By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Hartland, Davison and Detroit Catholic Central have taken turns against each other and as the presumed favorite in Division 1 this season.
They make up the top three seeds among another strong class of teams from Michigan's largest wrestling schools, but should be wary of at least a few others that already have surprised during this tournament run.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 1, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 2 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday and the championship match at 3:30 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.TV. For results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.
The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.
Record/rank: 32-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West (also Lakes and overall)
Coach: Todd Cheney, 24rd season (665-97-2)
Championship history: Five MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 2015).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Corey Cavanaugh (41-10) fr.; 103 Kyle Kantola (50-4) fr.; 125 Noah Lopez (43-6) sr.; 130 Garnet Potter (33-11) jr.; 135 Nick DiNobile (35-16) jr.; 140 Reece Hughes (45-4) jr.; 152 Sage Castillo (52-0) sr.; 152 Logan Vish (45-9) sr.; 171 Lucas LaForge (45-6) sr.; 189 Andrew Spisz (35-15) jr.; 285 Brandon Krol (23-3) sr.
Outlook: Will this end with Hartland’s first team championship? The Eagles have made 15 straight trips to the Quarterfinals and fell to Brighton by only six points in last season’s championship match. Hartland gave up only 34 points total in four postseason matches to return this weekend, and its only loss this season was to Detroit Catholic Central during their dual at CMU in January. Hughes, Vish and Potter all were individual placers last season and Castillo is a favorite to also contend next weekend, and they together help make up a nucleus of 11 upperclassmen that fill every weight from 125-285.
Record/rank: 22-4, No. 2
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Roy Hall, 19th season (467-88-1)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2006), three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Steven Garty (28-8) fr.; 112 Max Johnson (27-0) sr.; 119 AJ Facundo (28-9) soph.; 125 Deven Perez (35-6) sr.; 130 Ryan Schlak (24-13) jr.; 135 Brian Case (33-5) fr.; 145 Kurt Schlak (25-13) sr.; 160 Gabe Ellis (26-11) soph.; 189 Brenden McRill (34-2) jr.; 189 Logan Mabbitt (20-7) sr.; 215 Tanner Thomas (24-11) sr.
Outlook: Davison followed two straight runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2014 by falling to eventual champion Brighton by only four points in a Semifinal last season, but looks capable of taking the final step again for the first time since 2006. Facundo is the reigning champion at 112, and Johnson, Perez, McRill and Thomas all also placed last season (McRill for the second straight). Davison hasn’t given up more than 17 points to an opponent during this run, and is built for now and the future with six seniors plus six underclassmen among starters.
#3 Detroit Catholic Central
Record/rank: 15-5, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League.
Coach: Mitch Hancock, ninth season (186-41)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA championships (most recent 2014), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Benyamin Kamali (14-1) soph.; 112 Stone Moscovic (26-11) soph.; 119 Kevon Davenport (41-3) fr.; 125 Cameron Amine (34-8) fr.; 130 Aaron Rehfeldt (28-16) sr.; 140 Aidan Wagh (30-15) soph.; 171 Tyler Morland (39-1) jr.; 215 Jackson Ross (33-9) jr.; 285 Nicholas Jenkins (33-10) jr.
Outlook: The Shamrocks are seeking their fifth Division 1 championship in seven seasons and as mentioned above are the only team to beat Hartland this season. DCC has replaced a pair of strong graduating classes the last two years with a strong group of underclassmen to go with eight upperclassmen who hold down eight of the nine heaviest weights. Moreland and Jenkins were individual placers last season.
Record/rank: 24-8, No. 6
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red.
Coach: Paul McDevitt, 19th season (386-155)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2011, two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Daltan Myers (15-1) soph.; 125 Sergio Borg (35-15) soph.; 140 Alex Hrisopoulos (44-5) sr.; 152 Devin Trevino (26-18) fr.; 215 Wyatt Harden (42-3) sr.
Outlook: The Wildcats are back at Finals weekend for the eighth time in nine seasons and as a fourth seed after competing as an eighth only a year ago. A young lineup last season is more veteran with eight upperclassmen but still five freshmen plus another four who have gained valuable experience this winter. Hrisopoulos is coming off his second-straight top-three individual finish, and Borg and Harden also were Finals qualifiers in 2015.
