One match down, three to go.
That’s where Ben Freeman stands in his quest for a rare fourth consecutive state title. The Walled Lake Central star won his 140-pound opening match on Thursday in the Division 1 individual state wrestling tournament at the Palace of Auburn Hills, beating Rockford’s Jack Richardson by tech fall at the 3:06 mark.
“I wasn’t really thinking about (Friday) or Saturday,” said Freeman, who is 31-0. “I was just trying to focus on feeling good for this match. Now that it’s over, I can focus on my matches for (Friday).”
Fraser’s Danny Pfeffer (53-0) opened Thursday’s competition by staying unbeaten, scoring a 12-6 Div. 1 victory over Hunter Oberst of Jackson.
Pfeffer has improved significantly after failing to place in last year’s tournament.
“One day I was in the gym (in the summer) and I was wrestling and something just clicked,” he said. “I just started thinking about it differently and smarter. Really just thinking about one match at a time. It was only about four, five weeks ago that someone said, ‘Danny, you know you’re undefeated, right?’ And I thought, ‘oh, I guess so.’ ”
Hartland senior and defending state champion Reece Hughes (38-1) is battling more than opponents on the mat. He is wrestling with an injured shoulder from regionals, an injury that kept him out of the team tournament last weekend. Hughes’ discomfort was clear, but the 140-pounder still advanced in Div. 1 after pinning Allan Matthews of Grandville at 5:47.
“It felt good to get the work and see what I could really do,” Hughes said. “Honestly I’m doing this just out of pride. It’s when you work so hard for something you don’t want to give up on it.”
Division 2: Warren Lincoln senior and defending champion Jelani Embree (33-0) won his 189-pound match over Armada’s Nathan Nowik by tech fall at 2:53. Embree hasn’t wrestled competitively since the regionals two weeks ago, but said the break didn’t make him feel rusty.
“Honestly that break doesn’t hurt me because I’m actually always competing in my head, especially in practice I’m trying to push myself, keeping it in the forefront of my mind the people I’m trying to chase, like the guys who are in college now who are dominating,” said Embree, who’s ranked as high as No. 4 in the country. “I’m chasing those guys and I can’t afford not to be competitive at the top.
“I love the tough competition. I actually hate when people go out there and are afraid to wrestle me. I love it when guys go out there and don’t care who I am and just want to beat me up. That’s what I love about wrestling. I love the fight.”
Division 3: Clawson senior Katlyn Pizzo, one of two girls who qualified this year, won 2-0 at 103 pounds over Sam Baustert of Whitehall. Time ran out as Baustert got close to scoring a fall on her.
“It’s about time,” Pizzo said with a big smile. “I came here last year and went 0-2, so now this is my year to place. (The win is) just one more step to the podium.
“I just love the sport. It’s one-on-one so it’s easy to say who’s the best. It’s not like depending on a team. I’d rather be all out there, and it be me, that if it doesn’t turn out the way I want I’m the one that’s accountable for it.”
Also in Div. 3, Hunter Corcoran of Linden-Lake Fenton earned his 200th career victory with a win over Croswell-Lexington’s Chris Lilly at 125 pounds.