By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Michigan will celebrate one last time this weekend, at the high school level, an accomplished group of seniors who have dominated the Division 4 Individual Wrestling Finals during the first half of this decade.
Four seniors will take the mat beginning Thursday with a combined seven titles already to their credit. Four more seniors are undefeated and looking to earn a first championship in their final trip.
See below for 10 contenders to watch this weekend, plus others who enter the tournament undefeated or coming off runner-up finishes in 2014. Follow all the matches beginning with Thursday's first round on a subscription basis live on MHSAA.TV, and click here for results at MHSAA.com.
Those listed below are only a handful of the numerous contenders for this weekend’s Division 4 championships. Come back to Second Half at the end of this weekend, when we’ll have post-match thoughts from all 14 title winners.
112: Joe Traynham, Onaway senior (43-3) – The reigning champion at this weight didn’t make his first Finals until last season but should again be in the mix at the end of a bracket that’s arguably gotten tougher.
119: Logan Griffin, Erie-Mason senior (38-0) – This reigning champion also won 112 as a sophomore and was runner-up there as a freshman; he’s going for a second perfect season after finishing undefeated in 2012-13.
130: Dresden Simon, Dansville junior (54-0) – Last season’s runner-up at 119 has moved up two classes and gone over 100 wins for his career after tallying a 49-4 record and wrestling Griffin to a 6-2 decision in the Final last winter.
135: Kyle Barkovich, Lawton senior (51-2) – He finished runner-up at 130 last season, falling by a 5-3 decision in the Final, and is a favorite to add a championship to his other three top-eight placings that also included a sixth at 103 as a freshman and fourth at 112 as a sophomore.
152: Kyle Johnson, Hudson junior (43-7) – His record includes a few more losses than most because Hudson wrestles its share of tough opponents, but Johnson won this weight last year despite entering with 10 defeats.
171: Shane Rodenburg, Kent City senior (53-0) – The four-year standout has gradually moved up the podium at the Finals, from fifth at 160 as a freshman to third at 171 as a sophomore and second at that weight last season; he stands 213-14 for his career.
189: Brody Conner, Lawton senior (54-0) – Like his teammate Barkovich, Connor is hoping to add a title to his fine run after taking third at 171 last season and fifth at 152 pounds as a sophomore.
215: Jacob Cooper, Springport senior (51-0) – Last season’s champion at 189 can finish with a crowning achievement and first perfect season to go also with his title at 160 pounds as a sophomore and runner-up finish at 145 as a freshman.
215: Kevin Koenig, Laingsburg junior (53-1) – He should be Cooper’s main competition, and the other way around as Koenig is the reigning champion at 215 and finished runner-up at that weight as a freshman.
285: Ryan Prescott, Whittemore-Prescott senior (27-0) – The champion at 285 the last two seasons and runner-up in 2012 hasn’t lost since his sophomore year and is 147-4 for his career entering the weekend.
Other 2014 runners-up: Hudson junior Roddy Hamdan (119, 40-7, 112 in 2014), Hesperia senior Trenton Roesly (140, 36-5, 135 in 2014), Manchester senior Brendan Abrigo (112, 47-1, 103 in Division 3 in 2014), Carson City-Crystal senior Alex Young (140, 37-4, 135 in Division 3 in 2014 for Portland).
Also undefeated: Montrose senior Arthur Payne (47-0, 119), New Lothrop junior Cole Hersch (48-0, 135), New Lothrop junior Steven Garza II (38-0, 145), Carson City-Crystal senior Dillen Decker (54-0, 160), Bangor sophomore Devon Kozel (43-0, 215).
More of note: Dansville freshman Anthony Mack (46-2, 103), Erie-Mason sophomore Robert Lefevre (23-2, 112), Dansville junior Clay Ragon (50-4, 125), New Lothrop junior Steven Garza II (38-0, 145), Decatur senior Hunter Bell (52-1, 152), Carson City-Crystal senior Dillen Decker (54-0, 160).
PHOTO: Whittemore-Prescott’s Ryan Prescott celebrates a championship-clinching pin to end last season’s Division 4 match at 285 pounds. (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.)