D4 Preview: Hornets Seek to Stay On Top

February 25, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Eight Division 4 title hopefuls will be the first to take the mat at the first MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals weekend hosted by Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena.

Included among those eight is two-time reigning champion New Lothrop, two-time reigning runner-up Hudson, and three more teams returning to the Quarterfinals, which begin this season at noon.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 12 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.

#1 New Lothrop

Record/rank: 21-5, No. 1
League finish: Third in Genesee Area Conference Blue.  
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 15th season (389-70)
Championship history: 14 MHSAA championships (most recent 2015), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Logan Zell (27-22) fr., 112 Tommy Malloy (39-12), soph.; 130 Austin Wolford, 30-15, fr., 140 Zack Riley (19-15) fr., 145 Cole Hersch (44-1) sr.; 152 Steven Garza II (50-1) sr.; 160 John Robinson (36-3) sr.; 171 Erik Birchmeier (28-2) jr.; 171 Brandon Henige (31-20) sr.; 215 Caleb Symons (48-1) sr.
 New Lothrop is favored to win a third straight Division 4 with a number of standouts who have been part of those previous title-winning teams. The Hornets are led in part by Garza, an individual champion at 145 last season, and Symons, who like last season enters Team Finals weekend with only one loss and was the runner-up at 189 in 2015. Hersch, another veteran standout, Malloy and junior Connor Krupp (16-4, 125) also are returning Finals placers.

#2 Decatur

Record/rank: 27-3, No. 3
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Coach: Jack Richardson, first season (27-3)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Coy Helmuth (45-5) jr.; 130 Lucian Parish (43-5) sr.; Ethan May (47-3) jr.; Zac Checkley (43-13) jr.; 285 Logan Kennedy (45-5) jr.
 Richardson, a former standout at Grandville, brings back a team that missed its first championship appearance by only six points last season. Nine juniors and two seniors gained valuable experience during the run and under former longtime coach Brian Southworth. Senior Elijah Luth (37-8, 152) didn’t make the Individual Finals this time, but was a placer in 2015, and Kennedy placed in 2014. Decatur eliminated No. 8 Schoolcraft at the Regional.

#3 Hudson

Record/rank: 17-14, No. 2
League finish: Second in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Scott Marry, 28th season (732-165)
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), runner-up 2014 and 2015.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dylan Leathers (31-9) sr.; 103 Tucker Sholl (41-3) fr.; 112 Jordan Hamdan (44-6) fr.; 119 Carson Price (35-16) fr.; 145 Mason Lopinski (45-5) sr.; 160 Kyle Johnson (42-8) sr.; 189 Tylor Grames (45-6) jr.
Outlook: Hudson has made the championship match against New Lothrop the last two seasons, and the regular-season team record this winter can be overlooked given the difficulty of Hudson’s schedule. Another deep run would only put more fear into opponents for the next three seasons; seven Hudson starters are freshmen, and an eighth is a sophomore. Lopinski was an individual runner-up at 145 last season, while Johnson was the champion at 152 in 2014.

#4 Hesperia

Record/rank: 36-7, No. 4
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Silver.
Coach: Doug Baird, 13th season (437-38)
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2008, five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Davian Gowens (39-3) sr.; 140 Logan Eaves (28-9) sr.; 140 Trentyn Gleason (40-13) soph.; 145 Gerrit Yates (49-4) soph.; 171 Mark Workman (30-0) sr.; 285 Josh Ehrke (43-2) sr.
Outlook: Hesperia is continuing a dominating decade with its eighth appearance at Finals weekend over the last 10 seasons to go with the championship in 2008 and three of its five runner-up finishes all-time, the most recent coming in 2013. Yates was an individual runner-up last season at 135 and is one of eight underclassmen in the lineup. But there is experience; in addition to Yates last winter, Gowens was a champion in 2014 and Eaves and Workman were runners-up that season.

#5 Springport

Record/rank: 28-6, No. 6
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference.
Co-coaches: David Pratt, 11th season (291-78)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Tyler Teague (46-6) jr.; 130 Noah Teague (41-11) soph.; 135 Sean O’Hearon (43-1) jr.; 145 Taylor Whitmore (43-5) sr.; 152 Zeth Caudill (38-3) sr.; 189 Nick Cooper (35-1) jr.; 215 Luke Overweg (30-22) soph.  
Outlook: Springport is making its second Quarterfinals appearance in three seasons and third under Pratt after claiming its seventh straight league championship and 11th District title under the coach. The Spartans graduated three-time champion Jacob Cooper last spring, but junior Nick Cooper has picked up the mantle and finished runner-up last season at 171; Caudill, Noah Teague and O’Hearon all also were Individual Finals placers in 2015.

#6 Manchester

Record/rank: 23-6, No. 9
League finish: First in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Steve Vlcek, 26th season (524-187)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Reese Fry (40-6) soph.; 119 Blake Belaire (36-11) soph.; 125 Miquel Grammatico (35-13) sr.; 130 Ethan Woods (44-2) jr.; 171 Trevor Humphrey (43-4) sr.; 189 Jordan Good (15-3) jr.; 285 Stevie Suliman (39-10) sr.
 Manchester returns to Finals weekend for the second straight season and seventh over the last decade, and with 10 upperclassmen in the lineup despite graduating a strong group last spring. Woods was the individual runner-up at 119 last season and also placed as a freshman, and Humphrey also placed in 2015.

#7 Leroy Pine River

Record/rank: 25-4, No. 10
League finish: First in Wolverine Conference.
Coach: Tim Jones, 17th season (455-80)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dylan Stephens (37-6) soph.; 112 Andrew Park (47-3) soph.; 119 Nate Park (41-4) sr.; 119 Jacob Roberts (40-5) soph.; 130 Tucker Fansler (39-12) jr.; 160 Joe Rigling (42-13) jr.; 171 Raden Holmes (43-9) jr.; 189 Josh Jackson (46-5) sr.; 215 Bryan Mccurry (34-16) fr.
Outlook: Only top seed New Lothrop has more Individual Finals qualifiers among Division 4 teams competing this weekend, and Andrew Park was an individual placer last season. They’ve been part of a team that has won 16 league and District titles over the last 17 seasons and also made the Team Quarterfinals a year ago for the first time since 2008. Pine River beat its three MHSAA Tournament opponents this month by an average of 40 points.

#8 Munising

Record/rank: 19-5, unranked
League finish: Does not wrestle in a league.
Coach: Bob Miles, 10th season (169-107)
Championship history: Upper Peninsula runner-up 1968.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Nick Miles (35-9) soph.; 189 Hunter Sadler (50-2) sr. 
Outlook: The wrestling program is continuing a strong run by Munising teams in multiple sports, making Finals weekend for the first time in Miles’ decade as coach and after winning a second straight District championship. Sadler finished sixth at 171 last season and brings experience on the big mat. The Mustangs have accomplished this despite voiding four weights and with only two seniors – which could bode well for the future.

PHOTO: A New Lothrop wrestler has his hand raised by an official in victory during a match this season against Richmond at CMU. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)