By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half
AUBURN HILLS – Last wrestling season ended in heart-breaking fashion for Hudson senior Kyle Johnson.
This year, spurred on by the memory of his grandfather, Johnson wrapped up his high school wrestling career in a big way by winning the 160-pound title in Division 4.
Johnson outlasted Spencer Knizacky of Scottville Mason County Central 4-2 in the Final to finish the season with a 49-8 record.
“Last year my grandpa passed away, and I was not mentally into it,” Johnson said. “This year, I dedicated my season to him. My grandpa meant a lot to me. He showed me how to be a man.”
Immediately after clinching the title, and in the process winning his 200th career match, Johnson put on the black T-shirt with orange lettering that said “RIP Gramps, this one is for you.”
“This title was for him,” Johnson said. “I stayed focused all season because of him.”
Champion: Tucker Sholl, Hudson, Fr. (48-3)
Major Decision, 11-0, over Reese Fry, Manchester, Soph. (44-7)
Practice partners throughout the season, Hudson’s Sholl and Jordan Hamden came into the Finals looking to hit a freshman daily-double by winning the 103 and 112-pound titles. Sholl completed his part in impressive fashion, as he didn’t allow a point en route to winning a major decision.
“It feels real good,” Sholl said. “We practice together every day. I can’t begin to tell you how many hours we put in working out together.”
Champion: Jordan Hamdan, Hudson, Fr. (51-6)
Decision, 5-1, over Noah Comar, Clinton, Fr. (55-4)
Hamdan completed the freshman double-dip by defeating a familiar foe in fellow freshman Noah Comar of Clinton. Hamdan scored a two-point near fall in the second period and then put the match away with an escape and takedown in the third period.
“It’s very special to win it as freshmen with Tucker,” Hamdan said. “We’ve been practicing together since grade school. We go at each other in practice and show each other a lot of different styles. I think we strengthen each other.”
The MHSAA title was also the second for the Hamdan family as Jordan’s older brother Roddy won a title during his sophomore year.
“My brother helped me out a lot,” Jordan said. “He has really given me a lot of support and helped me reach my goal.”
Champion: Robert LeFevre, Erie-Mason, Jr. (39-0)
Decision, 6-1, over Coy Helmuth, Decatur, Jr. (49-6)
After falling short in overtime in the 112-pound title match last year, LeFevre was determined to take the final step this season.
LeFevre turned in a workmanlike performance as he took a 2-0 lead in the first period, then built the lead to 4-0 in the second before closing out the match with two more points in the third period.
“I was just more mentally focused this year,” LeFevre said. “I put in a lot more work during the offseason, and it paid off. Words can’t explain how good this feels.”
LeFevre also finished the season with a perfect record despite bumping up in weight class several times for the good of the team.
“The undefeated record is nice,” LeFevre said. “It’s really exciting to get it here in the Finals. I finished third as a freshman, second last year and now first this year.”
Champion: Robert Rogers, Burton Bentley, Soph. (48-0)
Decision, 8-6, over Davian Gowens, Hesperia, Sr. (43-4)
Burton Bentley may not be a household name on the list of outstanding Genesee County wrestling schools, but Bentley sophomore Robert Rogers is single-handedly changing that. Rogers became the first Bentley wrestler to win an individual MHSAA title in 39 years.
“This shows everybody that someone from a little school can win a state title just like the big school down the road,” Rogers said. “This is really thrilling. It shows that hard work pays off. I’m here not just for myself, but for my teammates and my coaches. This is for them.”
Rogers placed third at the MHSAA Finals last year and came back this year focused on improving.
“My coaches kept me level-headed all season,” Rogers said. “Losing in the Semifinals last year gave me a lot of extra motivation.”
Champion: Dallas O’Green, Carson City-Crystal, Sr. (59-0)
Decision, 8-2, over Ethan Woods, Manchester, Jr. (48-3)
O’Green ended his career in a big way. Not only did he win a second straight championship, but he finished his senior season with a perfect record.
“This one is very special,” O’Green said. “It’s a big accomplishment. We don’t get many wrestlers winning two state titles in a row at our school.”
O’Green ended his career as a four-time Finals placer as he took sixth as a freshman and third as a sophomore. That accomplishment is something he shares with his coach Trent Ward.
“That has only happened once in our school’s history, and that was our coach,” O’Green said. “That makes it very special. I feel like we have the best coaches in Division 4, and to be a four-time state placer like Coach is amazing.”
Champion: Sean O’Hearon, Springport, Jr. (49-1)
Decision 6-1, over Clay Ragon, Dansville, Sr. (51-5)
After placing fourth last year, O’Hearon was not about to let an opportunity pass him by this winter. O’Hearon took an early 2-1 lead and then built the lead to 5-1 in the second period.
“I just kept the pressure on him,” O’Hearon said. “We have a lot of pride in Springport wrestling, and I was glad to represent our school and our tradition.”
