Hillger Becomes Palace King 1 Last Time

March 4, 2017

By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half

AUBURN HILLS – Trent Hillger was as impressive as ever during his run to his third straight MHSAA individual title.

The Lake Fenton senior heavyweight pinned his first three opponents at the Division 3 Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills this past weekend, then beat Lake Odessa Lakewood's Luke Tromp by technical fall in the Final, 15-0, to end his season with a 59-0 record.

"I was feeling good," Hillger said. "I felt prepared coming into the tournament. My coaches prepared me well, I came in and wrestled like I have all season. You see upsets left and right, you always have to go into the match like he can beat you, like he is the number one guy in the state. You always have to wrestle aggressive, wrestle your style of match and that’s what I did and came out on top."

There would be no upset here, as now Hillger gets prepared to take his talents to the Big Ten and the University of Wisconsin.  


Champion: Sean Spidle, Flint Powers, Fr. (39-3)
Decision, 7-3, over Hunter Assenmacher, Ida, Fr. (43-7)

Competing in a Final can make a wrestler an emotional wreck, especially a freshman taking his sport's biggest stage in high school.

But Flint Powers ninth grader Spidle took his coach's advice and turned that into a 7-3 win over Ida's Assenmacher.

"Everything I've worked for has paid off," Spidle said. "My coaches told me to stay aggressive, stay calm and stick to the game plain and I'd win, and I did that."


Champion: Mitchel Christensen, Essexville Garber, Jr. (49-2)
Decision, 8-3, over Anthony Gallagher (Perry), Sr. (48-3)

Winning a championship in wrestling is an incredible accomplishment.

Beating a returning champion to do so takes that accomplishment to another level.

That's what Garber's Christensen did, as Gallagher won a title in 2016.

"I had dreams about winning it, but I didn’t really think I could," Christensen said. "I knew I put in all the work during the offseason. I knew I just had to trust my stuff and wrestle my match. I felt good during the match. There was one thing I was thinking the whole time: six perfect minutes of wrestling. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but it will once I walk up those podium steps."


Champion: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County, Jr. (52-0)
Technical fall, 23-8, over Stuart Massa, Hemlock, Sr. (45-8)

Greer tries to not over-think things when he is on the wrestling mat.

He just wrestles, and that seems to work, as he won his second title.

"I won my freshman year, and I was feeling really confident coming into the match this year," Greer said. "I haven't wrestled that kid in forever, so I didn't really know what he would do. But I don't really think when I'm out there; it's just natural, I just do it."


Champion: Amante' Young, Clare, Jr. (53-4)
Decision, 11-6, over Hunter Corcoran, Lake Fenton, Sr. (56-3)

Young became a first Saturday night. He is the first champion crowned from Clare High School.

Young relied on quickness and athleticism for the victory.

"I can’t even describe it," Young said. "To win a state title and to be the first from Clare to win a state title, it's amazing. I thought it would only be a one-point match, going in. I was a little nervous before the match, but I've seen him wrestle before, and I knew he was bigger than me."


Champion: Jarrett Trombley, Lake Fenton, Jr. (57-0)
Decision, 9-6, over Keenan Gunnells, Brooklyn Columbia Central, Sr. (41-8)

Sometimes watching a teammate fall short of his dreams can inspire another to keep going.

That's what Trombley did when he watched teammate Corcoran lose in the championship match before his.

That helped motivate Trombley to win his third straight championship and keep his dream alive of becoming a four-time champion.

"It's always been one of my goals (to win four). I just came to compete and the match went my way," Trombley said. "After Hunter got beat, I was a little mad, but he wrestled a good match. We have been practice partners all year, and he just didn't come out on top today. I came in this year with one goal, and one goal only, and that was to win a state title. I kept on working harder and harder this year, and it paid off."


Champion: Nolan Saxton, Remus Chippewa Hills, Sr. (58-0)
Decision, 5-4, over Dallas Sortor, Ida, Jr. (50-3)

Saxton is a wrestler of few words.

He likes to let his talents do his talking on the mat, and they sure did this year, as the Chippewa Hills senior capped off a perfect 58-0 record.

