Forget for a minute that Dundee on Tuesday will attempt to win a fourth-straight MHSAA Finals championship for the second time in the program’s illustrious history.
Consider first the relative strength of the Division 3 field as this season comes to a close.
Four of seven competing teams are undefeated or have lost only once during this abbreviated season. Combined those seven have 67 qualifiers for the Individual Finals – or nearly 10 per team.
Back to Dundee. The Vikings will travel to Kalamazoo looking to match the 1995-98 teams’ string of four Finals titles, the first of that of that run coming in Class C-D followed by three in Division 4.
Division 3 Quarterfinals – matchups below – begin at 12:30 p.m. at Wings Event Center’s Valley, with Semifinals at 3 p.m. and the championship match at 6.
#1 Dundee - BYE - Mat 3
#4 Richmond vs. #5 Montrose - Mat 4
#3 Alma vs. #6 Freeland - Mat 1
#2 Whitehall vs. #7 Hart - Mat 2
(Constantine opted out.)
Spectator limits remain in effect, but all matches will be broadcast live and viewable with subscription on MHSAA.tv. Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 3, listed by seed.
Record/rank: 17-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Tim Roberts, 22nd season (555-76-1)
Championship history: Twelve MHSAA championships (most recent 2020), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Kade Kluce (12-2) fr., 112 Braeden Davis (21-0) soph., 119 Kaden Chinavare (18-0) soph., 119 Kyle Smith (12-2) jr., 125 Logan Sander (13-1) jr., 130 Trey Parker (14-3) fr., 135 Aiden Davis (21-1) soph., 140 Austin Fietz (20-2) sr., 145 Casey Swiderski (22-0) jr., 160 Tyler Swiderski (21-1) sr., 171 Nic Bellaire (7-4) sr., 171 Dominick Lomazzo (17-3) sr., 189 Stoney Buell (21-0) sr.
Outlook: Dundee is favored to extend its Division 3 championship streak to four, and returns with nine starters from last season’s lineup leading the way. Buell this weekend will attempt to become the 29th four-time Individual Finals champion in MHSAA history after winning at 160 a year ago. He’s one of six returning individual champions, along with Braeden Davis (103), Fietz (130), Casey Swiderski (135), Tyler Swiderski (145) and Lomazzo (152), while Chinavare (112) earned a third place and Aiden Davis (125) was a runner-up. Among Dundee’s dual wins this season were bouts over Division 4 top seed Clinton and Division 2 top seed Lowell.
Record/rank: 25-1, No. 3
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Co-coaches: Justin Zeerip, third season; Collin Zeerip, third season (72-6)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Ty Whalen (20-3) sr., 119 Matthew Goodrich (23-6) sr., 140 Max Brown (29-1) jr., 145 Marco Moore (28-3) sr., 152 Nicholas Blanchard (25-5) jr., 152 Alec Pruett (11-4) jr., 160 Jacob Haynes (25-4) sr., 171 Connor Young (25-5) sr., 189 Kris Dowdell (190-8) sr., 215 Ira Jenkins (31-0) jr., 285 Shane Cook (27-2) soph.
Outlook: After missing the Quarterfinals last season in Division 2, Whitehall is back in Division 3 and headed to the Quarterfinals for the fifth time in six years and seeking at least a fourth Semifinal berth during this run. The Vikings will bring an experienced lineup, with 12 of 14 expected starters upperclassmen. Brown finished third in Division 2 at 130 last season, and Jenkins was fifth at 171.
Record/rank: 21-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference
Coach: Randy Miniard, 10th season (233-98)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Dominic Anguiano (24-3) sr., 125 Gianni Tripp (24-6) soph., 140 Solomon Rosales (23-5) sr., Dametrius Castillo (24-4) sr., 160 Jacob Munger (22-4) jr., 171 Cole O’Boyle (22-4) fr.
Outlook: The Panthers earned the third seed of the second-straight season, and eliminated No. 7 Portland in the Regional Final to advance. Alma is graduating only three after this season and could another valuable building block with a nice run Tuesday. Castillo, the Division 3 champion at 119 as a freshman, also was runner-up last season at 135, while Rosales was fourth at 130 in 2020.
