By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Six returning champions and 10 wrestlers who finished runners-up at the MHSAA Individual Finals in 2018 get this weekend’s Division 1 brackets at Ford Field off to an incredible start.
But they represent just one layer of elite contenders attempting to make history.
Detroit Catholic Central senior Kevon Davenport leads the headliners, hoping to become the 25th or 26th four-time champion in MHSAA history (Hudson’s Jordan Hamdan is wrestling for the same in Division 4).
Below, we look at 10 contenders to watch in Division 1, plus list everyone who finished at least as a runner-up in 2018 and all of the top seeds heading into this weekend. Surely we still missed a few who will end up rising to the top of the podium Saturday – but come back to Second Half early Sunday as we’ll interview and report on all 56 champions.
The “Grand March” on Friday begins at 11 a.m., with five rounds wrestled throughout the day including the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Wrestling picks back up with consolation rounds at 9 a.m. Saturday, and concludes with the championship matches that afternoon at 3 p.m.
119: Andrew Chambal, Davison junior (35-4) – The top seed at 119 pounds is seeking his second championship after winning 112 last year and finishing third at 103 as a freshman. He’s wrestled up most of the season but is 7-0 at 119.
125 Eddie Homrock, Brighton junior (52-2) – The top seed at 125 has lost only to two out-of-state opponents and dealt Chambal one of his defeats this past weekend. Homrock was fourth at this weight last season.
130 Kyle Kantola, Hartland senior (46-0) – After finishing runner-up at 125 a year ago, Kantola is the top seed at 130 and looking for his first title after also finishing seventh at 119 as a sophomore and fifth at 103 as a freshman.
135: Joshua Edmond, Detroit Catholic Central junior (36-2) – Last season’s champion at 130 and the 2017 Division 2 runner-up at 135 (for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s) is the top seed in Division 1 at 135. His two defeats came to out-of-state opponents, and he’s unbeaten in 2019 and undefeated against Michigan opponents the last two seasons.
140 Derek Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central junior (31-2) – The top seed at 140 won the championship last season at 135 and finished fourth at 119 as a freshman. He too is undefeated against in-state opponents this season.
145 Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central senior (34-1) – As noted, he’s on the cusp of possible history after claiming titles at 145 last season, 130 in 2017 and 119 in 2016. His only defeat this winter came in overtime to an Ohio opponent while wrestling up, and he enters the weekend with a 167-10 career record.
152 Cameron Amine, Detroit Catholic Central senior (36-0) – Amine is the top seed at this weight after finishing runner-up a year ago, falling 4-2 to Davison’s Alex Facundo (see below) in the final. Amine won 125 as a freshman and 145 as a sophomore, and beat Facundo 2-1 in an ultimate tie-breaker at the beginning of January.
160 Alex Facundo, Davison sophomore (35-2) – After winning 152 last season, Facundo is the top seed at 160 and someone forecast to possibly join the four-championship club in 2021. His only defeats this winter – and for his high school career – were to Amine as noted above and by injury default at his league tournament.
189 Cal Stefanko, Davison senior (30-2) – Last season’s runner-up at 171 also took fifth at 160 as a sophomore. He enters this weekend as the top seed at 189 with a win over Turner (below) and losses only to out-of-state opponents.
189 Eaton Turner, Detroit Catholic Central senior (37-3) – Turner won 215 last season but lost to Davison’s Stefanko (above) during a December dual that likely cost him the top seed. Turner’s only other losses came to out-of-state opponents, and he could see Stefanko in the championship match this weekend.
Other 2018 runners-up: 119 Nick Alayan, Macomb Dakota senior (45-3, 112 in 2018); 125 Mark Brado, Waterford Kettering senior (39-2, 119 in 2018); 135 Jared Riggins, Jackson senior (35-2, 130 in 2018); 145 Vic Schoenherr, Bay City Western senior (46-0, 145 in 2018); 171 River Shettler, Brighton (48-3, 160 in 2018 wrestling for Hartland); 215 Blake Wingate, Temperance Bedford (38-3, 215 in 2018); 285 Steven Kolcheff, Detroit Catholic Central junior (35-3, 285 in 2018).
Additional No. 1 seeds: 103 Kavan Troy, Rochester sophomore (46-0); 112 Brendan Ferretti, Macomb Dakota sophomore (50-0); 171 River Shettler, Brighton senior (48-3); 215 Brendin Yatooma, Detroit Catholic Central junior (38-3); 285 Steven Kolcheff, Detroit Catholic Central junior (35-3).
Also undefeated: 130 TJ Daugherty, Waterford Kettering junior (37-0); 285 Brady Riggs, Grand Ledge senior (42-0).
PHOTO: Hartland’s Kyle Kantola works toward a pin during his team’s Division 1 Quarterfinal match against Westland John Glenn on Friday at Wings Event Center. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Bruce Bittenbender’s impact on the sport of wrestling in Michigan is immeasurable.
