Pilots wrestling has something to look forward

WARREN, Mich. — The winter season can be a long and challenging one, without having to deal with adversity. Add in a little inexperience, illness, and injuries and it can be downright tough.

Despite having to deal with much of the above, the 2019-20 De La Salle Collegiate wrestling team showed its resiliency, finishing with an above .500 record, a top-12 position at the Macomb County Championships, and a fourth-place finish at the Catholic League Championships.

"This season was about experience, or lack of," coach Dennis Parks said. "We started the season with just four wrestlers with a high school varsity match under their belt. At the end of the season, we had 20 wrestlers with varsity match experience."

Parks said this season's value will be calculated by next year's results when the team returns 19 wrestlers who will have some varsity experience. 

Leading the way this season were juniors Brett Stanley and Kenneth Ryder. The pair finished at or near the top of the podium in almost every tournament they entered, both having a chance on the biggest stage of wrestling at the Division 1 state finals at Ford Field.

Stanley finished the season 41-4, taking fifth place at the state finals. He won championships at the Tom Costello Memorial tournament, the Spartan Classic, the Catholic League tournament, and at districts. He was runner-up at the Macomb County Championships and at the regional.

"Brett always starts the season slow due to coming off the football field, but he always finishes strong," Parks said. "His focus during the postseason is second to none. A loss in the first round of the state finals was tough, but he came back to place higher than that opponent and beat the wrestler he lost to in the regional final."

Ryder was perfect early on this season until a case of mononucleosis struck midseason. It sidelined him for nearly a month and without a doubt limited him down the home stretch.

"He was nearly unbeatable until he was diagnosed," Parks said. "His unorthodox style gave so many guys fits. Winning the county tournament at 189 when he only weighed 164 is unbelievable."

The county championship was the highlight of the season for Ryder. It was the first individual county title for a De La Salle wrestler since 2012 (Joe Schudt). Ryder also claimed championships at the Spartan Classic, the Tom Costello Memorial tournament, and districts. He finished with a 25-5 overall record. 

Sophomore Dominic Ragona and freshman Gjon Nikollaj were both regional qualifiers. Ragona finished 29-11, winning the Spartan Classic and also placing top four at the Tom Costello Memorial, Catholic League Championships at districts. Nikollaj was 22-8 this season, placing fourth at the Tom Costello Memorial and third at the individual district.

Senior Michael Kafoury was 15-8 and finished 3rd at the Catholic League Championships in his first year wrestling. Junior Clayton Beleshi was 8-3 before suffering a season-ending foot injury 

Junior Clayton Beleshi 8-3 before getting injured in early January. Junior Jeremy Schelosky, Sophomore. Fischer Schluessler and freshmen Javon Williams and Nathan O'Donnell all reached double digits win totals.

"This season was tough with inexperience and injuries," Parks said. "Nate O'Donnell, Dominic Ragona and Gjon Nikollaj whowed how improved they had become with their results at districts. Next year, we look to have healthy wrestlers back in the varsity lineup like Mason Collins, Kevin Fage, Peyton Smithling, Dean Oakie, and Clayton Beleshi."

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