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There will be no shortage of intriguing storylines worth following when the Michigan high school wrestling season begins Dec. 11.
Divisions 1 and 2, especially, are loaded with returning state champions -- some going for their third and fourth titles and others coming off unbeaten seasons. Several returning titleists are nationally ranked along with a couple of freshmen.
When it comes to team races, will Detroit Catholic Central and Lowell continue their dynasties or can teams that have been nipping at their heels break through and knock them off?
Also, a three-time state champion has moved from Division 2 to 3, creating a title vacancy and one veteran coach will likely join an exclusive club come opening day.
Here is what to watch for in Divisions 1 and 2 this season:
DIVISION 1: Detroit Catholic Dominance
Team race: Detroit Catholic Central is seeking a fifth straight Division 1 state championship and eighth in 11 seasons.
The Shamrocks boast returning state champions Derek Gilcher (160 pounds, 35-2 record), Josh Edmond (135, 40-2), Brendin Yatooma (215, 42-3), and Steven Kolcheff (285, 39-3). Gilcher and Edmond are seeking their third state titles.
Edmond (Missouri) is ranked sixth nationally at 138 pounds while Gilcher (Indiana) is ranked 10th at 160 pounds. Kolcheff is No. 12 at 285.
Overall, Detroit CC returns 10 state qualifiers, including eight who medaled by placing in the top eight at the state tournament. In all, 19 underclassmen on the Shamrocks' roster finished above .500 last season.
Other state medalists last season were Anthony Walker (103, 33-10), Camden Trupp (130, 41-8), Marc Schaeffer (140, 22-5), and Logan Sanom (145, 38-6). Schaeffer has committed to Old Dominion and Sanom to Bucknell.
Don't forget Dylan Gilcher, who is ranked fourth nationally at 106 and is arguably the state's top freshman.
Davison, which fell to Brighton in last year's semifinals, likely poses the biggest threat to Detroit CC.
The Cardinals return nine state qualifiers, including five medalists. In all, there were 20 underclassmen on Davison's roster last season who finished with winning records.
Alex Facundo is the only Michigan wrestler currently appearing in FloWrestling's pound-for-pound rankings (fifth). He is also ranked second at 170 pounds. Facundo won his second state title (Division 1, 160) and finished 39-2 last season. His two-year high school record is 70-2.
Other state medalists last season were Jimmy Colley (215, 16-6), Aden Williams (103, 26-5), Jay Nivison (171, 30-10), and Andrew Chambal (119, 38-5), who recently committed to Michigan State and is ranked No. 19 in the nation at 120.
Freshman Caden Horwath is ranked 12th nationally at 106 pounds.
Brighton completes Division 1's Big Three and is led by returning state 125-pound state champion Eddie Homrock (Michigan State).
The Bulldogs return nine state qualifiers, including eight who placed in the top eight.
Other returning state medalists are Aiden Smith (103, 36-17), Sam Freeman (119, 51-5), Mason Shrader (119, 32-9), Zach Johnson (135, 43-9), Dane Donabedian (160, 47-14), Greyson Stevens (189, 51-7) and Luke Stanton (215, 33-3).
Individual outlook: Nobody is chasing a fourth state championship in Division 1 and Facundo, Derek Gilcher and Edmond are the only two-time returning state winners. there
However, there are seven others in Division 1 who are past champions, including Rochester's Kavan Troy, last year's 103-pound titleist, and Macomb Dakota's Brendan Ferretti (112). Troy (50-0) and Ferretti (54-0) are Division 1's only returnees who were unbeaten last season.
That raises some interesting questions at the lowest weights. If Troy stays at 103, he figures to have his hands full with nationally-ranked DCC freshman Dylan Gilcher. The two could meet at the Dec. 20-21 Oakland County Tournament.
If Troy moves up to 112, does he contend with Ferretti or will Ferretti move up in weight?
Other returning champions are Homrock, Kolcheff and Catholic Central's Brendin Yatooma (215).
Chambal won a state title at 112 two years ago before placing second at 119 last season. Walled Lake Central's T.J. Daugherty won a 103-pound title as a freshman in 2017 before missing the 2018 individual state tournament. He returned to place second at 130 last season.
DIVISION 2: Lowell Aims At 7th Straight
Team race: Lowell, seeking a seventh straight championship, is favored again. The Red Arrows return 11 state qualifiers, six of whom finished in the top eight.
The group is led by three-time state champion Austin Boone, who went 31-4 at 152 pounds last season. He is also ranked sixth nationally at 145.
Other returning state medalists are Ramsy Mutschler (103, 32-10), James Fotis (145, 20-5), Doak Dean (145, 39-6), Jacob Lee (160, 31-16) and Tyler Delooff (285, 36-8).
Overall, 20 underclassmen on Lowell's roster finished above .500 last season.
Gaylord, which fell to Lowell in last year's semifinals, returns eight state qualifiers, including three who were in the top eight.
Senior Chayse LaJoie (Cornell) leads the Blue Devils. He won state titles as a freshman and sophomore before placing second at 125 pounds last season. LaJoie has a 149-9 career record.
Other state medalists last season were John Sosa (130, 37-12) and Jacob McKnight (160, 42-6). Gaylord, which graduated only three seniors, returns plenty of depth as 20 underclassmen finished with winning records last season.
Whitehall, which lost to Dundee in last year's Division 3 semifinals, has moved to Division 2 and returns eight state qualifiers, including four medalists.
Returning medalists are Max Brown (125, 43-6), Kyler Honore (145, 34-15), Ira Jenkins (152, 40-7) and Kayleb Venema (189, 45-3). Overall, the Vikings return a whopping 22 wrestlers who finished above .500 last season.
Individual outlook: Boone (152) can become the Red Arrows' second four-time state champion, joining Joe Mendez (2002-05).
Boone, ranked sixth nationally at 145 pounds, went 31-4 last season, capturing the Division 2, 152-pound state championship. His high school record is 115-8.
LaJoie is the only other Division 2 wrestler with at least two state titles, but five other 2019 state champions are back, including St. Johns' Jacob Brya (103), Croswell-Lexington's Chris Lilly (135), Eaton Rapids' Caleb Fish (145), Warren Woods-Tower's Omari Embree (160) and Cedar Springs' Sage Serbenta (189).
Fish has signed with Michigan State while Serbenta is heading to Old Dominion.
Flint Powers' Sean Spidle, a three-time state champion who took the 112-pound title last year, has moved to Division 3.
The 700 Club: Gaylord's Jerry LaJoie should become the 10th coach in state history to reach 700 career wins when the Blue Devils face Oscoda, Alpena and Rogers City in a season-opening quad match.
Lajoie, who became Blue Devils coach following the 1992-93 season, comes into this season with a 699-135-2 career record. Gaylord has won six regional, 16 district and 16 league championships during his tenure. The Blue Devils reached the 2018 state-championship match.
Mark Spezia is a freelance writer based in Lapeer, Michigan. He has written for ESPNW, Flohockey, Flint, Michigan-based My City Magazine, the Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit Magazine and Troy, Michigan-based Oakland Press. He previously worked for the Flint Journal, Lapeer (Michigan) County Press and Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton, Michiga