Willobee Makes Prediction Come True, Exceeds Seed to Become Champion

By Drew Ellis
Special for Second Half

March 2, 2024

DETROIT – With a mouthful of blood and a cowboy hat perched on his head, nothing could take away the joy of Gaylord sophomore Zane Willobee.

As the sixth seed in the 157-pound weight class of the Division 2 Individual Finals, not many would have anticipated him walking away with the championship Saturday at Ford Field.

But he did just that.

In a physical match, Willobee (29-3) took down Clio’s D’Marion Erlenbeck (28-6) by an 11-5 score to claim his first Finals championship.

“It was a stressful match, but I talked to my coaches before the match and they just stressed to keep my mind calm and give all glory to God,” Willobee said. “When I was out there, I was just trying to stay calm and capitalize on my opportunities. This is an amazing moment and one that I owe to a lot of people.

The Finals matchup at 157 wouldn’t have been one many saw coming as Erlenbeck was the fifth seed up against the sixth-seeded Willobee.

“Since Regionals I had been telling my coaches that it would be me and (Erlenbeck) in the Finals,” Willobee said. “I just knew that is how it would play out. You can’t focus on seeding this time of year. It’s about going out, performing, and having fun.”

The Finals matchup was a rubber match between the two, as each had narrowly defeated the other earlier this season. The difference Saturday was a pair of takedowns and near fall points for Willobee in the second and third periods.

After the match, the two competitors shared an embrace as they congratulated one another on their respective seasons.

“Erlenbeck is a wonderful competitor, and I give all my respect to him,” Willobee said of his opponent. “We’ve had some great matches, and he’s a wonderful competitor and an even better man.”

Champion: Jarrett Smith, Lowell, Soph. (39-1)
Major Decision, 15-4, over Cole Cichocki, Lowell, Fr. (26-12)

Smith found his first championship experience to be somewhat bittersweet. The sophomore had to face off with freshman teammate Cichocki for the crown.

Smith piled up six takedowns on his way to a 15-4 victory.

“I wish we could both win. It’s tough. One of us gets the title and one of us doesn’t, but we both worked really hard,” Smith said of wrestling his teammate in the final. “We both deserve it. We kind of thought we might meet up. We are both confident in our abilities, and our coaches have given us the tools to win.”

The two were hotel roommates this weekend and didn’t let the competition ruin their friendship.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Smith said of Cichocki. “He did better as a freshman than I did. You have to give him a lot of props. What he did is really impressive.” 

Champion: Devan Garcia, Battle Creek Harper Creek, Fr. (47-1)
Major Decision, 12-4, over Cristian Haslem, St. Clair, Soph. (49-1)

Garcia was hoping to be on the offensive in Saturday’s 113-pound final.

Instead, it was his defensive ability that ended up earning him the title.

Garcia stuffed a pair of takedown attempts from Haslem and turned them into near falls as well. That gave him more than enough cushion to win the championship.

“I actually wanted to get in my attacks, but I pretty much scored on all his shots, so that’s the way it works out sometimes,” Garcia said. “I practiced those positions all the time, so I felt ready for them when they happened. To have it happen in the state championship feels great.”

The first stuff came in the first period to help Garcia start off with a 5-0 advantage. Haslem fought back to make it 5-3, but a second stuff from Garcia put him ahead 10-3 in the third.

Champion: Carter Cichocki, Lowell, Jr. (28-9)
Decision, 3-2, over Dominic Gumtow, Warren Woods Tower, Jr. (47-3)

After finishing runner-up at 113 pounds last year, Cichocki found himself two minutes from being a state champion.

Leading 3-2 to open the third, Cichocki knew if he could ride out his opponent for two minutes, the elusive title would be his.

Cichocki did just that, staying in control to overcome a 2-0 deficit and take home the championship.

“Things were different this year. Since my freshman year, I’ve tried to just see this as another match. I just stuck to what works for me and what I do best,” Cichocki said of handling the pressure of the third period. “It feels good to be a champion.”

Champion: Ricardo Saenz, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, Jr. (49-3)
Decision, 7-1, over Jaron Bensinger, Gaylord, Soph. (38-2)

Saenz wasn’t going to leave any doubt. The Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice junior shot out of a cannon to start the 126-pound final, scoring a takedown in the opening seconds of the bout.

From there, Saenz controlled Bensinger most of the way.

“I just kept telling myself that (Bensinger) wasn’t ready, and I was doing that to get myself motivated,” Saenz said. “I was thinking about starting the match like that all day and all season. I’ve been preparing for this moment, and I wasn’t going to let it get past me. It feels amazing to have it come to fruition.”

After taking a 2-1 lead through the first, Saenz rode out Bensinger in the second and then scored a reversal in the third with near fall points to cap off the title.

