1st Girls Finals Champions Make MHSAA History at Ford Field

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

March 6, 2022

DETROIT – Eliana Bommarito will typically have the advantage in strength anytime she steps on the wrestling mat against another female.

At Saturday’s Individual Wrestling Finals, the Hartland senior drew strength from the crowd at Ford Field as girls joined the boys on the big stage for the first time in history.

Bommarito earned a fall over Belding freshman Madasyn Frisbie in 3:53 in the 255-pound title match to become a four-time state champion.

“I’m so proud. It means, like, we’re being recognized,” said Bommarito, who was 8-0 in matches against girls this season. “There’s actually more girls joining, and this will only encourage more and more females to start wrestling and know that they have a chance to be recognized for it. It’s just great that I got to see that my last year.”

Bommarito said she picked up wrestling about six years ago. She’s been a state champion more than half that time.

The last three years, she won state titles through the Michigan Wrestling Association. This season, a girls wrestling tournament was sponsored by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, so Bommarito got the chance to perform in front of a much larger crowd that in previous years.

Frisbie (7-1) made Bommarito work a bit. None of the previous postseason matches in her career went beyond the first period, but this one lasted nearly two.

“I rely a lot on my upper-body strength. I always get discouraged when I get in a match and I don’t have that (advantage). But that’s definitely something that I have the majority of the time,” Bommarito said. “Going to that second period, I was like, ‘She’s pretty good. It’s going to work up my cardio a bit for this match, so I’ve got to start relying on cardio, too.’

“This is great. It’s like the first time in history for women (to wrestle alongside the boys at the Finals), in at least Michigan. I feel like I can encourage more females to want to join wrestling.”

Champion: Emme Hicks, Saline, Jr. (10-0)
Fall, 5:50, over Tricia Pyrzewski, Gladwin, Soph. (13-3)

Hicks earned her third state title in as many high school seasons with the hard-fought victory over Pyrzewski.

Hicks picked up wrestling as a second-grader nine years ago.

“I know that I’ve put in more work than anybody else. I live on the mat, I feel some days. I trust in my coaches and my hard work,” she said.

“This just felt amazing to be recognized by so many people as being equal as the guys who wrestle. Having this opportunity, it’s just amazing.”

Champion: Sky Langewicz, Algonac, Fr. (19-0)
Decision, 3-0, over Sunni LaFond, Gaylord, Fr. (32-9)

In the lone Finals match pitting two freshmen, Langewicz shook off some nerves and recorded a hard-earned victory.

Langewicz said she’d been preparing all season for this moment, and once she scored a takedown, the rest took care of itself. 

“It was scary at first – I was pretty nervous, but as soon as the whistle blew, the nerves went away and I just felt in the moment,” she said. “The whole world disappeared, and I didn’t feel like there was any pressure. It felt amazing.”

Sophomore Sydney Thompson, Eaton Rapids, Soph. (20-6)
Decision, 7-1, over Gabby Motz, Laingsburg, Sr. (19-5)

Thompson noticed quite the difference in atmosphere between the girls Finals last year and this weekend’s event at Ford Field. Also, she didn’t even place last year and this time she took home the state title.

“I worked hard, I put in the work, I did what needed to be done,” she said. “I did what (most) people weren’t willing to do: Staying after practice, practicing on weekends, working one-on-one with coaches and my dad and stuff. Just working hard.

“I didn’t waver. I knew it was going to pay off. I knew that if I worked hard, it would beat anyone’s talent when they didn’t work hard, so I knew I would come out on top.”

Margaret Buurma, Fowlerville, Fr. (14-2) 
Decision, 9-6, over Kendra Vickory, Goodrich, Soph. (6-2)

Buurma trailed later in the match against Vickory but said she kept fighting to pull out the victory on the big stage.

Buurma said she’s been wrestling since she was 3 or 4 years old, but this environment was different than anything she had ever experienced.

“The experience was definitely amazing – one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” she said. “It was very nerve-racking going out there in front of all the people, but in the end it’s the same rules, same mat.”

Angelina Pena, Milan, Soph. (8-0)
Fall, 5:56, over Lola Barkby, Sturgis, Fr. (8-3)

Pena believes that wrestling against boys helps her when it’s time to take the mat against a girl. At the same time, she’s very proud of the fact that girls now have an equal platform as boys at the Finals.

“It really means a lot to me,” said Pena, who won a second-straight state title. “I know a lot of my girl wrestling friends say the same thing because you used to hear boys say, ‘Oh, girls wrestling is so easy. I could totally win that.’ We get the same chance as guys do.”

Pena’s brother, Milan junior Peter Pena, finished runner-up at 140 pounds in Division 3 moments after she captured the championship.

Hannah Palise, Warren Mott, Sr. (22-1)
Decision, 6-3, over Ryen Allen, Goodrich, Soph. (6-1)

Palise closed her high school wrestling career in grand fashion, rallying past Allen for her first title.

