante has been the wrestling equivalent of a vagabond the past couple of weeks.
As the lone member of the Traverse City West wrestling team who is still alive for the individual state tournament, Priante has been traveling around to find competitors to help him prepare for this weekend’s Division 1 state meet, which starts today at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
“It’s been tough without having a whole team to practice, like the other top teams,” said Priante. “They have all their kids in the practice room. I’ve been having to go all over — St. Francis and Pine River — and practice with them. It’s been tough, but it will definitely be worth it.”
Priante, a sophomore who enters the finals ranked third at 103 pounds with a record of 47-6, is making his first trip to the state finals. He’s hoping to finish among the top eight.
“I’m not trying to look at the seed and where I’m ranked,” said Priante. “Once you step on to the mat anything can happen so I just want to put that out of my head and focus on winning matches, no matter what. My goal is just to place. I feel like that’s the next step and to just do as good as I possibly can. If I go out there and do my best and try my hardest that will be enough for me.”
Priante was the runner-up at the regional after winning the district championship.
Priante is one of nearly 20 wrestlers from the region who will compete at the state meet and one of the most highly ranked.
St. Francis heavyweight Jake Khoury actually has the highest ranking, coming into the Division 4 meet as the No. 2 seed. Khoury, 33-3 on the year, was fifth in the state last season and is coming off a runner-up finish at the regional, where he was beaten by top-ranked defending state champion Ryan Prescott of Whittemore-Prescott. The two are on a collision course for another battle if they reach the title match.
“Jake had a really good match against (Prescott) at regional finals last week. He lost by two points,” said St. Francis coach Mike Simaz. “That’s the only match that guy hasn’t pinned a guy. He’s wrestling right with that kid now. I expect, if he’s wrestling his best, he should get in the finals and make a match of it.”
Khoury is one of three St. Francis wrestlers still competing, along with 130-pounder Matt Mawby (29-11) and 119-pounder Zach Schaub (36-4). Schaub is making his third finals appearance but is looking to place for the first time. The big thing for Schaub is he’s at full strength.
“The last couple of years he’s had some kidney problems and it’s acted up and he was pretty weak going into the state finals,” said Simaz. “He’s healthy and strong now so anything could happen with him this week.
“I expect them all to place,” Simaz added. “I think both Zach and Khoury have a good shot at getting to the finals.”
While Simaz thinks Mawby can place among the top eight, Mawby has a tough road in his class. Mawby’s first bout is against second-ranked Kyle Barkovich (45-2) of Lawton. Also among the finals qualifiers are Forest Area’s Matt Elliott, who was second in the state last season and has a 35-1 mark on the year. Elliott, the third seed, suffered his only loss of the season to Mancelona’s Mike Meadows (45-6), another qualifier and the ninth seed. He avenged that loss in the regional.
“I’m going to do my best to get back to the finals and hopefully win it this time,” said Elliott. “That definitely helped drive me through the season. Getting second place is almost worse than getting third because getting second place you lose your last match. Getting third you would’ve won it.”
Elliott has some company going down to the state meet as teammates Chris Schelske (30-16) qualified at 152 pounds and Brandon Ames (38-11) at 171 pounds.
“We’ve got some great kids on our team and they work their guts off to get where they are today,” said Forest Area coach Nick Fouch.
Like Priante and Elliott, Manton’s Tristin Rosted is the third seed in his weight class, the 171 division. Rosted brings a 44-0 record into the state meet.
Other finals qualifiers who will be competing starting Thursday are: Onaway’s Joe Traynham (112), Isaac Nave (119) and Casey Watson (189); Charlevoix’s Jake Novotny (152) and Sam Hovie (160); Manton’s Noah Thompson (215); and Keegan Richardson (285) of Mancelona.