KALAMAZOO – Nate Hall and Garrett Stevens knew what they were taking over when they were announced as co-coaches of the Dundee wrestling team before this season.
Longtime coach Tim Roberts did not leave the cupboard bare when he decided to retire.
His Vikings program had won five straight MHSAA Division 3 team titles and was littered with talented and powerful wrestlers.
Hall and Stevens proved to be the right picks to take over the legendary program, as they helped coach the Vikings to their sixth-straight title, and 14th overall.
And Dundee did it in its usual impressive fashion, with a 60-18 win over Whitehall in the Final on Saturday at the Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo.
"The well was not dry, and don't wreck it," said Hall, whose team finished duals at 19-2. "We didn't change much. We have all been around the program long enough, we had a great idea of what was taking place and how we are successful."
"The commitment of the families, that is 100 percent why this program is so successful," Hall said. "I am not chasing kids down to have them wrestle in the summer. I'm chasing them trying to keep up with them."
And that is exactly what the Vikings' three opponents were doing all weekend in Kalamazoo – chasing down Dundee's talent.
In the Final, the Vikings were down 12-0 after two pins by Whitehall. But after that, Dundee went on to win 11 matches in a row, seven straight by pin.
Freshman Haydn Nutt began with a pin in 3 minutes, 9 seconds. Nutt was one of six freshmen who took to the mat this weekend for the Vikings. And all six are ranked among the top 10 in their respective weight classes by Michigan Grappler, including Nutt, who is the state's top-ranked 106-pounder in Division 3.
"We started the year and we had 13 freshmen, and I can't say enough the way our program has developed those kids," Hall said. "They were ready from day one this year, and they stepped up and progressed properly. They were ready to go."
It helps when you have a senior class of state champions leading the way like Braeden Davis at 132 pounds, Kaden Chinavare at 138 and Aiden Davis at 157.
"Dundee is the best place to be when you want to pursue wrestling," said Braeden Davis, who will look to win a fourth-straight individual title next weekend at Ford Field and couple that with his now four team titles. "We have a great staff, a great community. It's all about wrestling at Dundee."
Braeden Davis went 3-0 for the weekend and helped Dundee defeat Hart in the Quarterfinals 64-15 and Constantine in the Semifinals 59-16.
Braeden Davis was most impressive in the Final, when he won by fall in 15 seconds.
Whitehall co-coach Justin Zeerip knows good wrestling when he sees it. A four-time Individual Finals champion himself, Zeerip was impressed with the Vikings.
"Dundee is so tough, " said Zeerip, whose team ended with a 32-4 record. "From 106 to 175, they have seven top-ranked guys. And a couple other guys are ranked really high, so hats off to them, they are a great program. Our kids wrestled hard, they are just a super team."
Whitehall did wrestle hard during the two-day event as well, downing Gladstone in the Quarterfinals 48-24 on Friday, and then Algonac in the Semifinals 40-27 earlier Saturday. Whitehall wrestled over its seed in that match, as the No. 3-seeded Vikings got past the second seed.
"I was proud how my guys wrestled this weekend," Zeerip said.
PHOTOS (Top) Dundee’s Kaden Chinavare, right, goes for a takedown during his 126-pound match with Whitehall’s Caden Varela. (Middle) Whitehall’s Jackson Cook wrestles to a 7-3 decision win at 190 in the Semifinal against Algonac. (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.)