By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half
KALAMAZOO – When Scott Marry took over the wrestling duties at Hudson High School 31 years ago, he knew he had to build a foundation to make his program a success.
He had to get his Tigers young and prepare them for the demands of wrestling, knowing that someday they would perform on the state's largest stage.
So when he was handed his team’s eighth – and third straight – Division 4 championship trophy Saturday after Hudson beat Clinton 45-19 in the Final at Wings Event Center, he made sure one of the championship photos had two rows of young Tigers in it, with smiles wide and raising their index finger high in the air claiming victory.
"There is definitely a climate going on right now, from the youth program all the way up through Hudson," said Marry, whose team ended the year with a 20-7 record. "We don't worry about how many kids we have; the kids work hard. You get them, then season them, get them tough and callus them. A meet like today’s is no different than our practice room. Our room is really tough."
Carson Price was one of those young Tigers who felt the excitement when Hudson was winning five straight titles from 2008-13.
He wanted to be part of the winning, and played a big part in the victory over Clinton when he earned a pin in 3 minutes, 23 seconds at 171 pounds.
That was one of six pins Hudson had over the Redskins.
"We peak at the right time," Price said. "Our guys love each other, and this is a tradition. I have been wrestling since I was a 4-year-old little kid and dreaming about this stuff since I was 6. Today we had all those little kids sitting up there, dreaming with us, and now they are the next wave."
All the seasoning does pay off at the most important times for Hudson.
Of the six pins, four came in a row between 215 pounds and 112. During that stretch, Kyle Moll, Isiah Krizek, Payton Rogers and Bronson Marry all secured falls that turned a 14-9 Clinton lead into a 33-14 advantage for the Tigers.
From there, who was going to win the title was a formality.
“The coin flip was big, and that is a great team," said Clinton coach Jeff Rolland, whose team ended its year with a 30-5 record. "When they get going, they get going, and that (the four pins in a row by Hudson) was a tough stretch for us. We got wins at 140, 145, 160 and 189 and it was close and we felt good. I don't feel like we underperformed today. We got beat."
Starting at 140 pounds, the Redskins did jump out to a 14-9 lead thanks to wins from Kent McCombs at 140, Riley Jeffrey at 145, Braydon Randolph at 160 and Logan Badge at 189.
That's when the Tigers flexed their muscles and showed the Wings Event Center crowd how well they can pin from the cradle.
"We didn't know we were going to get pins, but we knew those rubber matches would be in those places," Marry said. "So we knew there would be a shift in the scoring. This is not like football; you can't get caught up in a 14-point deficit, knowing that you have four weight classes in a row where you can score 24 points."
And that is what Hudson did to show everyone it remains the team to beat in Division 4, even though the Tigers came into the weekend as the third seed. Clinton was seeded number one.
"Everyone keeps asking about the seeds," Rolland said. "Until someone beats them, they are the one everyone is chasing."
PHOTOS: (Top) Hudson's Carson Price works toward a win at 171 pounds during the Division 4 championship match. (Middle) Another Tigers wrestler controls his opponent Saturday. (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.)