O’Hearon also represented his family well along with his cousin, Austin O’Hearon, who wrestles for Eaton Rapids and placed seventh at 125 pounds in Division 2.
“We’re hoping that next year me and him will both be state champs,” O’Hearon said. “We get together to practice a lot. Working out with him has really helped me.”
Champion Dresden Simon, Dansville, Sr. (52-1)
Fall, 1:30, over Konnor Holton, St. Louis, Jr. (41-5)
Simon wasted little time in winning his second straight MHSAA title, as he recorded a fall in the first period.
“Winning a state title was something I expected,” Simon said. “I’ve been working hard for it. I put in a lot of hard work for it, and it paid off. I went out there and tried to push the pace.”
Simon, who is headed to Central Michigan University to wrestle next season, won the 130-pound title last year.
Champion: Cole Hersch, New Lothrop, Sr. (51-1)
Fall, 4:00, over Gerrit Yates, Hesperia, Soph. (53-5)
For Hersch, it was his first time in the title match and only chance he would get to win an individual championship. The senior from New Lothrop, who has been part of three team MHSAA championship teams, didn’t let the opportunity slip by.
“This is just an amazing feeling,” Hersch said. “I lost in the second round all three years I’ve been here. To win it like this as a senior is amazing.”
Hersch’s title was the fourth individual title of the Finals for New Lothrop, as 145 was the final weight contended at this year’s meet.
“For our team to win four individual state titles is pretty special,” Hersch said.
Champion: Steven Garza II, New Lothrop, Sr. (57-1)
Decision, 9-5 over Zeth Caudill, Springport, Sr. (42-5)
After finishing as an undefeated individual champion last season, Garza came back and won a second straight title and finished his senior year with a 57-1 record.
“This is something I’ve wanted all year,” Garza said. “I’m grateful to be here and to be able to take home the state title. There are some great wrestlers here, and to be able to win two state titles is an awesome feeling.”
Garza jumped out to the early lead in the match and controlled the pace throughout.
“Last year I was really nervous,” Garza said. “It was the first one. This one I was still a little nervous, but the jitters were a little different this time.”
Champion: Erik Birchmeier, New Lothrop, Jr. (34-2)
Decision, 7-5 SV-1, over Mark Workman, Hesperia, Sr. (34-1)
Persistence paid off for Birchmeier. Trailing 5-2 going into the third period, he battled back to tie the match at 5-5 and then won in overtime.
“When I was trailing 5-2 I knew I needed to get after it,” Birchmeier said. “I gave it everything I had to bring it to overtime. I knew I just had to keep the pressure on.”
Champion: Nick Cooper, Springport, Jr. (41-1)
Fall, 1:49, over Hunter Sadler, Munising, Sr. (54-3)
Cooper’s older brother Jacob was a three-time MHSAA champion who graduated last year. This year Nick claimed his first title to carry on the family tradition.
“I can tell him that I’ve got one now,” Cooper said. “My brother has been very supportive of me. He has really helped me out a lot.”
Winning his own was actually less nerve-wracking for Jacob.
“I actually get more nervous watching him then when I wrestle myself,” Cooper said. “This really means a lot to me.”
Champion: Caleb Symons, New Lothrop, Sr. (55-1)
Fall, 2:35, over Devon Kozel, Bangor, Jr. (48-1)
After taking second at 189 pounds last year, Symons was not to be denied. A second period pin gave Symons the championship and also the 150th win of his career.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Symons said. “Losing last year tore me apart. Winning it this year made it all worthwhile.”
In his second appearance in the Finals, Symons was more comfortable.
“Being here last year, I was not as nervous this time,” Symons said.
Champion: Kevin Koenig, Laingsburg, Sr. (55-1)
Fall, 1:22, over Logan Kennedy, Decatur, Jr. (49-6)
A Finals champion as a sophomore, Koenig dropped a two-point decision in last year’s 215-pound title match. This time, Koenig left nothing to chance.
“Heck yeah, this feels real good,” Koenig said. “Being a two-time state champion, not many people have done it. It definitely feels great.”
Koenig won all four of his matches at these MHSAA Finals with first-period falls.
“I’ve pretty much been doing it all season,” Koenig said. “I can’t describe the feeling of winning a second one.”
The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.
PHOTO: Hudson's Kyle Johnson works to gain control against Farwell's Garrett McQuiston during Friday's Semifinal match. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
DUNDEE – How do you replace a legendary coach?
For the Dundee Vikings wrestling program, it takes two.
Nate Hall and Garrett Stevens opened practice last week as the new co-coaches of the ultra-successful Dundee wrestling program, taking the reins from Tim Roberts, one of the winningest coaches in state wrestling history.
“From day one, we’ve done a really good job of pushing each other and staying focused,” Stevens said. “The kids have been getting after it. Things are going well.”
