KALAMAZOO – All Josh Barr needed to do Saturday to clinch Davison’s second-straight Division 1 Team Wrestling Finals title was not get pinned against the top-ranked wrestler in the state.
The Penn State commit figured the best way to avoid that was just win.
Barr defeated Detroit Catholic Central’s Manny Rojas 4-3 at 171 pounds, winning a battle of nationally-ranked wrestlers and securing a 29-21 championship win for his team.
“Just believing in myself and my coaches,” Barr, a junior, said. “We train so hard every single day just for moments like these. I prepare for every single situation I could be in. I walked out there with full confidence in my coaches, God and my training and just let it take care of itself.”
It was the 10th Finals title for the Cardinals, who had defeated Catholic Central by a very similar 29-24 score a year ago. It was the third-straight year these two teams had met in the championship match, as Catholic Central won the 2020 title 34-23.
“It comes down to the last match every year it seems like,” Davison coach Zac Hall said. “But it makes for one hell of a ride. This one’s better than last year. I can’t believe it man. We had so many highs and lows this year. Every one of our starters was injured. Our heavyweight in that match, we couldn’t put his shoulder back in place. His shoulder was out of place for two thirds of that match, and he gritted a tough one out. Barr comes back and wins a tough match. That’s a testament to this team.”
Barr versus Rojas was a marquee match and fitting end to a dual between two of the state’s greatest all-time powers.
The match was tied at 2 heading into the third period, and Rojas, who is committed to Iowa State, scored an escape early to take a 3-2 lead. Barr was able to get a takedown in the final minute, and held off a reversal attempt from Rojas as time ran out.
“There’s two sides to that, there’s the team score, and on the other side there’s a ton of history there,” Hall said. “Two of the best kids in the nation going at it. We’ve gone round and round with that kid. We’ll see him next weekend, and I told Josh, you’re going to see that kid in college. You guys are both going to go on and do great things. We wanted to win, though. I’ll be quite honest with you, I wasn’t thinking about the pin. I trust Josh through and through, and we went out there to win that match.”
A pin from Rojas was a big ask in that situation, and Catholic Central coach Mitch Hancock knew that as he sent his senior star onto the mat.
“Compete, have fun and wrestle hard,” Hancock said recalling his words to Rojas before the match. “If he gets in a position to put him on his back, so be it. Very few people in this building thought he was going to tech him or pin him. By the math we did on our side, if we had a chance, we had to upset Barr, otherwise he was getting five or six against someone else. So we went at him. Starting weight didn’t help us. But you know what, these guys fought hard.”
Catholic Central (14-4) even having a chance was set up by back-to-back tight wins by Darius Marines at 152 (2-1) and TJ Bunn at 160 (5-3 in overtime).
While those matches provided late drama, some early drama that went Davison’s way played just as big, if not a bigger role in the final outcome.
At heavyweight, Zane Richardson won 3-1 in overtime despite the aforementioned dislocated shoulder. That gave the Cardinals (19-4) an early 12-0 lead in the dual.
There was more drama at 112, as Davison’s Dominic Perez gave up a 4-0 lead in the third period, but was able to score a late reversal to claim a huge 6-5 victory for his team.
“That young man struggled to make (112) all year,” Hall said. “We got him down there a couple times, but we didn’t know if we could get him there again. He got down, he put us through a rollercoaster. You see how that dual goes, we get one at the last second at (112), they get one at the last second at (119), this one comes to the end. That’s what happens when you have two powerhouse teams like this going at it. Both teams have a will to win, they’re both really well-coached, and they just have tremendous athletes who give their heart and soul to this sport.”
The tight win at 119 went Catholic Central’s way, as Drew Heethuis scored a last-second reversal to defeat Justin Gates 2-1 in a matchup of returning individual champions.
Jimmy Colley (215) had a technical fall for the Cardinals, while Remey Cotton (189), Caden Horwath (125) and Owen Payne (145) each won by major decisions. Cameron Freeman (135) won a decision.
Nathan Walkowiak (103) won by pin for the Shamrocks, while Clayton Jones (130) and Dylan Gilcher (140) each won by decision.
Davison advanced to the Final with a 67-12 Semifinal win against Macomb Dakota. Richardson, Horwath, Freeman, Payne, Barr, Cotton and Colley all had three wins on the weekend.
Catholic Central defeated Hartland 43-16 in its Semifinal. Heethuis, Jones and Gilcher all had three wins for the Shamrocks.
PHOTOS (Top) Davison’s Josh Barr works to maintain control during his match at 171 pounds to conclude Saturday’s Division 1 Final at Wings Event Center. (Middle) The Cardinals celebrate their second-straight team championship. (Click for more from 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.)