Four Pilots make it through districts

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — De La Salle Collegiate had four wrestlers finish in the top-four Saturday at the Division 1 individual district tournament at L'Anse Creuse High School, qualifying each of them on to next weekend's regional tournament. 

Juniors Brett Stanley and Kenneth Ryder both won their weight class, while sophomore Dominic Ragona and freshman Gjon Nikollaj finished fourth and third to earn their way to the next level.

Wrestling at 160 pounds, Stanley was unbeaten on the day (3-0). He defeated Anchor Bay's Nino Tranchida, 14-2, in his title match. He had pinned Chippewa Valley's Noah Licari in 1:11 to open the day and followed it up with a 12-2 major decision over L'Anse Creuse's Joshua Walters in the semifinals. Stanley is now 35-1 on the season and hasn't lost since the Macomb County Championships.

Ryder, wrestling for just the second time since missing 3½ weeks due to mono, looked much better on Saturday. He also went 3-0, picking up an 8-6 decision over Anchor Bay's Jacob Biesiada in the championship match. He pinned L'Anse Creuse's Jackson Saleh in the semifinal. 

"I wrestled good but I'm still not back at 100 percent," said Ryder, who improved to 23-1 on the season. "And until then I won't be able to wrestle my style to its full potential. But I think by states I should be pretty close. I just have to focus on making it through regionals and stepping it up at practice and at home with my eating habits.

"I feel extremely relieved to have won districts. I've been worried about coming back worse than I was and it's a nice feeling to have (won) after taking second last year."

Both Ragona and Nikollaj had to work a bit harder to get through. Ragona won his first match (5-2 decision over Cousino's Logan Forsythe) but fell to Chippewa Valley's Kenny Snyder in the second round. He then had to battle his way through the back draw, defeating Grosse Pointe North's Artan Berisha and Dakota's David McFadden, to earn a spot at next week's regional.

Nikollaj had a similar path, winning his first match of the day before dropping his second. But a win in his third match, over Chippewa Valley's Lerone Kelsey, allowed him to wrestle for third place. He beat Anchor Bay's Ethan Knox in the consolation final, pinning him in 2:52.

"I'm very proud of how our guys wrestled today," De La Salle head coach Dennis Parks said. "(Ragona) was the eighth seed and he placed fourth today. He wrestled with a purpose."

Three other Pilots were one win shy of automatically qualifying out. Senior Michael Kafoury (189 pounds) finished 2-2 on the day, falling to Roseville's Robert Brandon, 12-4, in the blood round (win and you're in). Kafoury won his first match of the day, a 5-2 decision over Cousino's Wyatt Hudson. He then matched up with Ryder in the second round. He deferred to his top-seeded teammate, dropping to the consolation bracket. There, he pinned Fraser's Ryan Embry in 4:14 before matching up with Brandon.

Freshmen Nathan O'Donnell (112) and Vincent Lertola (171)  each finished 1-2 and were a victory shy of making the Top 4. O'Donnell fell to Fraser's Richard Brown, 9-7, in sudden victory overtime. Lertola was pinned by Fraser's Xavier McCowan-Harris in his final match.

Dakota led all teams with six individual champions and 12 regional qualifiers. L'Anse Creuse had three champions, followed by De La Salle and Chippewa Valley - each with two. Fraser had the other individual crown. Anchor Bay had nine qualifiers. Fraser (8), De La Salle (4), L'Anse Creuse (4), Chippewa Valley (4), South Lake (3), and Grosse Pointe North (2), and Cousino (2) all sent multiple qualifiers on to next weekend.

The regional will be hosted by Hartland High School on Feb. 22. 

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