After Back to Back Runners-Up, Detroit Catholic Central Back on Top

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

February 25, 2023

KALAMAZOO – The Detroit Catholic Central wrestling team had grown tired of being second best.

After two straight runner-up finishes, the Shamrocks (28-2) returned to the top in Division 1 after a 41-31 victory over Hartland at Wings Event Center on Saturday.

And what did Shamrocks coach Mitch Hancock do to motivate his team to finally get over the hump? 

He reminded them of their past shortcomings.

“The first day of practice I put a picture up of the runner-up trophy from last year all over the locker room,” Hancock said. “Over the water fountain, in front of the urinals, it was everywhere. They weren't too happy about it, so we left it up for a few months and then they got rid of it on their own.

“I think these guys were pretty disappointed the last two years, and we thought we were close.”

Senior Dylan Gilcher, a three-time individual champion who’s headed to Michigan next, wasn’t fond of his coach’s motivational tactic.

However, it provided all the inspiration they needed.

“It was horrible,” said Gilcher, who earned an 18-6 major decision at 150 pounds. “I mean, every time we went to the bathroom we were just staring at it. Every time we walked into the locker room. It was bad.

“Not only that, but it was my sophomore and junior years. It’s a feeling you never want to have again, especially after feeling it two years in a row. I think all of the returning guys worked really hard ourselves. The coaches didn’t have to push us as much because we wanted it ourselves as a team.”

Hancock credited his coaching staff for the diligent preparation.

“I didn’t have to do much,” he said. “Our staff is incredible, perhaps the greatest coaching staff in the state, and they had those guys ready to go.”

Hartland’s Dallas Korponic and the Shamrocks’ Michael Cannon work for leverage at 120.Gilcher said it was the perfect ending to his career, and it erased the frustration of falling short the past two years.

“It’s amazing to end like this because we couldn’t get it done my sophomore and junior year,” he said. “To go out with one is a great feeling. We are bringing it back home, and you have to love that.”

The Division 1 Final featured the top-ranked teams in the state.

Hartland (27-2), in search of its first Finals’ title since 2016, finished runner-up for the sixth time in program history.

The two programs had faced each other in early December, when DCC provided Hartland’s only other loss 47-15.

“We opened with CC to kind of see where we were at, and we tried to progress and grow so we could eventually win this in the end,” Eagles coach Kyle Summerfield said. “Obviously we came up short, but I am very proud of all the kids’ efforts from top to bottom.

“We competed in every match and we really did our very best, and you can't ask for anything more from the kids. I'm proud of them for that.”

DCC had won four consecutive Division 1 team titles from 2017-2020. The Shamrocks also captured three straight from 2012-2014.

“There’s a baseline that has been established with our program, but it’s not given to you just because you’re from CC,” Hancock said. “You have to work for it, and overall I’m just really excited for our community. The trophy is where it belongs now.”

Hartland tied the match early at 12-12 with a pin from Dallas Korponic at 120 pounds, but the Shamrocks seized control by winning five of the next six weight classes.

“(Hartland) competed really well, and they flipped a few matches from earlier in the year,” Hancock said. “He does a great job with that team, and that’s the best I’ve seen them compete. That’s a very good program.”

DCC got past fifth-seeded Romeo in the Semifinals 51-10, while Hartland earned a 38-28 win over Rockford. The Shamrocks opened with a Quarterfinal win over Warren De La Salle Collegiate, while the Eagles opened by edging Temperance Bedford 31-28.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) DCC’s Clayton Jones, top, locks up with Hartland’s Gavin Kern at 144 pounds. (Middle) Hartland’s Dallas Korponic and the Shamrocks’ Michael Cannon work for leverage at 120. (Click for more from

Imlay City's D'Ambrosio: Calm, Cool & Contending for School's 1st Mat Championship

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

February 7, 2024

Dominic D’Ambrosio’s answer when asked at 5 years old if he wanted to start wrestling was probably a clue for what was to come.

Bay & Thumb“I remember when my dad asked me if I wanted to wrestle,” D’Ambrosio said. “I think I just said, ‘Sure.’”

