Tim Roberts had an awakening.
After winning the Division 3 championship in 2007, his Dundee Vikings lost in three consecutive Finals matches. Each were excruciating losses – 30-27, 33-25 and 24-23.
“We had a good program,” Roberts said. “We were doing well. But there was a period there where we were in the running but not winning. In 2011, I think it was the pinnacle. I realized we had to be different.
“We’d get close every year and lose at the state tournament. Too many times we were close. I knew we had to do something different.”
Not many coaches would have had the guts to change a program that had the success of Dundee, but Roberts wanted something more. The results speak for themselves.
The Vikings recently captured their fifth consecutive Division 3 title and ninth since 2011. The latest championship gave Roberts 10 total. He is the first wrestling coach in state history to win 10 Finals titles.
“We’ve been really fortunate,” said Roberts, who announced at last weekend’s Individual Wrestling Finals that he was retiring after 23 seasons and more than 500 career wins at Dundee. “It’s pretty cool to be the first to 10. There’s a lot of great coaches on that list with a lot of championships. It represents a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”
Roberts went into this Finals weekend tied with another coach from Monroe County, Bill Regnier, with nine championships. Roberts was an assistant at Dundee when Regnier coached his final match for Bedford. He’s a coach that Roberts still holds in high regard.
“He’s the legend,” Roberts said. “In every conversation, every poll, every time you talk about, Bill Regnier is considered the best wrestling coach ever in the state. To be mentioned in the same sentence as him is something special. He really is the legend.”
Hudson’s Scott Marry tied Regnier for second place on the list with his ninth Finals title last weekend. Lowell’s R.J. Boudro won his eighth title. Mike Rodriguez won seven at Detroit Catholic Central and one at River Rouge, and Mitch Hancock has won eight at Detroit Catholic Central.
“I might have been the first to 10, but I won’t be the last,” Roberts said. “There are a lot of great coaches still coaching with a lot of championships. Scott Marry is not done winning state titles. He’ll be at 10 real quick. R.J. has won eight in eight tries.
“I don’t think 10 will stand long.”
Roberts’ run is remarkable, nonetheless. His Vikings won a District title all 23 years he was head coach and have won 30 straight overall. Dundee won its Regional in 22 of his 23 years.
Roberts doesn’t beat around the bush about Dundee’s goals every year. League championships are nice, District and Regional championships help fill up the trophy case. But, for the Vikings, winning the Finals championship is always the goal.
“That sounds arrogant, I know,” Roberts said, “but that’s the way it is. That is the goal every year. In all 23 years I coached, that was the goal.”
Roberts said his changes to the program around 2011 included adding strength training to the Dundee repertoire, and that was when Vikings coaches also started focusing more on the mental approach to the sport.
“After 2011, we hit our stride,” he said.
Roberts gives a lot of credit for the “Viking Way” to others in the program.
“Doing it this way starts long before the varsity level,” he said. “The kids club has to be strong. The middle school program has to be strong. You have to have a coaching staff on the same page and dedicated to all aspects of the team. It’s not one person, not even close.”
Roberts learned under Jim Wittibslager, who led Dundee to four straight Finals championships from 1995-98.
“That put me on a really good path,” Roberts said. “I learned how all of this works. Over time, you keep learning. You figure things out as you go. You have to build relationships with a lot of people because you can’t do this alone, not if you want to sustain success.”
Roberts has won numerous coaching honors, local and state, and was named the National Wrestling Coaches Association Boys Coach of the Year in 2020. The honors are likely to continue after this season. Dundee defeated Alma 55-12 in the Division 3 Final to conclude another dominating season.
Roberts said he had an idea this would be his last coaching the Vikings.
“Coming into this season, I was pretty sure I was going to be done,” he said. “As the season went on, I realized that it would be. This isn’t a decision I took lightly. I’ve pretty much been doing this my whole adult life.”
Roberts said no one should expect Dundee to fall off the mountain. Six Individual Finals placers were underclassmen, and kids from the middle school team to the youth programs won multiple championships.
“There are a lot of good people in place and some good wrestlers coming up,” he said. “The youth club is doing really well. It’s just time. It’s time to let someone else who has the passion and drive to do this take over.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Dundee coach Tim Roberts shows his characteristic celebratory enthusiasm during last weekend’s Individual Wrestling Finals. (Middle) Bill Regnier, here in 2009, built a legendary career at Temperance Bedford. (Below) Roberts holds up his team’s 2020 Division 3 team championship trophy. (Roberts photos by Tom Hawley; Regnier photo courtesy of the Monroe News.)
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.
“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 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.”
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 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.)