KALAMAZOO – The Dundee wrestling team found itself in an unfamiliar position Tuesday evening: behind.
The Vikings were dominant all season. They feature eight wrestlers ranked No. 1 in their weight class, and lost just once – against Division 1 Finals champion Davison.
But thanks to wins from Whitehall’s Max Brown and Marco Moore, which sandwiched a long technology delay, Dundee had to spend nearly 30 minutes of the Division 3 Final trailing on the scoreboard.
It didn’t take nearly as long for the Swiderski brothers – Casey and Tyler – to erase the deficit, though, as they re-established a Dundee lead that was never relinquished in a 55-17 victory at Wings Event Center.
“I was saying it myself, ‘Here we are. We’re behind after two matches. Here we go,’” Dundee coach Tim Roberts said. “The guys responded and came back well. (Whitehall) was wrestling well. I give them a lot of credit; their guys came to compete. It was their first time in the Finals ever, and I think they made a good showing of themselves in how hard they competed and how they started that dual. I think they have a lot to be proud of, too.”
It’s the fourth straight title for the Vikings, and their 13th overall. It’s the second time Dundee has won four straight titles, as the program did as well from 1995-98 in Division 4 and Class C-D (1995). The program has entrenched itself as the best in Division 3 by advancing to the Finals each year since 2007, winning in eight of those 14 years.
"I’m just very grateful to be part of a program that’s done this well,” senior Stoney Buell said. “It puts a little more gratefulness on this year with COVID. I’m just beyond blessed for this opportunity and to be able to do it with a great bunch of guys.”
Dundee had a bye in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal, and defeated its longtime rival Richmond 72-6 in the Semifinals. It was the culmination of an entire season spent as a heavy favorite, but the team never lost focus.
“Our whole mentality and in practice, it’s all about having fun,” junior Casey Swiderski said. “It’s not about coming here and winning team state, it’s about putting points on the board, everybody does their job and then you win 55-17 in the Finals. That’s how it works.”
The season-long dominance didn’t mean it wasn’t a stress-free season for Roberts, as he spent the entire year trying to make sure his team was healthy above all else.
“We know we have a good team, we know we had a lot of talent on it, but we need them to keep their minds in the right place moving forward and still fighting for something,” Roberts said. “That was a lot of work building goals for these to keep chasing. The way they handled it, and the way they kept fighting all year, I’m really proud of them and the way they came through in a situation that was weird. They handled it really well.”
Whitehall kept things interesting for a while, though. Brown’s victory came in overtime against top-ranked Austin Fietz at 140 pounds and was followed by Moore’s decision at 145. Casey Swiderski won by technical fall at 152, followed by a major decision from his brother Tyler at 160. Dominick Lomazzo (171) and Buell (189) each won by fall to stretch Dundee’s lead to 21-6, but Whitehall pulled back to within four after Shane Cook (215) won by forfeit and Ira Jenkins (285) won by technical fall.
Dundee closed the match with six straight victories to clinch the title, getting pins from Kade Kulce (103), Braeden Davis (112), Kaden Chinavere (119), Logan Sander (125) and Aiden Davis (135). Trey Parker won by major decision at 130.
“We just told our guys to go out there and compete and give their best effort,” Whitehall co-coach Justin Zeerip said. “At the end of the day, if they gave their best effort, I knew they could be happy with themselves. We just wanted to go out there and wrestle them hard. That was a really big match for Max, that kid’s been ranked No. 1 all year, so for Max to go out there and win it in overtime, I thought he looked really, really good today.”
Brown, Cook and Jenkins each won three matches on the day for Whitehall, which defeated Hart 41-23 in the Quarterfinals and Alma 37-29 in the Semifinals.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the kids,” Zeerip said. “Our first two matches today, they wrestled really, really hard. Even in the Finals. Dundee, they have such a historical program, and even though we didn’t win the match, I was really happy with our kids’ effort and how hard they fought out there.”
PHOTO: (Top) Dundee celebrates its fourth-straight Division 3 title. (Middle) Whitehall's Max Brown works to gain control during his 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.)