Record/rank: 27-5, unranked
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Coach: Mike Rottier, ninth season (147-108)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Kameron Kempker (28-7) soph.; 103 Jack Samuels (42-1) fr.; 130 Austin Fine (38-9) sr.; 140 Anthony Snead (24-17) sr.; 160 Brenden DeVries (34-9) sr.; 285 Lane Potter (26-19) jr.
Outlook: Hudsonville has built its best record under Rottier and is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2011. The lineup is filled with veterans, with eight seniors, and upperclassmen at every weight from 119-285. Although the team doesn’t have any wrestlers who placed at last season’s Individual Finals, six have won at least 30 matches this winter, including both freshmen at the top of the lineup.
#6 Macomb Dakota
Record/rank: 26-12, No. 9
League finish: Second in Macomb Area Conference Red.
Coach: Ed Skowneski, fourth season (116-34)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Justin Tiburcio (48-10) fr.; 130 Tyler Sanders (52-5) soph.; 140 Layne Malczewski (50-7) soph.; 145 Dustin Solomon (34-16) fr.
Outlook: Dakota definitely is a team on the rise; the team has only one senior among 28 on the roster, starts eight sophomores and three freshmen, and beat rival and No. 8 New Baltimore Anchor Bay by a point on the way to its third Quarterfinal in four seasons. Malczewski and Sanders both placed at the Individual Finals as freshmen, and 12 wrestlers have at least 30 wins this season.
#7 Grand Ledge
Record/rank: 19-7, unranked
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue.
Coach: Steve Delaney, ninth season (185-71)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1962.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Cole Janes (44-2) jr.; 125 Jack Snauko (43-4) jr.; 140 Dylan Steward (44-1) sr.; 285 Matt Lloyd (23-3) sr.
Outlook: Grand Ledge has been the surprise of the MHSAA Tournament after knocking off reigning champion Brighton, which was ranked No. 4 entering the postseason, in their Regional Semifinal. This is the Comets’ first trip to the Quarterfinals since 2005, but Steward has championship experience as the reigning winner at 140. Lloyd also placed in 2015, and they are two of a strong group of 10 upperclassmen leading the charge.
#8 Temperance Bedford
Record/rank: 11-0, No. 10
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference.
Coach: Kevin Vogel, fifth season (114-34)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA titles (most recent 2001), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Austin Teague (34-11) sr.; 152 Brad Stewart (35-6) sr.; 160 Blake Montrie (46-1) sr.; 189 Gabriel Elarton (39-7) sr.; 285 Tim Stevens (38-5) sr.
Outlook: One of the most storied programs in MHSAA history is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2013, with its last championship match appearance coming during a runner-up run in 2008. Montrie is one of six seniors in the lineup and the reigning champion at 152; Stewart at Stevens also were placers last season. The Kicking Mules eliminated No. 7 Westland John Glenn on the way to CMU.
PHOTO: Detroit Catholic Central and Hartland squared off during the CMU Duals last month, with the Shamrocks coming away victorious. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
DUNDEE – How do you replace a legendary coach?
For the Dundee Vikings wrestling program, it takes two.
Nate Hall and Garrett Stevens opened practice last week as the new co-coaches of the ultra-successful Dundee wrestling program, taking the reins from Tim Roberts, one of the winningest coaches in state wrestling history.
“From day one, we’ve done a really good job of pushing each other and staying focused,” Stevens said. “The kids have been getting after it. Things are going well.”
Dundee’s wrestling program is a rich one. Roberts stepped down with a state-record 10 MHSAA Finals titles over his 23 seasons as head coach. In all 23 of those years, Dundee won District championships, and in 22 of those 23 years the Vikings won Regional titles. Roberts not only accumulated 10 Finals championship trophies, but he also won more than 500 dual matches.
Hall and Stevens have coached together for several years on the Dundee staff. Now they are dividing up duties and looking to start the next era of Vikings wrestling.
“We know what we are up against,” Hall said. “We have a strong tradition to keep on. We understand two people going at it is probably the better route.”
The move is not without precedent. In the conference that Dundee competes in – the Lenawee County Athletic Association – Clinton had co-coaches lead the Redwolves to the Division 4 championship two seasons ago. Division 3 powerhouse Richmond has utilized co-coaches in the sport as well.