Dundee’s wrestling program is a rich one. Roberts stepped down with a state-record 10 MHSAA Finals titles over his 23 seasons as head coach. In all 23 of those years, Dundee won District championships, and in 22 of those 23 years the Vikings won Regional titles. Roberts not only accumulated 10 Finals championship trophies, but he also won more than 500 dual matches.
Hall and Stevens have coached together for several years on the Dundee staff. Now they are dividing up duties and looking to start the next era of Vikings wrestling.
“We know what we are up against,” Hall said. “We have a strong tradition to keep on. We understand two people going at it is probably the better route.”
The move is not without precedent. In the conference that Dundee competes in – the Lenawee County Athletic Association – Clinton had co-coaches lead the Redwolves to the Division 4 championship two seasons ago. Division 3 powerhouse Richmond has utilized co-coaches in the sport as well.
“We sort of applied together,” Stevens said. “We thought we could do this.”
Dundee Athletic Director Ross Crow said he was hesitant at first to consider the co-coach idea, but after meeting with both realized it could work.
span>“After sitting down with them and having a lengthy discussion, I realized they have an extremely organized and articulated plan as to how they are carrying the torch moving forward,” Crow said. “Whenever I have a question, I either text or e-mail both of them on a group thread. They both chime in and more often than not, the answer is exactly the same for both of them. It's a really good fit, as they are close friends and have no egos.”
Stevens is a 2007 Dundee graduate. He wrestled for Roberts. His dad was a Dundee wrestler as well, graduating in the 1970s. Stevens brings his connection to the Dundee wrestling community to the table as well as years of coaching experience.
Hall is from nearby Blissfield, where he was an all-state wrestler. He wrestled for Grand Valley State’s club program and was a coach there as well. He returned to southeast Michigan to coach with his father – Adrian Madison head coach Scott Hall – and joined the Dundee staff when he became a physical education teacher at the middle school about five years ago.
As co-head coach, Nate Hall handles a lot of the organizational duties, especially anything involving the school district, since he works there. Stevens brings a technical side of the sport with him.
The duo believe they can make it work because of the chemistry between them.
“I was always more of a technical wrestler,” Stevens said. “I think Tim (Roberts) felt I could help connect with the kids and teach them how to do a few things differently.
“After I graduated from high school, I got away from wrestling for a while, but in 2011, Tim reached out to me and asked if I wanted to get back involved and it seemed like a no-brainer. I missed it. I liked being around him and there were some things I could bring to the table. I was chomping at the bit once the opportunity opened for me.”
Stevens said Roberts was wonderful to learn from because he was such a great person and sought out input from his staff.
“Tim’s approach to coaching was unique,” Stevens said. “He’s very open-minded and understands there is so much more to learn. You constantly want your kids and program to grow. Every year I coached with him, he changed something every year. He was constantly modifying, tweaking, and seeking out help and advice from others.”
Hall likes how things have started.
“It’s going very well so far,” Hall said. “Tim didn’t leave the well dry. He’s got an established program and an established wrestling community that has been supportive of both Garrett and I so far.
“We’ve got a tremendous senior class – three state champions and another kid that was third in the state last year. Their leadership is really going to be a huge aspect of our success this year.”
The Vikings also have 14 freshmen.
“We’ve hit the ground running,” Hall said. “We provide a lot of opportunities in the offseason for kids to get into the wrestling room and stay active. Most of our guys are active throughout. The freshmen are a real promising group that we can keep the ball rolling,” Hall said.
The veterans in the wrestling room include Kaden Chinavare, a Central Michigan University signee who won an Individual Finals title as a sophomore; Aiden Davis, a two-time Finals champ headed to Bucknell; and Braeden Davis, a Penn State University recruit looking for a fourth consecutive Finals title in 2023.
“The biggest thing with this group, I would say, is their willingness to push each other in the right manner,” Hall said. “We’ve got a lot of successful individuals, and they are already going out of their way to make sure each person around them is getting the most out of their reps they can get.
“The team chemistry is already a big part of it.”
Both coaches admit there is pressure to maintain a program that is not just known at the state level, but nationally.
“If you’re not feeling that pressure, maybe you’re not taking it as seriously as it needs to be taken,” Hall said. “We are here to help kids accomplish their goals, and pressure is a part of that – especially at the elite level a lot of our wrestlers want to compete at.”
Despite the turnover in coaching, Dundee’s goals remain high.
Dundee opens with the Grappler Gold, will go to Davison, then compete at a big invitational in Ohio. They Vikings will compete at Detroit Catholic Central and the Hudson Super 16 in late January.
“We always want to aim high,” Stevens said.
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 DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Nate Hall, left, and Garrett Stevens walk together during the opening march at an MHSAA Team Finals; retired coach Tim Roberts is behind them, waving. (Middle) Stevens, top, and Hall stand with their retired coach and mentor at various events. (Below) Stevens and son Brady, and Hall and daughter Kimberly, celebrate the 2020 championship. (Top and below photos by Kathy Killion.)