Champion: Jackson Blum, Lowell, Jr. (35-1)
Fall (4:54) over Trenden Bashore, DeWitt, Jr. (38-1)

Blum finds himself on the verge of being a four-time Finals champion, as the Lowell junior collected his third title with a third-round pin.

Blum recorded 11 takedowns in the match before securing a pin while ahead 23-9.

“I knew that my pace is really high, so I knew if I kept it on him, I would just keep getting to him more and more,” Blum said. “It was a tough first period, but I just trusted in my ability and stuck to the plan.”

Blum was the 112-pound champion as a freshman and the 120-pound champion as a sophomore. 

Champion: Tee Ward, Freemont, Sr. (53-1)
Decision, 3-1, over Landon Thomas, St. Joseph, Jr. (48-1)

With the 138-pound championship bout tied 1-1 and a blood stoppage allowing Ward to get a break, he got into the music.

“We had a little bit of a break, and the song in the background just got me rolling,” Ward said. 

Ward would come out of the stoppage and scored a takedown with 28 seconds remaining to go up 3-1. Ward then rode out Thomas to collect his first championship.

“I knew I had to get that takedown and ride things out from there. With five seconds left, I felt him sprawl out, and that was the best feeling of my life,” Ward added. “There’s so many emotions, but this is the best.”

Champion: Owen Segorski, Lowell, Jr. (34-6)
Decision, 5-1, over Jeffrey Miller, Jackson Northwest, Soph. (47-3)

Segorski had been on both ends of being in a state final. He was the 125-pound champion as a freshman, but then finished runner-up at 138 pounds as a sophomore.

This time around, the junior came back much more confident and it showed in a 5-1 win.

Segorski scored takedowns in each of the first two rounds and never let Miller get in any offense. 

“It feels really good,” Segorski said of adding a second title. “I thought I should have won it last year, but I just didn’t perform and let the pressure get to me. It’s difficult to repeat, there’s a lot of pressure and it feels like you have to win. But, to be able to come back this year, I felt a lot more confident and I knew I was the better wrestler.”

Wayland’s Lane Button, right, works against Freeland’s Fabian Facundo in the 150-pound title match.

Champion: Lane Button, Wayland, Jr. (48-0)
Decision, 4-2, over Fabian Facundo, Freeland, Jr. (45-1)

A battle of two undefeated wrestlers came down to the final minute.

Button tried to push a hard pace in the 150-pound final, and it paid off with a takedown with 1:05 remaining in the third. The takedown was enough to push Button to the title.

“I was pacing (Facundo) out the whole time, and I knew I was going to get it,” Button said of the match-winning takedown. “As soon as things got neutral, I knew I was going to get it.”

“This means a lot to me. I put a lot into it,” Button said of going unbeaten. “I quit football just to focus on wrestling, and the work paid off.”

Champion: Nathan Dobson, Greenville, Sr. (41-4)
Decision, 5-4, over Harrison Meekhof, Allendale, Sr. (45-4)

Dobson knew the key to beating Meekhof based on previous matchups – he had to get more takedowns.

Dobson managed to do that in the 165-pound final, scoring takedowns in the second and third periods to hold off Meekhof and win the championship.

“I just knew I needed to get takedowns today. Every time it’s me and (Meekhof), it’s a takedown battle. I knew if I got the takedowns, I would get the victory,” Dobson said. “It’s the craziest thing I have ever felt. I can’t even dream this. It’s amazing.”

Champion: Kendall Drake, Holly, Sr. (50-2)
Decision, 7-4, over Derek Badgley, Mason, Sr. (40-3)

Drake had never placed at the Finals prior to Saturday; now he is a champion.

The senior overcame a 3-0 deficit to pick up a 7-4 win.

“Last year I got hurt in Districts, but all I have ever wanted was to win this tournament,” Drake said. “All summer I was practicing five days a week, going against the best guys I could find. I wanted to be confident in myself, so when this day came, I knew I could win this match.”

Drake nearly scored the opening takedown of the match but was ruled out of bounds. However, he didn’t let that get to him and worked his way to three takedowns in the victory.

“It didn’t matter, I was going to be ready to overcome any obstacles that came in my way,” Drake said of the slow start. “I wasn’t going to let anything dictate the match but myself.”

Champion: Ty Bensinger, Gaylord, Sr. (37-1)
DQ, over Easton Phipps, Goodrich, Sr. (27-1)

The 190-pound final in Division 2 didn’t end the way anyone wanted.

Phipps, the 2023 champion, led 1-0 in the second period when he picked up Bensinger to get him to the ground. However, Bensinger ended up landing on his head and the match was immediately stopped, as Bensinger went unconscious briefly according to his coach.

Medical staff on site checked on Bensinger and ruled he couldn’t continue. That led to Phipps being disqualified, giving the title to the Gaylord senior.

