KALAMAZOO – The only problem with high school state tournaments is that for most teams the season ends in a loss.

The Whitehall wrestling team tasted defeat for the first time this season on Saturday, and it was a tough way to go out after a long string of victories.

The Vikings reached the Division 2 state semifinals by defeating St. Joseph 39-28 on Friday night in Kalamazoo.

But their luck ran out in Saturday’s semifinals when they suffered a 41-24 loss to Goodrich at Wings Event Center.

Whitehall, which came into the tournament with a perfect record, finished the season with an excellent 27-1 mark. The Vikings won the West Michigan Conference championship, the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Tournament title, and district and regional championships.

All in all it was another great season for the area’s top wrestling program.

Whitehall’s Riley Buys (on bottom) battles his opponent in the 130-pound match.

“Our goal was certainly to get to the last eight and see what happens,” said Whitehall co-coach Collin Zeerip. “We exited a little early, but it was still a great season and I’m proud of our kids.”

This was the second straight year that Whitehall advanced to the Final 8 of the team state wrestling tournament.

Last season the Vikings, competing in Division 3, made the state title match before falling to Dundee, which won its fourth straight title.

This season they were back in Division 2, where the schools are a little bigger and the competition is a little stronger, and they made the semifinals.

The Vikings have made many Final 8 appearances over the years, and are known far and wide for having one of the better programs in the state.

The one thing they haven’ done is win a state team championship, but that’s bound to come, sooner or later, if they keep having the kind of success they’ve had over the years.

“It’s a great experience,” Coach Zeerip said about making the Final 8 and competing with the state’s best teams in Kalamazoo. “It’s a process in and of itself to get down here. It’s pretty tough. We have a lot of these kids returning next year and I think they will come back pretty hungry.”

Whitehall’s Shane Cook (right) squares off with his opponent, James Mahon of Goodrich, who he ended up pinning in the third round.

The Vikings were seeded second behind eight-time state champion Lowell in the Final 8 and were therefore favored to get through their bracket and make it to the finals.

But it quickly became apparent that the semifinals were going to be a problem against a strong Goodrich squad.

The first hint of real trouble came in the 145-pound match, when Whitehall’s Max Brown, an individual state champion last year, lost a tough match to Carsen Richards of Goodrich 2-0, giving the Martians a 13-3 lead.

The Vikings also lost the next match, and were penalized a point for unsportsmanlike conduct, and found themselves trailing 17-2.

Two more losses in a row left Whitehall facing a 26-2 deficit and in need of a major comeback, and the Vikings gave it a shot with three straight pins.

Nick Blanchard started things out with a pin of Chance Carlson in 58 seconds in the 189-pound match. Then Whitehall’s Shane Cook pinned James Mahon in 5:47 in the 215-pound match and Ira Jenkins followed with a 17-second pin in the heavyweight match, and suddenly the score was 26-20.

Whitehall’s Aiden Weiler works to get up off the mat. 

But the Vikings’ comeback stalled when they only won one of the remaining four matches, and the team portion of their season was over.

Also gaining wins for Whitehall were Ryne Christensen (119 pounds) and Aiden Weiler (135 pounds).

“There were a lot of swing matches in the middle there and (Goodrich) pretty much won them all,” Zeerip said. “When you have a few matches like that and they don’t go your way, it’s pretty hard.”

The good news is that the season is not over for seven Vikings who qualified for next weekend’s Division 2 individual state finals. That list includes Brown and Ira Jenkins, both defending state champions, along with Blanchard, Cook, Alec Pruett, Riley Buys and Wyatt Jenkins.

“This group has worked super hard all year,” Zeerip said. “They are resilient. I know they will get back to work on Monday and hit the reset button.”