Record/rank: 9-0, No. 4
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Co-coaches: Brandon Day, 17th season (487-99), Preston Treend, fifth season (105-15)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), eight runner-up finishes
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Emmet Kettel (10-1) sr., 112 Noah Harris (11-1) soph., 119 Hunter Keller (10-1) sr., 140 Austin Bergeon (7-3) jr., 160 Gavin Resk (5-1) sr., 171 Kevin McKiernan (8-1) jr., 189 Regan Rewalt (5-2) sr., 189 Wesley Peters (11-1) jr., 215 Eddie Olson (22-2) soph., 285 Dan McKiernan (10-0) sr.
Outlook: Richmond has wrestled in 10 of the last 11 Division 3 Finals and finished runner-up the last three seasons. The Blue Devils have more freshman (five) than seniors (four) in Tuesday’s expected starting lineup, but have continued to roll including downing No. 8 Algonac during this postseason run. Keller is a two-time individual runner-up, including at 112 last season. Also placing last season were Harris (eighth at 103), Peters (third at 171) and McKiernan (fifth at 285).
Record/rank: 12-1, No. 5
League finish: No league title awarded this season.
Coach: Jason Perrin, fourth season (62-35)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2005), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Thor Robbins (11-3) jr., 112 Hunter Coxon (14-4) soph., 119 Seth Coffin (13-3) jr., 125 Aidan Bernard (14-1) jr., 130 Jake Elasivich (15-1) sr., 145 Blake Greenman (14-4) jr., 152 Ty Emmendorfer (15-4) jr., 189 Cody Smith (14-3) jr., 285 Levi Harber (15-1) jr., 285 Aden Viar (7-2) jr.
Outlook: After what had been more than a decade away from the Quarterfinals, Montrose these days is making a third-straight trip and reached the Semifinals a year ago. A young lineup last season now boasts 11 upperclassmen among the expected 14 starters. Harber was third at 215 last season, while Bernard was third at 125 and senior Bobby Skinner (135, 14-2) was seventh at 152.
Record/rank: 19-3, unranked
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference
Coach: Ryan Fournier, first season (19-3)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Noah Graham (19-2) fr., 112 Gibby Shepard (16-6) fr., 130 Tyler Tomasek (21-4) sr., 135 Wilson Longnecker (15-5) jr., 135 Cayden Remainder (15-6) soph., 140 Cole Fourier (21-3) jr., 160 Nolan VanLoo (22-4) sr.
Outlook: Freeland is making its second appearance at the Quarterfinals – the first was in 2004 – and possibly setting itself up for a quicker return next time with seven freshmen and only two seniors among Tuesday’s projected starters. Another noticeable stride for the program will be noticed more this weekend; VanLoo was Freeland’s only Individual Finals qualifier in 2020 but will be joined by six teammates this time. The Falcons downed No. 10 Remus Chippewa Hills in the Regional Final.
Record/rank: 26-4, No. 6
League finish: Second in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Brad Altland, ninth season (247-90)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Bryce Jorissen (22-12) soph., 112 Trenton Swihart (29-7) soph., 119 Trayce Tate (23-4) soph., 125 Austin Martinez (18-11) fr., 130 Spencer Vanderzwaaag (29-3) sr., 135 Chance Alvesteffer (30-4) jr., 145 Mason Cantu (30-2) jr., 160 Thomas Tanner (29-5) sr., 189 Leo Guadarrama (32-2) jr., 285 Braeden Carskadon (26-10) sr.
Outlook: After making the Quarterfinals last season for just the second time, in Division 4, Hart has equaled the feat despite facing larger opponents in Division 3. The Pirates defeated No. 9 Kingsley in the Regional Semifinal to highlight this trip. Cantu finished individual runner-up at 135 in Division 4 last season, while Tate was fourth at 112, Alvesteffer was fifth at 130 and Tanner was eighth at 152.
PHOTO: Dundee’s Aiden Davis (right) and Montrose’s Aidan Bernard face off during last season’s Division 3 Semifinals. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Bruce Bittenbender’s impact on the sport of wrestling in Michigan is immeasurable.
And the fact that he’ll no longer occupy a chair next to the mats at Stevensville Lakeshore High School is almost unfathomable after a legendary 52-year career there.
His list of accomplishments over that span is staggering, though the incalculable number of lives he touched — a realization that came from the outpouring of messages from his former student-athletes following his retirement announcement in late March — is what Bittenbender believes is the most important part of his legacy.
“It is absolutely heartwarming,” Bittenbender said at his retirement press conference April 1. “In many cases (some students) are on the edge. I had a guy say to me yesterday, ‘Coach, I didn’t have a father. I want to thank you.’