“These two have wrestled many times, and it’s always been a close match. (Phipps) certainly didn’t do it intentionally, it was just an unfortunate accident,” Gaylord coach Jerry LaJoie said.

Champion: Logan Demarest, Bay City John Glenn, Sr. (44-1)
Decision, 3-2, over Case Johnson, Greenville, Jr. (52-3)

Staying active and staying on the move is what allowed Demarest to come away with the 215-pound title Saturday.

After giving up a takedown to Johnson in the second period, Demarest fought his way to an escape to cut the lead to 2-1.

To open the third, Demarest did the same, earning an escape to even the match at 2-2. Then he kept the pressure on and forced a stalling point to be called in his favor, which proved to be the difference.

“I’ve got family and friends that have supported me all the way. They are the ones that got me here,” Demarest said of the title. “I was thinking about them and just kept doing whatever I could to keep pushing the pace.”

Champion: James Mahon, Goodrich, Jr. (44-3)
Decision, 9-8, over Parker Williams, Zeeland East, Sr. (46-3)

There were a lot of fireworks in the 285-pound final, as Mahon fought off Williams, 9-8.

Williams had a 5-0 advantage on the 2023 champion in the first period, but Mahon fought back to even things up at 5-5.

The match would be tied 7-7 in the third before Mahon dug deep and scored a takedown with 31 seconds remaining that proved to be the difference.

“I knew I could take him down. I knew I needed something, and I found it,” Mahon said of the late takedown. “It’s a really cool feeling (to repeat). There was a lot of pressure, and I’m almost glad it’s over.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (top) Gaylord’s Zane Willobee, left, and Clio’s D’Marion Erlenbeck ready for the restart of their match at 157 pounds Saturday. (Middle) Wayland’s Lane Button, right, works against Freeland’s Fabian Facundo in the 150-pound title match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Performance of the Week: Detroit Catholic Central's Darius Marines

March 8, 2024

Darius Marines headshotDarius Marines ♦ Detroit Catholic Central
Senior ♦ Wrestling

Marines became the 36th wrestler in Michigan high school history to win a fourth Individual Finals championship as he clinched the 157-pound title with a 10-2 major decision over Roseville's previously-undefeated Jay'Den Williams on Saturday at Ford Field. Marines became the third Detroit Catholic Central wrestler to earn four Finals titles. 

The clinching victory put Marines at 50-0 to close this season, and 138-9 for his career. His previous championships came at 145 pounds as a freshman, 152 as a sophomore and 157 last year as a junior. He won by technical fall, pin and then major decision on the way to meeting Williams in the championship match. He also helped the Shamrocks to Division 1 team titles the last two seasons. Marines will continue wrestling at the college level and is considering multiple Division I opportunities.

@mhsaasports 🤼‍♂️POW: Darius Marines #wrestling #individual #detroitcatholiccentral #letsgo #part1 #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

@mhsaasports 🤼‍♂️POW: Darius Marines #tiktalk #questiontime #part2 #muhammadali #joker #pasta #japan #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

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MHSAA.com's "Performance of the Week" features are powered by MI Student Aid, a division within the Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP). MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

Past 2023-24 Honorees

March 1: Rylee Smith, Zeeland West bowling - Report
Feb. 22:
Caleb Lewandowski, Traverse City West skiing - Report
Feb. 15:
Jadin Mix, Onaway basketball - Report
Feb. 8:
Onalee Wallis, Cadillac skiing - Report
Feb. 1:
Abbey DeGraw, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek competitive cheer - Report
Jan. 25:
Ewan Todd, Riverview swimming - Report
Jan. 18:
Ashley Weller, Jackson Northwest basketball - Report
Jan. 11:
Michael Baldwin, Saginaw Arthur Hill wrestling - Report
Dec. 15:
Jena Fijolek, Fenton bowling - Report
Dec. 8:
Sophia Wagner, Escanaba gymnastics - Report
Dec. 1:
Isaiah Marshall, Southfield Arts & Technology football - Report
Nov. 24:
Sarah Bradley, Clarkston Everest Collegiate volleyball - Report
Nov. 17:
Kalieb Osborne, Waterford Mott football - Report
Nov. 10:
Tekalegn Vlasma, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3:
Colton Kinnie, Birmingham Seaholm football - Report
Oct. 27:
Lauren Timpf, Macomb Lutheran North golf - Report
Oct. 20:
Alena Li, Okemos golf - Report
Oct. 13:
Seth Norder, Grand Haven cross country - Report
Oct. 5:
Paige Anderson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer golf - Report
Sept. 29:
MacKenzie Bisballe, Lake City volleyball - Report
Sept. 22:
Jhace Massey, Gladwin football - Report
Sept. 15:
Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8:
Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1:
Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report

PHOTO DCC's Darius Marines, left, wrestles Roseville's Jay'Den Williams in the Division 1 157-pound championship match Saturday at Ford Field. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)