After last season was cut short because of COVID, the Holt High School wrestling team is hoping to come rearing back and to make its mark.
Coach Stan Granger said he is happy with new student turnout for the beginning of the season. Because of the pandemic, there were not as many students who chose to try out new sports.
“It’s nice to be back in the room, with a lot of kids,” he said. “It’s a sign of being able to be back with the community. We were together last year, the core group. But it’s always the extra kids. That really makes my day.”
The 2020-21 season was anxiety-inducing, Granger said. The team did not know who it had to practice or compete against because students were being regularly pulled out because of exposure to COVID-19.
“We had to be real selective on who we let in our room. We pared down our coaching staff, we did everything we could do to minimize things,” Granger said. “It was a lot of stress on everybody.
“There were days when we would get to a meet, we’d think we’d have things squared away, we’d get a phone call: So and so couldn’t compete because uncle found out they’re exposed. And then we had to stop whatever we had planned and change. So it was constant change last year.”
While they have entered a new season, members of the team are still adjusting to change. One of those adjustments include Granger’s new position: head coach.
In June 2021, 40-year wrestling squad head coach Rocky Shaft died at 65. Shaft led the Rams to three state titles and more than 30 district titles. Granger had been an assistant coach for 27 years under Shaft.
“So that’s been my philosophy coming into it, we just adjust to what we have,” Granger said. “There’s been years we’ve been short coaches, years we’ve been short kids. We’ve been short things this year, and we’re going to have a leadership change.”
Senior Halim Tran said the team is still trying to recover from Shaft’s death.
“It felt really bad because he was a big part of this community. It hurt everyone and we’re all trying to recover from our coach being gone,” Tran said. “But we’re still gonna work hard knowing he’s gonna want that.”
Senior Grant Bachman said he is happy Granger took over as head coach.
“You know, I wouldn’t want anybody else as head coach. Honestly, he just knows what to do,” Bachman said. “He does a great job.”
While team members dream of a state title, many of the wrestlers also have ambitions for themselves. Seniors Dane Hafke and Makaih Tanner said they have put in extra workouts to try to better themselves this season.
“I go to the YMCA after practice and get an extra workout in — for strength and conditioning purposes,” Tanner said. “We don’t really hit the weights, so I mean hitting the weights is going to really help.”
Hafke spent the offseason running cross country to condition.
“I did cross country before, so every Tuesday and Thursday, I’d have wrestling practice at my house with just a couple of selected individuals and we would do like a technique workout or something not as hard, but something to get us in the mood for wrestling,” Hafke said.
Granger said he thinks the team will have tough competition for the state title, including Davison, the reigning state champion.
“Davison, since they’re No. 1, it’s the classic state rivals of Davison and DCC,” Granger said, referring to Novi Detroit Catholic Central, last year’s runner-up. “Clarkston’s sneaking in there. Hartland, Rockford, Brighton always bring tough kids.”
The wrestling team will compete against multiple teams this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 17 and 18 at the North Canton Hoover Invite.