By Jeremy Martin
Special to Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – Since 2009, Battle Creek has been like a second home to Hudson High School wrestling coach Scott Marry.
His Tigers know the city well, as Hudson had bused back north holding the MHSAA Division 4 championship trophy every season over the last four. But on Saturday, they did one better and made some additional history in the process.
Top-seeded Hudson defeated second-seeded Hesperia 32-24 at Kellogg Arena to claim a fifth-straight team title, tying Davison (2002-06) for the longest streak since the Team Finals began in 1988.
And it didn’t take long for Hudson to consider what it might take to become the first to make it six in a row.
“We’re not guaranteeing state title after state title; we know that that’s unheard of. But were coming back next year, and we’re going to be battling again next year,” Marry said. “We’ve got a young group, and I think we have a shot at coming back here and again being in the top four.”
Early on Saturday, it appeared Hudson (30-6) might make quick work of the Panthers, who were the last Division 4 champion in 2008 before the Tigers began this run.
Hudson jumped out to a fast 9-0 lead following two quick wins. But Hesperia was not to be run over, as the Panthers right away fired back and took their first lead following a 26-11 victory by senior Cash Bolles.
“It felt good to be back and to be rolling. It felt good because I’m a senior and I’m trying to lead the team and do as much as possible," Bolles said. "I just wanted to play my part."
From there, the Panthers (35-3) were able to jump to a 21-12 lead following a 54-second pin by freshman Scott Rosencrans at 189 pounds.
“I was just trying to get a win for my team, and I guess that drove me,” Rosencrans said. “We were just trying to keep the ball rolling, trying to win.”
His was the fifth victory in six matches for Hesperia. But instead of signaling the beginning of a Panthers victory march, it fired up a Tigers squad hungry for another title.
“You go back to the 171 (freshman Clayton Brockway 8-6 victory) and that 215 (junior Jake Morgan 11-9 victory), we’re sitting in the corner doing our numbers, and we had to win one of those to even stay in it,” Marry said. “And when you win both and in the fashion that we did, I think it was an incredible accomplishment for a freshman and a junior to do that on this stage.”
By the time 103 pound sophomore Roddy Hamdan took to the mat, the Tigers were poised to retake the lead. And they did, thanks to his 11-5 victory that earned the team a 25-21 advantage with three matches to wrestle.
“It feels like we’re done; we did what we came to do,” Hudson junior Cole Weaver said. “I didn’t expect anything less than this. We were in a slump for a minute there, but I knew once we got out of it we’d be fine.”
Though Weaver and the rest of his Tigers teammates exuded an air of confidence, even while trailing, the Panthers had no intention of going down without a fight and certainly felt they could be the ones to end Hudson’s championship streak.
“It would have meant a lot to us, to our school, to our community. It would have been very important to all of us,” Rosencrans said.
Despite the exhausting loss and a long weekend of wrestling, Hesperia coach Doug Baird too has high hopes for his squad heading into next season.
“Hats off to Hudson; they’re well coached and they have great wrestlers, and had a great match today. But it doesn't take anything away from our kids,” Baird said. “Our kids wrestled their butts off this weekend, and I’m really proud of them. We only wrestled two seniors on the weekend, so we’re going to bring a lot of experience back into the Finals (next year).”
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.)