And the fact that he’ll no longer occupy a chair next to the mats at Stevensville Lakeshore High School is almost unfathomable after a legendary 52-year career there.
His list of accomplishments over that span is staggering, though the incalculable number of lives he touched — a realization that came from the outpouring of messages from his former student-athletes following his retirement announcement in late March — is what Bittenbender believes is the most important part of his legacy.
“It is absolutely heartwarming,” Bittenbender said at his retirement press conference April 1. “In many cases (some students) are on the edge. I had a guy say to me yesterday, ‘Coach, I didn’t have a father. I want to thank you.’
“How many state titles is that worth? There is a lot of that I appreciate.”
What can be quantified are the competition results during his tenure.
Bittenbender leaves with a dual meet record of 981-270-2 — the most victories in state history and the second most in the country. The program claimed 28 District titles, 13 Regional championships and 33 conference titles. The Lancers were undefeated in duals four times (1976, 1978, 1984 and 1986) and finished as MHSAA Finals runners-up twice (1986 and 1994).
“There are no shortcuts to being successful,” Lakeshore athletic director Greg Younger said. “Coach is always here. He’s probably here more than most teachers (although he retired in 2010). He is in the building early and often. He’s scrubbing the mats. I know it doesn’t magically happen. He’s always here preparing for a match and doing something here, talking to kids in the halls and building those relationships.
“He’s been a testament to hard work and what it takes to really have a goal all the time. When he steps into the wrestling room he’s always prepared, he’s always planning for tomorrow and he’s always planned for what’s coming up next. Nothing has ever surprised him.”
There were a total of 26 Individual Finals champions and 116 state placers under his watch, with Micah Hanau (also a winner in 2020), Zamuel Thompson and Aaron Lucio the most recent to have stood atop the podium and celebrate championships with Bittenbender last month at Ford Field.
Shane Williams (2020), Riley Bettich (2018), Tyler Humes (2010), Tyler Daniel (2009), Ryan Huebner (2002), John King (1992), Scott Mabrey (1992), Mark McKie (1992, 1991), Jason Cluff (1988, 1987, 1986), Dave Strejc (1988), Matt Cluff (1987, 1986, 1985), John Spear (1986), Gary Smith (1981, 1980) John Murphy (1979), Doug Smith (1978), and Rick McGrath (1974) all were guided to the state’s top individual level by Bittenbender.
For his accomplishments, Bittenbender was named Regional Coach of the Year 11 times, Michigan Wrestling Coach of the Year by the Coaches Association (2002) and National Coach of the Year twice, by the National Federation of State High School Associations (2002) and National High School Athletic Coaches Association (2010). His rightful spot in the Michigan Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame was claimed in 2010, and he was inducted into the National Coaches Association Hall of Fame the following year. In 2012, his home state honored Bittenbender with an induction into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, and Milligan University (Tenn.), where he wrestled four years, did the same in 2019.
“We went through three years of pulling teeth and hard work,” said Bittenbender, who took over at struggling Lakeshore in 1970. “Finally, we hit pay dirt. We got a kid to be state champion (in 1974), Ricky McGrath. This guy opened it up. After that, kids wanted to be Lakeshore wrestlers.”
But there were thousands of others that also laid bricks over the years to help build the program up to where it is today.
“There were a lot of kids that weren’t state champions here; there were a lot of kids that weren’t District champions or Regional champions or even conference champions,” Bittenbender said. “But they were here everyday, they were working everyday, they were part of this program and you’ve got to give those kids credit.”
Ryan Quinn takes over the program after serving as assistant coach.
“I’m incredibly blessed, grateful and humbled to be part of this school, to be taking over the reins of such a successful wrestling program,” Quinn said. “It is truly an honor to succeed Coach Bittenbender. He has made such a lasting impression on my life in such a short period of time. I know with confidence he has made lasting impacts on all who are involved in his as well. His fingerprints will forever remain on this school district and wrestling program.”
Bittenbender thanked his family, all the parents, volunteers and sponsors that supported the program over the last 52 years.
“It was a great place to live; it was a great place to coach. I’m lucky. It is a great community, my kids got a great education here, and it has been great to see kids go on to be good fathers and go to work every day,” he said.
“I want to thank my family over the years. If you’re going to be a wrestling coach’s wife, you’ve got to be something special. We’re going to spend a lot more time together.”
When Bittenbender was named 2010 National Coach of the Year, Nebraska’s Tom Osborne was the keynote speaker. Bittenbender recalled him saying: ‘If you want to know if you’re a good man, write down the 10 things you want the guy to say in your obituary. If he says eight of them, you’re a good man.”
“I hope I’m a good man,” Bittenbender said.
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Retiring Stevensville Lakeshore wrestling coach Bruce Bittenbender, right, embraces Zamuel Thompson after Thompson’s Individual Finals championship win last month at Ford Field. (Middle) Lakeshore’s Matt Cluff lifts Eaton Rapids’ Scott Bolin during their 1986 Class B championship match. (Top photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com, middle photo courtesy of the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.)