State finals for girls basketball, wrestling will move

David Goricki
The Detroit News

High school girls basketball and wrestling fans will have to get their maps out in order to get to the state championship games and matches next winter.

The MHSAA announced the girls basketball semifinals and finals will be held March 15-17 at Van Noord Arena on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids after a long stay (2010-17) at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

MSU women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant has been wanting the Spartans to host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games in past years, but it wasn’t possible due to the girls basketball state finals.

The team wrestling finals, which has been held at McGuirk Arena at Central Michigan University the past two years, will move to Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo for the next four years, while the individual wrestling finals will be held at Ford Field in Detroit after being at The Palace of Auburn Hills since 2002.

“We had our spring meeting Sunday and Monday and the Representative Council voted to move the girls basketball finals to Calvin College, Van Noord Arena for the 2018 event,” MHSAA communications director John Johnson said. “The changes that were made for the site selections for basketball were made exclusively for 2018 and that was Van Noord Arena at Calvin College for girls and Michigan State University for the boys, and then the rest of the year leading up to the December meeting, looking at what the future holds with what we may need to do to the basketball schedule.

“Michigan State is not able to host the girls for the coming school year and is it available to host the boys in 2019 for the same conflict (NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament first-and-second round games)?  Sometimes there’s calendar shifts and that’s what we run into in 2019: There’s a calendar shift where the first round of the NCAA Tournament runs the same weekend as our boys basketball finals. It doesn’t happen often. In most years it’s the girls basketball finals weekend that runs into that first weekend (of NCAA tournament).”

Johnson feels the 5,000-seat Van Noord Arena is the perfect fit for the girls basketball finals.

“It will provide a fabulous atmosphere,” Johnson said of Van Noord Arena. “It’s a building that has been used on a national stage for Division III championships on two occasions for the women. Calvin has experience hosting events of this caliber and it’s the right size for the event.”

It will give Detroit Country Day legendary coach Frank Orlando a possible sixth different site to lift the ultimate trophy.

Orlando, 74, owns a record 12 state titles, coming in four different decades, including a Class C championship in 1989 at Grand Valley State, Class B in 1995 at Battle Creek, Class B in Mount Pleasant in '97, Class B in 2008 at Eastern Michigan and Class B titles in 2015 at Michigan State and again this past winter at The Breslin.

"I can tell you this: When they had it at Central Michigan, which held a little more than 5,000, it was packed so it felt like more of a state championship game because it was packed, noisy," said Orlando, "and that was a good thing."

The wrestling team finals will be set for Feb. 23-24 in Kalamazoo, and the individual finals are March 2-3 at Ford Field in Detroit.

“Wings Center Arena in Kalamazoo will be the host of the team wrestling finals for the next four years and what drove that was the wrestling community wanted to have all four championship matches going on simultaneously,” Johnson said.

“This year we made a change to go to two sessions of two finals each so that we could accommodate everyone who wanted to go in because we turned people away the first year at Central when we ran all four finals simultaneously. This way, with 5,100 seats and 1,000 standing room, we won’t have to turn anybody away at Wings. Everybody loved Central, but it just wasn’t big enough.”

Johnson then talked of the move to Ford Field.

“For individual wrestling, because of the fact The Palace is likely not available, we’ll move the individual finals at Ford Field and do it over two days instead of three — run it that Friday and Saturday during the first weekend of March. We’ll have four mats down in each division so instead of having 12 mats going simultaneously we’ll have 16 mats going simultaneously. We’re used to having done this over two days because we’ve done it for years before we moved to The Joe (Louis Arena) in the late ‘90s.

“It will probably be more convenient for fans as far as it’s one less night and we can keep it under one roof and this was our only available option. And, this is a one-year deal, then we’ll re-evaluate. The dates are available to us at Little Caesars going forward, but we might like what we see with this two-day format. The fans might like what they see.”

Johnson also said the Representative Council announced a one-year deal to have the 8-player finals for the two divisions in football held Nov. 18 at the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.