It’s not that D’Ambrosio would be nonchalant or aloof when it came to wrestling. He’s quite the opposite, actually. The work he’s put in has him unbeaten at 43-0 as a senior, ranked among the top four at 138 pounds in Division 3, and threatening to become the Spartans’ first Individual Finals champion.

The clue was that D’Ambrosio was going to be calm and cool on the mat, and have a grounded view of the sport off it, which has also helped him reach those heights.

“When I was younger, I got an award for being a cool cucumber – the Cool as a Cucumber award,” he said. “When I lose, I just look at it as I can get better from it. At the end of the day, it’s just a game. It’s serious, the work you put into it, but it’s not so serious. If you lose, you just want to get better. I just like to get the work done.”

To be fair, D’Ambrosio doesn’t do much losing.

He’s dropped just nine matches during his four-year career, compared to 159 wins, and a third of those losses came against Dundee four-time Finals champion Braeden Davis, who is now unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the country at 125 pounds as a true freshman at Penn State.

D’Ambrosio, right, takes to the mat during his early years in the sport. D’Ambrosio was 14-0 as a freshman when COVID-19 ended the Spartans’ 2020-21 season short of the postseason. He placed third at the Finals as a sophomore, and fifth as a junior.

He has his eyes on the ultimate prize this year, and for a moment he allowed the thought to get him out of his even-keeled nature. But even that doesn’t last long.

“It would be pretty special,” he said. “I’ve been working hard for it. But, either way, I’m just going to go and leave it all out there.”

D’Ambrosio is the son of Imlay City coach Tony D’Ambrosio, which in some cases could create more pressure. But not this one. And a lot of that could be credited to Tony.

“We always tried to keep the pressure low and just have fun,” said Tony D’Ambrosio, who is in his 10th year at the helm in Imlay City. “We just focus on getting better. He’s always just wrestled. It’s just how he is. Dominic doesn’t even look at the brackets. He doesn’t find out who he’s wrestling until he shakes hands.”

What happens after they shake hands isn’t what one would expect from someone who could win that same Cool as a Cucumber award every year. 

D’Ambrosio’s matches typically don’t last long. Of his 159 wins, 105 have come by pin, including all three of his wins at the 2023 Individual Finals. As a junior, he set the school pin record at 41. This season, 32 of his 43 wins have been by pinfall.

Just four of his matches have gone beyond the first period this season, and only two of those have gone the distance. 

“This year, he’s really been turning it all on,” Tony D’Ambrosio said. “He didn’t start pinning a lot until later on into middle school and high school. It’s just basic stuff, not anything fancy. He’s a nice kid, but when he’s on the mat, he’s going to turn you over.”

D’Ambrosio, right, works to pin an opponent. Dominic isn’t a thrower, and his pins aren’t the result of catching an opponent in anything fluky. He’s just meticulous, and able to take advantage of any opening he’s given.

“I’m (working on a half Nelson) 100 times, 200 times during the week, so I’ll be able to hit it during the weekend,” he said. “If I got somebody’s head, nobody is getting out of it. I can just flow really well into a pinning sequence.”

As he pins his way through the season, D’Ambrosio is racking up awards. He’s been named Most Valuable Wrestler at four tournaments bouncing between 138 and 144, and at one point found himself ranked No. 1 by Michigan Grappler at 138.

As you would expect, he hasn’t allowed that to get to his head, and as his father puts it, “the only ranking that matters is the podium.”

With District tournaments this week, D’Ambrosio now can focus 100 percent of his efforts on getting to the top of that podium. But don’t expect the pressure to mount in his house or on the mat.

“It would be special,” Tony D’Ambrosio said. “But, again, as long as he goes out there and just does what he does, and does his best – it’s kind of like the NCAAs, you have to have a good weekend. It doesn’t dictate who you are. It would be awesome, and it’s a great goal to have. It would be a great goal to accomplish and be the first (from Imlay City). But wherever he ends up, I’m going to be proud of what he’s done.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Imlay City’s Dominic D’Ambrosio, right, wrestles to a fifth-place finish at 132 pounds in Division 3 last season at Ford Field. (Middle) D’Ambrosio, right, takes to the mat during his early years in the sport. (Below) D’Ambrosio, right, works to pin an opponent. (Top photo by High School Sports Scene; other photos courtesy of the D’Ambrosio family.)