Palise knew she needed a takedown and nearfall to pull out the victory. Achieving her goal in front of a large crowd in the big venue made it all the more memorable, she said.

“It was awesome – like, the whole stands, everything,” she said. “It made it more meaningful that everybody could come, that I knew that were supporting me.”

Tyler Swanigan, South Lyon East, Soph. (9-0)
Decision, SV-1 8-6, over Faith Blackburn, Clinton, Soph. (23-2)

At several moments during her Finals match, it appeared Swanigan could have given up. Her shoulder joints were bending so much, it seemed as though they were made of rubber bands.

“I’m a varsity cheerleader,” the flexible Swanigan said in laughter after her dramatic, extra-time victory.

Swanigan bent but didn’t break. The moment she scored a takedown in the extra period, she realized that she’d realized a dream.

“Definitely the thoughts of winning my first state title. … I definitely wanted this really bad,” she said.

Danni Swihart, Hanover-Horton, Jr. (20-4)
Inj. Def., 5:01, over Kennedy Edson, Lawrence, Jr. (14-1)

Swihart said she picked up wrestling in second or third grade. All the hard work paid off.

In her first Finals appearance, Swihart captured the championship and did so on the biggest stage the girls have been on.

“Oh, it was just glorious,” she said. “I mean, coming out here, working so hard during the season, having the opportunity to be in the Finals, let alone first time in girls history and at Ford Field, it was just an outstanding feeling. 

“And if I could, I would play it over and over again,” she added with a chuckle.

Emma Pendell, Montague, Soph. (19-6)
Decision, TB-1 2-1, over Isabel Worthing, East Jackson, Sr. (13-5)

Pendell is Montague’s first girls wrestling state champion, and she’s also her school’s first Finals champ in the sport since 1989.

She placed seventh in the state last year, when she dual-sported in wrestling and basketball during the winter.

“My main reason for (picking up wrestling) was college opportunities, but after like two years, I just fell in love with it. Now, I can’t imagine not doing it,” she said.

Mishell Rebisch, Romeo, Soph. (8-0)
Fall, 3:55, over Teairah Elsemann, Saline, Jr., (6-2)

Rebisch admitted to feeling a little pressure with so many eyes on her during her Finals match against Elsemann. She knew when it was time to turn the pressure up on her opponent, however, and she scored a pinfall late in the second period.

Rebisch captured her first title after finishing runner-up last season.

“Definitely, there was so much more mats here – probably like five times as many mats as there was last year. Big stadium – a lot bigger stadium,” she said. “It felt a lot louder. In some ways, it felt like more pressure, probably because so many people were watching. I was excited.”

Lydia Krauss, Boyne City, Sr., (24-0)
Major decision, 13-2, over Amarisa Manuel, Romeo, Soph. (6-1)

A lot was riding on the Finals match for Krauss – more than the title.

“Honestly, I just wanted 100 wins – I just wanted it,” she said.

Krauss got both. Previously, she had lost twice to Manuel, including in last year’s state finals tournament. This time, she left no doubt.

“It was just amazing. I’ve lost to her twice so far and just to know that I can beat her and I can be a girl that gets 100 wins, it’s just amazing,” the emotional Krauss said. “I’m just so grateful right now.”

Sabrina Nauss, Brighton, Soph. (9-0)
Fall, 1:59, over Khloe Williams, Clio, Jr. (7-2)

On Friday, Nauss became the first girl to win a match at the MHSAA’s first Finals tournament. 

On Saturday, she finished the job in a big way, earning a victory over Williams to cap a memorable weekend and season.

“This weekend was so special. This will be a weekend I’ll never forget in my life,” Nauss said. “It was great – it was great to be out here and prove that girls can wrestle just as hard as guys can and that we’re just as equal as they are and we should be on the mat alongside of them. This was so special.”

Kailyn Garrett, South Lyon, Sr. (8-1)
Major decision, 19-9, over Gabriella Allen, Marcellus, Soph. (16-1)

Garrett could not have imagined finishing her high school wrestling career in a better way. 

Sure, she won her second state title in three years, but this one felt so much bigger.

“Well, first, the crowd size. And then also being able to be seen next to the guys, seen as equals, is definitely a big difference,” Garrett said. “I had people when I won (two years ago) didn’t say anything and then now even qualifying, they feel obligated to congratulate me, so that’s a big difference.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Hartland’s Eliana Bommarito holds up four fingers on each hand to signify winning her fourth championship Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) Saline’s Emme Hicks, left, locks up with Gladwin’s Tricia Pyrzewski. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

March 10, 2023

SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.

Greater DetroitThat question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”

“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.

It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.

Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.

It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.

“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”

Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.

The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.

“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”

Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.

But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.

Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.

Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.

“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”

Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.

With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.

“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.

Both also learn from each other’s experiences.

“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”

Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”

This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.

With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.

That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.

But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.

With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)