Cros-Lex's Lieber Readies for Final Shot

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 30, 2016

Croswell-Lexington wrestling coach Joe Lilly saw championship potential in Collin Lieber when he was in sixth grade.

Donnie Corby, the best to ever come through the Cros-Lex program by any metric – for now anyway – saw it, too.

The rest of the state had to wait until Lieber’s freshman season in 2013-14, when he entered the MHSAA tournament with a single loss and made a run to the 135-pound Division 2 title match before losing against DeWitt’s Austin Melton.

It was at that point Lieber himself realized he had the ability to reach his goal of becoming an MHSAA Finals champion, something that seemed more likely than not after such an impressive start.

As he starts his senior season, however, that individual championship still remains unchecked on Lieber’s list.

“It was funny, because I really didn’t know what to expect going into the state tournament (as a freshman), and I really didn’t think I was that good,” Lieber said. “I remember waking up that morning thinking, ‘I might be a state champ today.’ Then going into sophomore year, losing in the semifinals, that was hard. Then last year (in the finals) in overtime, that was rough.”

Lieber is among the state’s best wrestlers, ranked No. 3 across all divisions by Michigan Grappler at 171 pounds. He has a career record of 165-7 and three top-three Finals finishes to his name. In 2015, he was third at 152 pounds in Division 3, and in 2016, he was second at the same weight.

He has signed to wrestle at Central Michigan University, the same place Corby put together an impressive career by qualifying for the NCAA tournament three times and winning one Mid-American Conference championship. With 35 more wins, Lieber will unseat Corby as the all-time wins leader at Cros-Lex.

“He’s gonna kill me,” said Corby, who is now an assistant wrestling coach at the University of Northern Colorado. “He’s gonna kill me. I knew that freshman year. If anybody could do it, I want it to be Collin.”

Corby is not only Cros-Lex’s all-time wins leader, he’s also its only MHSAA Finals champion, having won in 2008. Like Lieber, he placed second as a junior, something he used as motivation for his title-winning senior year.

Lieber is hoping that same driving force can help him replicate Corby’s senior success.

“It’s just more motivating that I lost,” he said. “Because now it’s like I have to win states at least once.”

Lieber’s loss in the 2016 title match came with added heartache. After a hard-fought 6 minutes that left Lieber and Dundee’s Sean Sterling tied at 2, it was Sterling who was able to get a takedown in overtime to win the match. It not only handed Lieber his second loss in a Finals title match, but also ended his unbeaten season (54-0).

“He was better at takedowns than me. I was better at top/bottom,” Lieber said. “I was really tired, too. I should have conditioned more last year. I don’t know how much time was left in overtime, but I was kind of banking on getting to double overtime because I wanted to get to top/bottom.

“The whole year, I’m going to keep thinking about that match, over and over again.”

It was a crushing loss, one that was felt off the mat, as well.

“It was devastating,” Lilly said. “Devastating. Just because I know what he’s put in, and what his desires and goals are, and ours as coaches have been the same for him. Once you get a kid like Collin, that knows what his goals are and knows where he wants to be, you push him on a regular basis to meet that. Then you’re there – we were in the same boat, just crushed. I had no idea what to say to him.”

Despite the losses at the highest level, losing is not something Lieber has had to deal with much during his wrestling career. He began wrestling at 6 years old and won a state championship that year.

“I hated losing,” he said. “I would always cry when I lost.”

The crying has stopped, but the desire to win has not. If anything, this season, it has intensified.

“I’ve sure seen so far this year in the practice room and running that it’s a step up,” Lilly said. “He’s not a kid that gives into pressure; he thrives on it. He loves it. I watch him warm up for big matches, and the routine is the same. I never notice him getting anxious or uncomfortable. He keeps it in real well.”

Lieber has focused on being better conditioned this season, and said that wrestling at 171, a weight that is more natural for him, should help.

“I think not cutting weight will honestly help me a lot, because I won’t be as tired,” he said. “I’ll be able to condition a lot better in practice. I’ll be happier. I’ll want to come in more. I’ve been lifting a lot more, too.”

Lieber feels confident heading into the season. There’s pressure to reach the top of the podium, of course, but he said he feels less of it thanks to having his college decision out of the way. He’s proud, he said, of what he has accomplished to this point in his high school career. Now he simply wants to win for himself and those who have helped him get to this point.

Lilly wants it for him as well. He said that when Lieber was in sixth grade, he had pegged him as the program’s next Corby – a wrestler with the tools to win an MHSAA Finals title. Even without a championship, Lieber has proven his coach to be correct.

“I keep telling him that to be at the state tournament is such an accomplishment,” Lilly said. “Then to be there three years in a row and place, and now we’re looking to go in his senior year, it’s a heck of an accomplishment. You’re in an elite group to begin with.

“So that has comfort for me. I’m hoping it has a burning desire in him to say, ‘I’m going to win it this year.’”

