The Palace of Auburn Hills will be the epicenter of Michigan high school wrestling this week as 896 wrestlers converge for a shot at a state championship Thursday-Saturday. Here are 10 story lines to watch among the 14 weight classes in each of the four divisions:
Chasing No. 4: Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central is after his fourth state championship, this time at 140 pounds in Division 1. If he succeeds, Freeman (30-0) will join an elite group of 21 wrestlers in Michigan to win four MHSAA individual titles. His only career loss was an injury forfeit as a freshman.
“I think it’s really cool that I’ve got the opportunity to do it,” Freeman said during the regular season. “You have to appreciate something like that, so I’m just trying to enjoy how cool it is to maybe make history and be part of that small group of people who have won four.”
Five for three: Two seniors and three juniors are pursuing their third state title. The juniors are Michael Mars of Westland John Glenn (Div. 1, 119 pounds, 53-2), Jarrett Trombley of Lake Fenton (Div. 3, 130, 51-0) and Brandon Whitman of Dundee (Div. 3, 189, 38-0). The seniors are Trent Hillger of Lake Fenton (Div. 3, 285, 53-0) and Domonic Lajoie of Gaylord (Div. 2, 125, 46-0).
Last of the unbeatens? Thirty wrestlers enter Thursday with unbeaten records. Hillger and Dustin Gross of Dearborn Heights-Annapolis (Div. 2, 152) have the most victories at 53-0. Fraser senior Danny Pfeffer (Div. 1, 145), Ben Chushman of Flushing (Div. 1, 215) and Nolan Saxton of Remus-Chippewa Hills (Div. 3, 135) all have 52 victories.
Who will suffer first loss? At least five of the 30 undefeated wrestlers will lose, based on being paired with another unbeaten in the same bracket. Div. 3 at 189 has three unbeaten, and Div. 1 at 171, Div. 2 at 152 and Div. 3 at 215 each have two.
Detroit Catholic Central’s impact: Div.1 team state champion Novi Detroit Catholic Central qualified 14 wrestlers spanning 12 weight classes. Ben Kamali (112 pounds), Kevon Davenport (130), Cameron Amine (145), Tyler Moreland (171) and Nick Jenkins (heavyweight) are defending individual state champions. Div. 2 Lowell and Div. 4 Leroy Pine River each qualified 13 wrestlers.
Girl power: Two senior girls qualified at 103 pounds against the boys. Katlyn Pizzo of Div. 3 Clawson was 42-9 in the regular season, and Holly Bailor was 27-13 to help Leroy Pine River advance to a Div. 4 team semifinal.
College bound: Freeman, Reece Hughes, state champion Jelani Embree of Warren Lincoln and Jack Medley of Anchor Bay are committed to Michigan and among the wrestlers heading to a Division 1 college programs. Nathan Atienza of Livonia Franklin and Brad Wilton of Mason signed with Michigan State. Tecumseh’s Drew Marten and Div. 1 heavyweight champion Nick Jenkins are headed to Central Michigan. Out-of-state signees include Hillger (Wisconsin) and Lajoie (Cornell).
Stacked Div. 1 field: Div. 1 is loaded. There are 12 defending champs and one from 2015 going for titles in the MHSAA’s biggest division. Noah Schoenherr of Bay City Western, Kameron Bush of Grandville, Brenden McRill of Davison and 2015 champ Augustine Facundo of Davison join Freeman, Mars, Hughes, Kamali, Davenport, Amine, Moreland, Atienza and Jenkins.
Champs return in D3, D4: The lower divisions are no easy road for athletes seeking their first title. Wrestlers in Divisions 3 and 4 will be going up against nine returning champs in each of the two divisions.
The past champions in Div. 3 are Anthony Gallagher,(112) Dakota Greer (119 in 2015), Jarrett Trombley (130), Sean Sterling (160), Hunter Gasper (171 in 2015), Daniel (Cash) Thompson (171), Brandon Whitman (189), Jared Roehl (215) and Trent Hillger (285).
Past Div. 4 winners are Tucker Scholl (112), Seth Harvey (112 in 2015), Spencer Good (119 in Div. 4 last season), Jordan Hamdan (119), Robert LeFevre (125), Robert Rogers (130), Sean O’Hearon (140), Erik Birchmeier (189) and Nick Cooper (215)
In addition, there are six returning champions in Div. 2: Corey Gamet (112), Cameron Mahlich (112 in 2015), Elijuh Weaver (119), Dominic Lajoie (125 in 2015), Drew Marten (130) and Jelani Embree (189).
Head-to-head: Six weight classes include two returning state champs:
Div. 1-145: Amine and Hughes; 152: Bush and Atienza; Div. 2-112: Corey Gamet of Jackson Co. Parma Western and Cameron Mahlich of Ionia; Div. 3-171: Hunter Gasper of Chesaning and Daniel (Cash) Thompson of Lake Odessa Lakewood; Div. 4-112: Tucker Scholl of Hudson and Seth Harvey of Addison; 119: Spencer Good of Jackson Lumen Christi and Jordan Hamdan of Hudson.