Welcome to the club

The Alpena wrestling team has battled through some rough patches this season, but coach Jake Stenz has been patient with his wrestlers and they’ve improved as the season has progressed and have achieved some great individual success.

Four Alpena wrestlers have made it to a Division 1 individual regional today at Saginaw Heritage High School: R.J. Centala, Aleco Hantzis, Dakota Patterson and Felix Suszek.

Getting to regionals is always a big deal, but for Centala (140 pounds) and Hantzis (heavyweight) it’s epic: Centala picked up his 100th win with his last match at individual districts, a win that sent him to regionals. Hantzis is making it to the regionals as a sophomore, something his older brother Andreas also achieved.

Centala joins a rather elite group of Alpena wrestlers with 100 wins is only the 15th Wildcat grappler to hit the mark since 1974; a group which includes Stenz and his brothers Morgan and Zane.

Stenz broke a 23-year drought in 1998 by being the first wrestler since 1975 to reach 100 wins. The economic woes caused by Black Friday in the early 1980s wiped out several sports at Alpena including wrestling and gymnastics and wrestling didn’t return to Alpena until 1996.

The fact that Centala made it to the 100-win plateau as a junior makes it even more impressive and his 100th win was an exhilarating one.

“Getting it (the 100th win) on the last match of the day, on the match that sent me to regionals was amazing. I can’t imagine a better feeling in the world. I got a whole lot of congratulations from everybody, from my family and friends and all my teammates,” he said.

Centala also participates in cross country and track. Beyond the family connection, he was drawn to wrestling due to its achievement-based nature.

“It’s individual. There’s no politics. If you’re better than somebody else, you start. There’s no second guessing or favoritism,” Centala said. “I’ve been wrestling since I was four. There’s a huge history of wrestling in my family, mostly on my dad’s side. My dad, my uncle, my cousins and basically all the guys on that side wrestled for Rogers City.”

Stenz finds that this support from a young age was key to Centala’s success.

“Part of his success is due to the youth programs he participated in, but a lot of it has to due with his practice partners. He spent two years with Andreas Hantzis who really helped mold him into a great wrestler,” he said.

Centala echoed his coach’s statements.

“I’ve had constant support from my dad, from the school and from my coach (Stenz). They’ve really helped me get up into the higher levels and have constantly taught me new things about wrestling,” he said.

Centala hopes to attend either Grand Valley State or Olivet to become a middle school history and science teacher. He is leaning towards Olivet as Grand Valley has no wrestling program.

Hantzis’ family history of wrestling may not be as intensive as Centala’s, but his brother Andreas made it to regionals several times and has helped spark Aleco’s interest in the sport. Aleco has been wrestling since junior high.

He participates in wrestling and track too but finds wrestling to be his favorite sport by a long shot.

“It’s really aggressive. It’s one of those sports that really takes a lot of talent. You can’t fake your way through a match you really have to wrestle hard and earn a win,” he said.

Hantzis is looking forward to the chance to compete in the regional championship.

“Everybody looks really equal this year. It’s really a fair field but I definitely think there’s a chance I could win,” he said.

Stenz praised his wrestlers, noting that their hard work has helped them reach this point.

“R.J. is really getting great as is Aleco. They’re always key wrestlers n every meet. Dakota Patterson has to be getting really close to hitting 100 at this point and J.D. Niergarth is gonna end up just shy,” Stenz said. “It’s really a testament to the skill of these kids. They’ve competed against wrestlers from schools like Davison who are the second in the state and in the top 50 in the nation. And they’ve beat them! The fact that they can pick up 100 wins playing against teams like this just shows how talented and hard working they are,” he said.

Rogers City will host a Division 4 regional today beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Hurons will have seven wrestlers competing: Justin Saile (103), Cam Urban (119), Jake Sobeck (125), Evan Lamb (135), Jack Ryan (140), Austin Bober (145) and Caleb Pommerenke (189).