By Dan Hardenbrook

The co-op Varsity Wrestling team recently made their return to the mat, starting off a 2023-2024 season that has high hopes and more participants, meaning more full weight classes and because of it, better opportunities to compete as a team for Head Coach Bob Bowler. The wrestlers from Engadine and Newberry have already gotten off to strong start, led by a blend of experienced leaders and newcomers likely to make an impact.

In their opening Straits Area Conference action, the Indians went 2-0, defeating Rudyard and Pellston in big matchups. Against the Bulldogs, top returner and state qualifier Hayden O’Neil dominated his opponent, winning quickly in the 144lb weight class over Hunter St. Andrew.

Key contributor Kennedy Depew, who was a breakout addition last year while also playing basketball and is now solely focused on wrestling this season, started his own quest to qualify for the state tournament by winning his match at 175lbs over Jayden Niemi-Alcorn.

Delaney Bliss picked up huge points in another Indians win, dispatching Cierra Tasker in less than two minutes in a 113lb weight class showdown. Quentin Bliss (132) also earned a head-to-head win over Nathan Enriquez and All State Football star Gabe Luck won in his debut, taking just 18 seconds to score a pin on Logan O’Bryan.

Newberry’s sweeps in those head-to-heads along, with several empty weight class wins conceded by the Bulldogs, led to a 54-12 team win.

Depth was the key for the Indians against Pellston. Despite dropping two of the three head-to-head matches, the Indians earned plenty of points off the shorthanded Hornets. Pellston only rostered three wrestlers, while Newberry filled all but two classes. Quentin Bliss was the lone Indians to win his match, but the team came ahead on points 42-12.

This past weekend the focus switched to strong individual showings at the Lions Invitational in St. Ignace. Kennedy Depew shined in the solo competition, taking the top spot in the 175lb class. He swept all three opponents, defeating Munising’s Joe Kelley in the opening round and Sault Ste Marie’s Mac DeWildt in round two. His championship round victory came over the host St. Ignace’s Austin Roughton. Depew went undefeated in the opening week of competition.

Hayden O’Neil had a banner day of his own, winning the 144lb weight class, going through teammate Gaijye Depew after receiving a 1st round bye. Gaijye Depew won his round one contest against Manistique’s Hunter Salsbury to earn the head-to-head battle with O’Neil. O’Neil rolled past Cheboygan’s Jason Peacock and needed just 28 seconds to secure the final win over Caleb Klier (Sault).

Other top finishers from the Lions Invitational included Quentin Bliss, who was runner up at 132lbs. He went 2-1 overall on the day. Sheyenne Nelson earned her first win of the season, coming from the consolation bracket to finish fourth in her division.