"I wasn’t really nervous out there. I was just ready," Saxton said. "I'm just so happy right now."


Champion: Zachary Bellaire, Dundee, Jr. (38-5)
Decision, 6-1, over Sean Trombley, Lake Fenton, Soph. (53-6)

Bellaire and the Dundee wrestling team took part in an epic championship match with Richmond last week at Central Michigan University.

Bellaire and his Vikings teammates lost on the eighth criteria, leaving a bad wrestling taste in the mouths of all Dundee faithful.

He helped ease the pain just a bit Saturday.

"He made a mistake, and I capitalized on it," Bellaire said. "All I had to do was wrestle for six minutes, and I knew I would win.

"It feels great to make it to the top of the podium. I used the loss we took at the team state meet last week as fuel against all the other kids I wrestled this week."


Champion: Tylor Orrison, Dundee, Jr. (42-5)
Fall, 4:44, over Glenn Beardsley, Farwell, Sr. (32-1)

Orrison didn't let an early takedown get to him. He knew if he kept working that the coaching and work he gets in his team's practice room would pay off.

"I knew I just had to out-compete him and just keep scoring," Orrison said. "Once he took me down, I knew I had to get a point back. It feels great; once I got that (chicken) wing in, I knew it was over."


Champion: Jacob Shoop, Scottville Mason Count Central, Sr. (52-1)
Technical fall, 17-1, over Gavin Morgan, Mount Morris, Fr. (48-4)

Experience got the better of youth at 152 pounds, as Shoop handled Mount Morris freshman Morgan.

"It feels incredible, just knowing everything I've done in the past has paid off. It’s a feeling like no other," Shoop said. "I felt like I controlled him during the whole match."


Champion: Sean Sterling, Dundee, Sr. (28-0)
Decision, 4-3, over Dylan Briggs, Corunna, Sr. (46-4)

Sterling didn't let his nerves get the best of him.

He proved that sometimes winning your second title can be tougher than earning that first championship, but was still able to do so by beating Corunna's Briggs.

"The first state title was a lot easier," Sterling said. "I was a lot more nervous during these Finals. Last year I had to get on top, but this year I had to say on top, and it's a lot easier to get on top than to stay on top. Last year's state title was for everyone who ever made a sacrifice for me, and this state championship is for me."


Champion: Collin Lieber, Croswell-Lexington, Sr. (44-0)
Decision, 4-3, over Daniel Thompson, Lake Odessa Lakewood, Sr. (44-2)

Lieber felt disrespected, and he wanted to prove a point.

"I got the third seed coming into this tournament, and I wanted to prove everyone wrong," Lieber said. "I've finished second, third and second here, and last year was a devastating loss. I thought about it every day during practice, and if I was ever about to give up, I just reminded myself how bad I want that state title."


Champion: Brandon Whitman, Dundee, Jr. (45-0)
Decision, 9-3, over Colton McKiernan, Richmond, Jr. (47-5)

Whitman came into his high school career at Dundee with a lot of fanfare and a national ranking out of the youth ranks.

And he has lived up to his lofty billing by winning his third straight championship.

"It feels pretty good," Whitman said of his third title. "It kind of dies down at the end, but feels good. I was very confident coming into this tournament. I knew that if I wrestled well, no one would touch me. Now the only goal is winning my fourth state title next year."


Champion: Jared Roehl, Millington, Sr. (38-0)
Decision, 6-1, over Tyler Marino, Richmond, Jr. (47-6)

Two titles are good, even if three would have felt better to Millington senior Roehl.

"I had a big chip on my shoulder, because I lost by one point last year, and trained all offseason for this match," Roehl said.

And the hard work paid off, as he controlled his match with Marino throughout and walked away with that second championship to cap an accomplished career.

"It feels amazing to redeem a loss from the Finals last year," Roehl said.

Click for full brackets.

PHOTO: Lake Fenton’s Trent Hillger has his arm raised for the third time at the MHSAA Finals to celebrate his third championship Saturday. (Click for more from 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.)