By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
For the second straight season, Division 4 has a chance to contribute to MHSAA wrestling history with a candidate to join the elite list of four-time champions.
Mendon senior Skyler Crespo is one of three contenders this weekend hoping to become the 27th in state history for win four MHSAA Individual Finals titles, and after Hudson’s Jordan Hamdan represented Division 4 in doing so a year ago. Bronson senior Ben Modert will be wrestling for his third title, while Carson City-Crystal senior Jamison Ward and Clinton sophomore Logan Badge are reigning champs as well.
But after those four, only a few more in Division 4 have reached the final matches of the season in the past – making for a lot of opportunities for new faces to make themselves known in front of a Ford Field audience.
Below, we look at 10 contenders to watch in Division 4, plus list all of the top seeds heading into this weekend. Surely we missed a few who will end up among the biggest headliners 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 3:30 p.m.
112 Bronson Marry, Hudson sophomore (34-6) – Last season’s runner-up at 103 is the top seed at 112 and has won 21 of his last 22 matches including both last weekend in helping the Tigers to the team runner-up finish in Division 4. He’s 67-15 over his first two seasons.
119 Ben Modert, Bronson senior (50-2) – Modert won at 103 two seasons ago and 112 last year, when he didn’t give up a point over four Individual Finals matches, and he also finished fifth at 103 as a freshman. His two losses this winter both were one-point decisions.
130 Caden Natale, Hudson junior (36-5) – After just missing a first championship last season with a double-overtime loss in the final at 119, Natale is seeded first at this weight. He has 24 wins by pin and four by technical fall. He also finished third at 103 as a freshman.
130 Jacob Shelby, Manchester (48-1) – The two-time Finals placer is looking to leave with a championship after finishing eighth at 119 as a sophomore and runner-up last season at this weight with a 2-0 loss to Jamison Ward (see below) in the championship match. Shelby defeated Natale at Team Finals last weekend, and his lone loss was a one-point decision.
135 Jamison Ward, Carson City-Crystal senior (49-0) – After winning the championship last year at 130, Ward now stands 97-1 over the last two seasons and went over 200 career victories earlier this winter. He’s the top seed at this weight and also took fourth at 119 as a sophomore and second at 103 as a freshman.
140 Matthew Grant, Onaway senior (24-1) – The 2018 runner-up at 135 fell back to sixth at that weight last season. But Grant is back up as the top seed at 140 this weekend, and his only loss this season came to an out-of-state opponent.
145 Skyler Crespo, Mendon senior (49-1) – As noted, Crespo will be one of three this weekend aspiring to a fourth individual championship after winning 125 as a freshman, 135 as a sophomore and 140 last year. He also went over 200 career wins this winter, with his lone loss to an out-of-state opponent. He will wrestle next for Michigan State.
171 Brock Nelson, LeRoy Pine River (19-0) senior – Last season’s runner-up at this weight will look to end his high school career with a first title as well. He was fifth at 135 as a freshman and third at 145 as a sophomore.
171 Brayden Randolph, Clinton junior (51-4) – After falling by just two points in last season’s 160 final, Randolph has stormed back to earn the first seed at this weight. He’s 144-11 over his first three seasons and took third at 160 as a freshman. He and Logan Badge (below) are among representatives from the first-time team champion Redskins.
189 Logan Badge, Clinton sophomore (33-0) – Last season’s champion at 215 is lighter by a weight and the top seed at 189. He is up to 68-2 individually over his first two high school seasons, and this winter he has 19 wins by pin and two more by tech fall.
Additional No. 1 seeds: 103 Manus Bennett, Marlette freshman (41-2); 125 Jaron Johnson, Carson City-Crystal junior (38-0); 152 Thomas Potter, Springport senior (42-1); 160 Trenton Holden, Grass Lake junior (42-1); 215 Camden Orr, New Lothrop junior (40-3); 285 Emmett Bingaman, Mendon senior (46-2).
PHOTO: Mendon’s Skyler Crespo (left) works for control during last season’s Division 4 championship match at 140 pounds. (Click for more from 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.)