BLANCHARD — The regular season is over for the Montabella Mustangs wrestling team. Now, it’s postseason time.
With that, attention has turned toward the upcoming Central Michigan Athletic Conference tournament at CC-Crystal and quickly following, the Division 4 team district tournament at Fulton.
After a down season a year ago, the young Mustangs have turned the corner. Even though they fell just shy of a regular season CMAC title, the Mustangs posted a 25-4 record.
Montabella is currently ranked No. 9 in Division 4 by michigangrappler.com and has seven wrestlers with either an honorable mention or top 10 ranking in their respective weight classes.
“I think we have grown as a team since the start of the season,” Montabella coach Shaun Balhorn said. “We are starting to have guys peak right now and going into the postseason, I’m pretty excited about that.”
Balhorn said it’s nice for his team to see their hard work paying off by being recognized.
“Anytime our kids can get recognized they will be impressed by that,” Balhorn said. “Hopefully, that motivates them to work a little harder and it also motivates other kids to work at that level so they can get the recognition, as well.”
Montabella consists of mainly sophomores and juniors. The Mustangs feature just two freshman and two seniors.
“We have good leadership this year. Our juniors and sophomores have really stepped up and been positive leaders,” Balhorn said. “Academically, they do well. It’s a fun group of guys to coach and they have kind of rejuvenated my spirits as a coach this year.”
Balhorn — in his 16th season as head coach — reached the 300 career win mark a year ago and will more than likely cross the 350 mark early next season. He admits last year was tough.
“Last year was a disappointment for us. I think we looked a little too far ahead, too early. Pine River beat us in districts,” Balhorn said. “This year, we’ve focused on one step at a time. We have been focused on team districts pretty much all year long and beating Carson City-Crystal.”
Balhorn and Montabella are not beginners when it comes to winning district titles. The Mustangs brought home district titles every year from 2001 to 2007. They lost in 2008 and won again in 2009. They have not won one since.
Carson City-Crystal is the potential road block this season. The Eagles defeated the Mustangs 37-31 on Jan. 16. Montabella’s other losses have come to Big Rapids, Owosso and Freeland — all four by a combined 13 points — but just one since Christmas break.
“We’ve had a nice second half to the year. We’ve started to get a little stronger as we’ve gone through the year,” Balhorn said. “We’ve got a few guys back and hopefully that will help us make a longer postseason run.”
With no matches this week, the Mustangs are working hard toward Saturday’s conference tourney and districts five days later.
“We will go fairly hard the first part of the week and then ease off to let their bodies heal at the end of the week,” Balhorn said. “I think our focus is doing our job individually come Saturday and that will carry over into a team aspect next Thursday (Feb. 7) for us.”
The Mustangs will meet Fulton-Middleton in the district semifinal. They are expected to win the match and face the waiting Eagles for the district title.
Balhorn said the difference in the first match between the two schools (Eagles) was bonus points.
“It was 34-31 going into the last match,” Balhorn said. “It was right there, but bonus points were the key in that dual. We gave up five pins and that is 30 points right there. We gave too many points away.”
The two teams will also see each other at the conference tourney in an individual setting. Balhorn isn’t sure if it’s a good thing or bad thing to see the Eagles twice in five days.
“I don’t know if helps or hurts you, to tell you the truth,” Balhorn said. “Personally, we have scouted them enough to know what they have. And they have done the same. Looking at our teams and they are primarily identical. They are very good at some weights and so are we. We match up well to make for an exciting dual.”
Should Montabella win the district tournament, they would wrestle at home for team regionals on Feb. 13. Individual districts will take place on Feb. 9 at Byron.