Paul 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) Croswell-Lexington’s Collin Lieber (top) wrestles Dundee’s Sean Sterling during last season’s Division 3 championship match at 152 pounds. (Middle) Lieber warms up before his match at The Palace of Auburn Hills. (Click to see more from

Lowell Enters Another Elite Group of Champs with 11th-Straight Finals Win

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

February 24, 2024

KALAMAZOO – There’s nothing quite like the roar of a crowd after your team has clinched an MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals title.

That’s true whether it’s for title No. 1, or, in the case of Casey Engle and his Lowell teammates Saturday, for their program’s 11th-straight Division 2 championship.

“It’s unreal,” Engle said. “It’s something I look forward to every year.”

Lowell extended its record run of wrestling team titles by defeating Freeland 49-21 in the Division 2 Final at Wings Events Center.

The Red Arrows joined the Grosse Pointe South (1976-86) and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (1980-90) girls tennis programs in winning 11 straight Finals titles. Only East Grand Rapids boys swimming & diving, winning 15 straight from 1948-62, and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice boys lacrosse – with 13 straight from 2005-17 – have longer Finals championship streaks in Lower Peninsula or statewide competition.

“I mean, it’s possible (to reach 15),” said sophomore Jarrett Smith, whose pin at 106 pounds clinched the title. “It’s hard to predict that far, four years into the future. We’re losing some key guys, but we graduated 14 last year, five this year, so we’re returning some firepower.”

Lowell is always returning firepower, and it’s consistently adding it, too, giving new waves of Red Arrows the chance to raise a wooden mitten. 

That’s why for coach RJ Boudro, each title remains just as sweet as the last.

“Why would it get old?” said Boudro, who has been in charge for 10 of those titles. “Look at the crowd. When I first walked in here, I looked up, and you see that we have more fans here than anybody else, and that’s what it’s about. Next year will be fun, too. When you can still bring crowds in and you can do it 11 years in a row, there’s more to that than just winning. If it was just about winning, why else would they come? They would probably think it was a foregone conclusion. They love the kids; they love the community.”

One could forgive an outsider for believing it’s a foregone conclusion when Lowell takes the mat for the Division 2 postseason, as it’s won the Final by more than 20 points in each of the past five seasons and in seven of its 11 straight championship victories.

The Falcons’ Elijah Murphy, left, locks up Lowell’s Ari McFarland at 215. So to avoid that feeling creeping into his wrestling room, Boudro makes it clear the Red Arrows’ responsibility isn’t just to win on the mat, but to strive for something bigger.

“We’re not doing it to just win state championships,” Boudro said. “We’re trying to find out who we are, we’re trying to be better men, better women, better coaches. So, it’s not just about winning, it’s about being a better person. Whether I’m a coach or a kid, just trying to find a way to be better. When you’re doing that all the time, you get better, but you feel like you have a purpose. Every single guy on the team feels like they have a purpose, and that’s really important.”

Just 14 wrestlers can step onto the mat in a single dual, and the same number is the max a team can enter into the individual postseason, so accomplishing that can sometimes be as tough as anything else for Lowell wrestlers, and certainly helps motivate them throughout the season – foregone conclusions or not.

“One of our signs up there I saw, it says, ‘Tradition never graduates,’ and it’s true,” Smith said. “We just keep the kids coming. Even our B Team, C Team are competing at the highest level. At the beginning of Districts, we had 17 ranked guys, and you can only send 14. So we have just great partners all around.”

Freeland, meanwhile, was making its first appearance in a Final, after getting to the Quarterfinals for the third time in program history. 

“Outstanding. Outstanding. They’ve been giving their all every match,” Freeland coach Scott VanLuven said. “They’ve been doing it all year. We beat Brighton, we weren’t supposed to. We beat (Bay City) John Glenn in our conference, then we had to beat them again in our District Final when we weren’t supposed to. No one gave us really a chance down here, I think. But they believed, and they did well.”

The Falcons (25-3) still had a shot with three matches to go, trailing 31-21. But Smith put a quick end to that with his pin at 106, and that was followed by a pair of pins from Cole and Carter Cichocki at 113 and 120, respectively.

Of the Arrows’ nine wins in the dual, eight came by either pin or technical fall, as Jackson Blum (138), Jared Boone (165) and Engle (190) also won by pinfall. Logan Dawson (132) and Owen Segorski (144) each won by tech. Cody Foss (126) opened the dual with a win by decision for Lowell (22-3).

Fabian Facundo (150) and Bringham Smith (285) each won by pin for Freeland, while Noah Graham (157), Gibson Shepard (175) and Elijah Murphy (215) all won by decision.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Lowell’s Cole Cichocki, left, lines up against Freeland’s Michael Wilson at 113 pounds Saturday. (Middle) The Falcons’ Elijah Murphy, left, locks up Lowell’s Ari McFarland at 215. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)