“We sort of applied together,” Stevens said. “We thought we could do this.”
Dundee Athletic Director Ross Crow said he was hesitant at first to consider the co-coach idea, but after meeting with both realized it could work.
span>“After sitting down with them and having a lengthy discussion, I realized they have an extremely organized and articulated plan as to how they are carrying the torch moving forward,” Crow said. “Whenever I have a question, I either text or e-mail both of them on a group thread. They both chime in and more often than not, the answer is exactly the same for both of them. It's a really good fit, as they are close friends and have no egos.”
Stevens is a 2007 Dundee graduate. He wrestled for Roberts. His dad was a Dundee wrestler as well, graduating in the 1970s. Stevens brings his connection to the Dundee wrestling community to the table as well as years of coaching experience.
Hall is from nearby Blissfield, where he was an all-state wrestler. He wrestled for Grand Valley State’s club program and was a coach there as well. He returned to southeast Michigan to coach with his father – Adrian Madison head coach Scott Hall – and joined the Dundee staff when he became a physical education teacher at the middle school about five years ago.
As co-head coach, Nate Hall handles a lot of the organizational duties, especially anything involving the school district, since he works there. Stevens brings a technical side of the sport with him.
The duo believe they can make it work because of the chemistry between them.
“I was always more of a technical wrestler,” Stevens said. “I think Tim (Roberts) felt I could help connect with the kids and teach them how to do a few things differently.
“After I graduated from high school, I got away from wrestling for a while, but in 2011, Tim reached out to me and asked if I wanted to get back involved and it seemed like a no-brainer. I missed it. I liked being around him and there were some things I could bring to the table. I was chomping at the bit once the opportunity opened for me.”
Stevens said Roberts was wonderful to learn from because he was such a great person and sought out input from his staff.
“Tim’s approach to coaching was unique,” Stevens said. “He’s very open-minded and understands there is so much more to learn. You constantly want your kids and program to grow. Every year I coached with him, he changed something every year. He was constantly modifying, tweaking, and seeking out help and advice from others.”
Hall likes how things have started.
“It’s going very well so far,” Hall said. “Tim didn’t leave the well dry. He’s got an established program and an established wrestling community that has been supportive of both Garrett and I so far.
“We’ve got a tremendous senior class – three state champions and another kid that was third in the state last year. Their leadership is really going to be a huge aspect of our success this year.”
The Vikings also have 14 freshmen.
“We’ve hit the ground running,” Hall said. “We provide a lot of opportunities in the offseason for kids to get into the wrestling room and stay active. Most of our guys are active throughout. The freshmen are a real promising group that we can keep the ball rolling,” Hall said.
The veterans in the wrestling room include Kaden Chinavare, a Central Michigan University signee who won an Individual Finals title as a sophomore; Aiden Davis, a two-time Finals champ headed to Bucknell; and Braeden Davis, a Penn State University recruit looking for a fourth consecutive Finals title in 2023.
“The biggest thing with this group, I would say, is their willingness to push each other in the right manner,” Hall said. “We’ve got a lot of successful individuals, and they are already going out of their way to make sure each person around them is getting the most out of their reps they can get.
“The team chemistry is already a big part of it.”
Both coaches admit there is pressure to maintain a program that is not just known at the state level, but nationally.
“If you’re not feeling that pressure, maybe you’re not taking it as seriously as it needs to be taken,” Hall said. “We are here to help kids accomplish their goals, and pressure is a part of that – especially at the elite level a lot of our wrestlers want to compete at.”
Despite the turnover in coaching, Dundee’s goals remain high.
Dundee opens with the Grappler Gold, will go to Davison, then compete at a big invitational in Ohio. They Vikings will compete at Detroit Catholic Central and the Hudson Super 16 in late January.
“We always want to aim high,” Stevens said.
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Nate Hall, left, and Garrett Stevens walk together during the opening march at an MHSAA Team Finals; retired coach Tim Roberts is behind them, waving. (Middle) Stevens, top, and Hall stand with their retired coach and mentor at various events. (Below) Stevens and son Brady, and Hall and daughter Kimberly, celebrate the 2020 championship. (Top and below photos by Kathy Killion.)