“How many state titles is that worth? There is a lot of that I appreciate.”
What can be quantified are the competition results during his tenure.
Bittenbender leaves with a dual meet record of 981-270-2 — the most victories in state history and the second most in the country. The program claimed 28 District titles, 13 Regional championships and 33 conference titles. The Lancers were undefeated in duals four times (1976, 1978, 1984 and 1986) and finished as MHSAA Finals runners-up twice (1986 and 1994).
“There are no shortcuts to being successful,” Lakeshore athletic director Greg Younger said. “Coach is always here. He’s probably here more than most teachers (although he retired in 2010). He is in the building early and often. He’s scrubbing the mats. I know it doesn’t magically happen. He’s always here preparing for a match and doing something here, talking to kids in the halls and building those relationships.
“He’s been a testament to hard work and what it takes to really have a goal all the time. When he steps into the wrestling room he’s always prepared, he’s always planning for tomorrow and he’s always planned for what’s coming up next. Nothing has ever surprised him.”
There were a total of 26 Individual Finals champions and 116 state placers under his watch, with Micah Hanau (also a winner in 2020), Zamuel Thompson and Aaron Lucio the most recent to have stood atop the podium and celebrate championships with Bittenbender last month at Ford Field.
Shane Williams (2020), Riley Bettich (2018), Tyler Humes (2010), Tyler Daniel (2009), Ryan Huebner (2002), John King (1992), Scott Mabrey (1992), Mark McKie (1992, 1991), Jason Cluff (1988, 1987, 1986), Dave Strejc (1988), Matt Cluff (1987, 1986, 1985), John Spear (1986), Gary Smith (1981, 1980) John Murphy (1979), Doug Smith (1978), and Rick McGrath (1974) all were guided to the state’s top individual level by Bittenbender.
For his accomplishments, Bittenbender was named Regional Coach of the Year 11 times, Michigan Wrestling Coach of the Year by the Coaches Association (2002) and National Coach of the Year twice, by the National Federation of State High School Associations (2002) and National High School Athletic Coaches Association (2010). His rightful spot in the Michigan Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame was claimed in 2010, and he was inducted into the National Coaches Association Hall of Fame the following year. In 2012, his home state honored Bittenbender with an induction into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, and Milligan University (Tenn.), where he wrestled four years, did the same in 2019.
“We went through three years of pulling teeth and hard work,” said Bittenbender, who took over at struggling Lakeshore in 1970. “Finally, we hit pay dirt. We got a kid to be state champion (in 1974), Ricky McGrath. This guy opened it up. After that, kids wanted to be Lakeshore wrestlers.”
But there were thousands of others that also laid bricks over the years to help build the program up to where it is today.
“There were a lot of kids that weren’t state champions here; there were a lot of kids that weren’t District champions or Regional champions or even conference champions,” Bittenbender said. “But they were here everyday, they were working everyday, they were part of this program and you’ve got to give those kids credit.”
Ryan Quinn takes over the program after serving as assistant coach.
“I’m incredibly blessed, grateful and humbled to be part of this school, to be taking over the reins of such a successful wrestling program,” Quinn said. “It is truly an honor to succeed Coach Bittenbender. He has made such a lasting impression on my life in such a short period of time. I know with confidence he has made lasting impacts on all who are involved in his as well. His fingerprints will forever remain on this school district and wrestling program.”
Bittenbender thanked his family, all the parents, volunteers and sponsors that supported the program over the last 52 years.
“It was a great place to live; it was a great place to coach. I’m lucky. It is a great community, my kids got a great education here, and it has been great to see kids go on to be good fathers and go to work every day,” he said.
“I want to thank my family over the years. If you’re going to be a wrestling coach’s wife, you’ve got to be something special. We’re going to spend a lot more time together.”
When Bittenbender was named 2010 National Coach of the Year, Nebraska’s Tom Osborne was the keynote speaker. Bittenbender recalled him saying: ‘If you want to know if you’re a good man, write down the 10 things you want the guy to say in your obituary. If he says eight of them, you’re a good man.”
“I hope I’m a good man,” Bittenbender said.
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Retiring Stevensville Lakeshore wrestling coach Bruce Bittenbender, right, embraces Zamuel Thompson after Thompson’s Individual Finals championship win last month at Ford Field. (Middle) Lakeshore’s Matt Cluff lifts Eaton Rapids’ Scott Bolin during their 1986 Class B championship match. (Top photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com, middle photo courtesy of the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.)