Blue Devil Wrestlers Show Grit on the Mat; Kuenzer Wins U.P. Championship

The Sault High Blue Devils wrestling team  traveled to Marquette over the weekend to compete in the UP Championships. In a field of 19 teams, the Blue Devils placed fourth overall and placed the highest in all of the teams from the Eastern Upper Peninsula. One wrestler, junior Sawyer Kuenzer, made it all the way to the top of the podium, winning the 285 lb bracket. 

Kuenzer (27-2) was seeded second in his weight class. He had a first round bye, then pinned Gabe Hamilton of Newberry (3:05) in the quarterfinals round. A (4-1) decision over Josh Racine of Gladstone secured his spot in the finals, where he beat Dasan Smith from Marquette by one point (3-2). When asked how it felt to bring home the title, Sawyer shared “When the buzzer sounded for the end of the match, I pretty much blacked out from how excited I was. It felt pretty great to win a tournament I used to not win matches at.” Kuenzer joined the team as a freshman, and talked about his progress over the past few years. “The work I put in can be attributed to my coaches as they are the ones who pushed me to this level for the past three years. I didn’t really prepare much outside of practice for that match.” Over the halfway point of the season, he has a few more things he is working toward. “Goals for the rest of the season are to continue to put in work during practice and win whatever tournaments we have left. NMCs are next week, so that’s my current goal, but after that we start the grind to a state championship.” Head Coach Jacinto Arreola reflected on Kuenzer’s first place finish. “Sawyer has had a long road to the UP Title, he came to us as a freshman with little to no experience on the mat. As a Sophomore he battled tooth and nail for a starting spot but ultimately was the backup for much of the season. This summer, he decided to put his nose to the grindstone and work hard, attend camps, clinics, etc.. His efforts certainly shined on Saturday with him becoming our first Heavyweight UP Champion since Chase Bouschor in 2016. We are grateful enough to have Sawyer returning as a Senior again for the 2024-25 campaign.”

The Blue Devils had seven additional wrestlers make the podium, earning a fifth place finish or better. Senior Chris Kiekhaefer (19-4) was the runner up in the 190 lb weight class. Seeded third in the bracket, he had a first round bye. Kiekhaefer had a first period pin over Kaine Clarke of Menominee (1:28) in the quarterfinals match. In the semifinal round, he won by decision over Connor Dalton of Gwinn (7-3). In the championship match, Kiekhaefer fell to Lucas Sischo of Bark River Harris in the second period. 

Senior Will Ohman (27-3) wrestling in the 138 lb weight class also brought home a second place finish. The number two seed, Ohman started out with a first round bye. He pinned his way to the championship round, pinning Will Helppi of Negaunee (1:12), and then Tegan Ray of Kingsford (4:37). In the first place match, Ohman was paired against Eli Gardner from Escanaba. The two gave the crowd a good show, taking the match into double overtime before Gardner won by decision (4-1). 

Junior Max VanDoren (20-9) started out the day as the number five seed in the 126 lb weight class, and with a first round bye. In the quarterfinals VanDoren pinned Rudyard’s Nathan Enriquez (2:20) but then fell to Iron Mountain’s Tyler Winch by points. The third place match put VanDoren against conference rival Bodie Lipnitz of St Ignace. Max outlasted Bodie, winning by points (6-3) earning his third place spot on the podium. 

Junior Calvin Aldrich (13-7) was seeded fourth in the 215 lb bracket. In the first round he took no time pinning Aubree Croasdell of Escanaba (0:32). In the quarterfinals, he followed that with another pin, this time over Robert Johns from Munising (5:45). Aldrich met Kingsford’s Elizin Rouse in the semifinal round, and lost by pin. In a close third place match, Jack Savard from Gladstone won by points (1-0). 

Sophomore Wyatt Peabody (19-8) 132 lbs, was also the number four seed in his weight class. He had a first round pin over Matthew Foster of Negaunee (4:44) and won by major decision (17-5) over Marquette’s Antonie Villarello putting him into the semifinals round. There, he met Drew Hansen of Gladstone and lost by a pin. In the third place match, Peabody met Tyler Bray from Kingsford and ultimately lost by points (3-1). 

Junior Cody Russo (23-5) seeded fourth in the 175 lb weight class, also brought home a fourth place finish. Russo pinned Evert Olson of Escanaba (1:36) and then pinned Austin Roughton of St Ignace (4:48) to advance to the semifinals. Russo was pinned by Trevor Thorbahn of Gladstone, and put up a good fight against Max Sundquist from Kingsford, but fell by points (6-2), earning fourth place. 

Junior Brett Siesel (15-8) made the podium with a fifth place finish in the 150 lb weight class. Seeded sixth, Siesel had a first round bye. He lost a very close, tough match to Daven Collins of Westwood (12-11), putting him over on the consolation side of the bracket. He fought his way back to a fifth place finish, beating Carter Stansky of Gwinn (6-2), and then pinning Ethan Messersmith of Bark River Harris (1:47). 

The tournament also recognized student athletes that made the 2024 UP Wrestling All Academic Team. In order to qualify, student athletes must be a junior or senior, and have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. Six Blue Devils were recognized for their dedication and performance on and off the mat. Seniors Chris Kiekhaefer and Will Ohman, along with juniors Calvin Aldrich, Sawyer Kuenzer, Brett Siesel and Max VanDoren made the All Academic Team. The Sault had the largest number of athletes make the team out of all the schools in the UP. 

Coach was proud of the work the team put in on Saturday. “Our wrestling team showcased relentless determination on the mat. They never let up, pushing through challenges with unwavering persistence. Each member fought hard, The grit and tenacity displayed by our team were nothing short of impressive, earning them respect on the mat and making it known we were a top team in contention for the U.P Title.”

The Blue Devils (18-2) will compete in another pair of Straits Area Conference duals on Wednesday in Pellston. The team is also preparing for the Northern Michigan Championships, which will be held in Gaylord this coming weekend. Arreola spoke of the plan this week to ready the team for another significant tournament. “We are focusing on a bit of all 3 positions, honing our skills, and looking to make a strong statement in the next few weeks where we have unfinished business.”

Sawyer Kuenzer, 285 lb UP Champion
Blue Devils Medal Winners
UP All Academic Team Members

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