KALAMAZOO – The Hudson wrestling team is not used to not wrestling on the state’s biggest stage.
The Tigers, who made 12 straight MHSAA Division 4 Team Finals from 2009 through 2020, winning eight times along the way, did not advance to the championship match a year ago and had last won one in 2019.
But in dominating fashion, Hudson climbed back atop the Division 4 throne Saturday night at Wings Event Center with a 47-13 title match win over familiar championship rival New Lothrop.
The Tigers earned their trip back to the Final with impressive wins over LeRoy Pine River in the Quarterfinals and St. Louis in the Semifinals.
"These boys have been through some real trials, not just the wrestling season, but life in general," Hudson coach Scott Marry said. "And not just these kids, but all kids."
Things began to look up for Hudson in the fall, and have continued through the winter.
"We just won a football state championship, and most of them were on this wrestling team that just won this," Marry said. "They are just so excited about the competition, and it's almost like they are reborn."
Reborn and driven, as the Tigers won the first two matches of the Final with Logan Sallows and Cameron Kimble decisions at 189 and 215 pounds, respectively.
But the Hornets, who are no strangers to wresting for state titles, showed some resolve in the next three matches as Isiah Pasik won by fall at 285 pounds, Blake Wendling won by major decision at 103 pounds and Daven Lockwood won by decision at 112.
From there it was all Hudson, which won the dual's final nine matches.
"Last year was the biggest struggle with COVID," said senior 152-pouinder Bronson Marry, a winner in his match by fall. "Two years ago wrestling had just got done before COVID hit, and last year we went through all the precautions with the masks and everything, and we weren't even sure we were going to be able to wrestle, let along compete for a state title. This year was just amazing. I have been waiting for this feeling for a long time."
New Lothrop coach Jeff Campbell was impressed.
"You just get so accustomed with Hudson winning state titles, it didn't kind of register," said Campbell, whose team ended its year with a 23-3 record. "I am happy for their community, and I am happy for them. I have a lot of respect for everything that they do. Coach Marry and their whole staff – my son is a youth wrestler, so I see what they are doing at a lot of youth meets. They put the work in."
And now the Tigers are back on top.
"We are all blessed," said Scott Marry, whose team ended with a 22-4 record. "In Hudson we believe in Hudson-trained. We believe in three-sport athletes, and these kids bought into that."
PHOTOS (Top) Hudson’s Cameron Kimble, left, works toward a decision at 215 pounds Saturday at Wings Event Center. (Middle) The Tigers celebrate their first Finals title since 2019. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)