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Gaylord's Sunni LaFond shines as Record-Eagle Female Wrestler of the Year

Apr. 14—GAYLORD — There's supposedly no way up from a state championship as a junior.

Sunni LaFond is considering finding a way.

The Gaylord 115-pound girls state champion is thinking about entering the boys tournament next year.

"One of her goals was to win a state title," Gaylord wrestling coach Jerry LaJoie said. "She did that, and now she's moving on to other things. It's great."

While her first name is Sunni, her opponents' outlook was much more cloudy every time they squared off against the talented grappler.

LaFond's outlook, on the other hand? Well, it is mighty bright as she takes home the honor as the Record-Eagle's Female Wrestler of the Year after a 30-6 campaign during the 2023-24 season.

LaFond took second in the state each of the prior two years, falling to Algonac's Sky Langewicz in the 110-pound championship match each time. She bumped up to 115 pounds this year, expecting Langewicz to do the same, but the Algonac junior star stayed at 110 and finished third.

"I didn't even think about who I was wrestling this year," LaFond said. "I just went out and wrestled."

She'll do the same next season, facing more boys in the 113-pound weight class if things work out right and then opt to wrestle in the boys state finals. Female wrestlers can only wrestle in one division or the other.

"I've wanted to since my freshman year," LaFond said. "We'll see how that goes. I've always wrestled on the guys team, and I wanted to be at their finals."

After all, she wrestles boys in practice every day, going up against the likes of Luka Lehre, Jason Cranick and Jaron Bensinger — all of whom at least went to regionals this season.

LaFond came into this year's final as the top overall seed with a 24-6 record against Gaylord's tough schedule that frequently features Division 1 opposition.

She won each of her first three state finals matches by fall in the first or second period, then bested Grand Haven junior Gracey Barry in the finals, 13-9, to give Barry only her second setback of the season. LaFond raced off the mat after her championship win and leapt into the arms of assistant coach Dan Cornish.

LaFond will be Gaylord's first four-year female wrestler next season. She's already the first to make it through three. That's no small feat in a system that has been one of the preeminent programs in northern Michigan for decades.

"I knew she was going to make it when she got her first bloody nose," LaJoie said. "Some girls cry, and she just wiped it with her shirt and got a nose plug. I said, 'That's a wrestler.'"

LaFond said she also recently decided she wants to wrestle in college.

"I never thought I'd have a girl wrestler," said LaJoie, a coach who's retiring this year after 30 seasons leading the Blue Devils program. "Back in my day, girls didn't wrestle. She's not a girl wrestler. She's a wrestler who is a girl."

GIRLS DREAM TEAM

100 — Ava Pike, Manistee, Jr., 16-10

105 — Emily Alaimo, Glen Lake, Jr., 27-9

115 — Sunni LaFond, Gaylord, Jr., 30-6

120 — Bella Crompton, Frankfort, Jr., 22-7

130 — Cambrie Lawrence, Benzie Central, Sr., 21-2

130 — Anna Beers, TC West, So., 15-8

135 — Katherine Matter, Charlevoix, Fr., 14-14

140 — Camille Mitchell, Lake City, Jr., 17-8

145 — Kennedy Wahmhoff, Manton, Jr., 27-9

145 — Emily Bott, Kingsley, So., 10-14

155 — Paige Willman, Frankfort, Jr., 22-7

155 — Makayla Gowell, Manton, Sr., 22-10

170 — Adalene Chambers, Kingsley, Jr., 13-16

235 — Abigayle Dahl, TC West, So., 17-14

Follow @Jamescook14 on Twitter.