At risk of jinxing his shot at a second individual wrestling state championship, Livonia Franklin’s Nathan Atienza planned his celebration in advance.
Nothing fancy. Just two fingers on each hand raised to the rafters of the Palace at Auburn Hills.
Atienza defeated defending 152-pound champion Kameron Bush of Grandville, 4-3, in the Division I state finals on Saturday.
“It’s very exciting,” Atienza said. “I was trying to plan out what I was going to do for a celebration, but nothing came to me more than that.”
“I’d rather prepare myself than not being prepared,” he added about a possible curse. “If you don’t have that mindset that you’re going to win you’ve already lost.”
The marquee event of the individual wrestling state finals was less bruising and more methodical than fans might have expected.
Atienza and Grandville both were reigning champions, with Atienza winning the title at 145 last season. Neither wanted to make a mistake, but a one-point escape with the score tied 3-3 in the third period gave Atienza his second state title.
“I think we were both a little more tentative, just because we knew what the other was capable of,” Atienza said. “Take our moves accordingly and cautiously and doing them right rather than just going out and doing everything wrong.
“I knew I had a tough match, a tough opponent but I knew deep down inside my head I had him. I worked for this my entire life and nobody was going to take it away from me – my moment.”
Cameron Amine (145 pounds) and Tyler Morland (171) each won their second state championship for Novi Detroit Catholic Central.
Amine was going up against Fraser’s Danny Pfeffer, who didn’t place at state last year but ran the table this season to come into the Saturday’s final undefeated with 57 wins.
“I look at (my opponents) all the same,” Amine said. “Doesn’t matter if they’re a state champ, or didn’t place. Don’t change the way you look at kids, just go out there and wrestle how you’re supposed to wrestle.”
For Morland, a senior headed to Northwestern, he said a great weight was lifted after winning the title.
“This is a lot of fun and I’m excited to just sit back and watch wrestling now,” Morland said. “I’m glad I’m done and can be a fan. I’m excited to watch my teammates. We go through a lot together in the practice room and it’s exciting to see the guys get what they deserve, what they work so hard for every day.
Four for Freeman: Ben Freeman got to watch his younger brother, Nick, achieve a dream, then went out and fulfilled his own.
In back-to-back wins for the Freeman brothers from Walled Lake Central, Ben Freeman won a rare fourth state championship right after Nick won his first, a 5-2 decision over Anthony Gibson of Westland John Glenn at 135 pounds.
Ben Freeman is the 22nd wrestler in Michigan history to win four individual wrestling championships. He won the 140-pound match with a tech fall at 3:55 over Birmingham Groves’ Colin Takata in the last match of the tournament Saturday. In his career, Freeman had only loss — an injury forfeit as a freshman.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” he said. “I’m sure later it will. I don’t know what to think.”
Rayvon Foley of Ann Arbor Pioneer turned in a huge upset by defeating two-time defending champ Mikey Mars of Westland John Glenn on an 8-3 decision at 119 pounds in Division 1.
All five returning state champs from Novi Detroit Catholic Central reached the title round and won: Cameron Amine (145), Tyler Morland (171), Nick Jenkins (285), Benyamin Kamali (112) and Kevon Davenport (130).
Notebook: The four Michigan Wrestling Association Mr. Wrestler finalists were announced, including Ben Freeman, Dominic Lajoie of Gaylord, Trent Hillger of Lake Fenton and Nick Cooper of Springport.
With what Hartland coach Todd Cheney described as wrestling with one arm due to an AC joint separation in his left shoulder, defending champion Reece Hughes was able to fight back and earn fourth place at 145 pounds. He will wrestle at Michigan in college.