February 22, 2012 - What a week for the wrestling program.
In addition to advancing to state finals for the fifth consecutive year by avenging an early season loss to Rochester, the Wildcats qualified a school record 11 wrestlers to the individual state finals next month at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The week got going when Oxford and Rochester put on a classic in the regional final on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
In a match that went back and forth, the Wildcats prevailed 31-27 when senior Jacob Peasley defeated Shane Shadaia 9-1.
However, the comeback started one wrestler before when junior Rocco Borg stepped onto the mat against Rochester's Aaron Morgan with Oxford trailing 27-24.
Borg didn't disappoint, defeating Morgan 10-5, tying the match at 27 and setting the stage for Peasley to close the door on Rochester's season.
Varsity coach Brandon Rank said he had every confidence that Borg and Peasley would pull out the victories.
"We knew that we were going to come down to Rocco Borg and Jake Peasley, two leaders on our team, to get us to team states," he said. "We felt pretty darn confident finishing with Borg and Peasley."
Rank said the match would not have come down to Borg and Peasley if other wrestlers hadn't stepped up in big spots.
Both freshmen Daniel Curtis (103) and junior Matt Anger (189) were able to fight off their backs and avoid being pinned during their matches. Despite Curtis and Anger losing, the Falcons earned only six points instead of 12.
The victory avenged a 39-27 defeat Oxford suffered at the hands of the Falcons during Oakland Activities Association play.
"Obviously avenging the loss...to Rochester was high on our priority list and something we worked real hard for and something we made happen," Rank said. "Going back and avenging a loss on Wednesday night in a tight, tight dual meet coming down to the last match to get us to team state tournament, it shows the poise and work ethic of our kids."
"I just smile and shake my head and go wow, these kids are something," Rank added.
According to Rank, Wednesday's victory will definitely help the team's mindset heading into their quarterfinals match against Davison, which will take place at Kellogg's Arena in Battle Creek on Friday, Feb. 24.
"The nice thing about having tight dual meets and seeing kids have to pick up majors, pick up falls, they get trained into doing those things and when it really matters, as it will this Friday, we're battled hardened," Rank said.
"You go into a tight dual meet, you get used to that. You get used to those nerves," he added. "Kids compete under pressure, and when it really matters at the state meet, kids have had that experience before. They know what it's like to compete with pressure and you feel pretty darn confident they can go out and handle their business."
He added his kids were looking forward to the rematch against Davison.
"Just because we lost a match at the beginning of the season doesn't mean that is going to happen again," Rank said. "Our kids are improving every single day. Right now they are riding with a lot of confidence and I feel real good into going into Davison and pulling an upset there."
The wrestling team continued their strong regional performance on Saturday, Feb. 18 when all 11 wrestlers qualified for the individual state tournament.
"Individually, qualifying 11 out of 11 for the state meet was one of the most exciting things I have seen in years, next to a state championship," he said.
"I don't even have words for it," he continued. "I was just so proud of the boys this weekend. I walked around with a smile on my face all day."
The Wildcats were led by regional champions seniors Kyle Hill, Peasley, and Prescott Line and sophomore Mike Willits.
Additional state qualifiers were senior Noah Cantara, juniors Dan Curtis, Borg, Marty Giannola and Liam Logan and sophomores Eddie Schlickenmeyer and Wesley Maskill.
Rank believed some of the kids took it to heart when all the talk before the season was how Oxford was going to have a down year due to how much the program lost after students graduated.
"It was their turn and people were considering them a project," Rank said. "They said fine, if I'm a project, I'm going to work, and that is what they did. They went to work."
"We've got sophomores qualified; juniors qualified. We've had young kids that have stepped into our starting line-up this year that at the beginning of the year were getting beat up a little bit, but they adjusted to that...and they worked hard and started seeing results."
He added the success of the past week was "great" for Oxford's overall wrestling program. "I think it's a big testament to our program and what we are doing there and how we are training kids," he said. "Even last year as state champions, we didn't qualify 11 individuals for the state tournament."
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.