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In 2017, a pair of freshmen squared off for the Division 3, 103-pound state championship. In the end, the arm of Flint Powers’ Sean Spidle was raised after taking a 7-3 decision from Ida’s Hunter Assenmacher.
For the next two years, the pair went their separate wrestling ways.
Spidle moved up to win the D3, 112-pound title the next season while Assenmacher remained at 103 and claimed that state championship. Last year, Powers was moved to Division 2, but Spidle, who stayed at 112, had little trouble winning a third state title. Meanwhile, Assenmacher moved up to 112 and took the Division 3 championship.
With Spidle going for a fourth state title and Assenmacher for a third, their paths could converge again this season because Powers has returned to Division 3.
That is just one of several storylines worth following as Michigan’s Division 3 and 4 wrestling season begins. Here is a breakdown of what to expect:
Individual outlook: Lower weights stacked & complex
Spidle and Assenmacher should indeed collide in a state-championship rematch at 112 pounds in D3 if both wrestle at the same weight as a year ago, but there is plenty to sort at the lower weights.
Will last year's 103-pound champion (Dundee sophomore Casey Swiderski) move up? He beat Assenmacher twice last season. If Spidle moves up, defending 119-pound titleist (Montrose junior Jake Elasivich) will likely be waiting.
Spidle, who is headed to Central Michigan, went 37-0 last season and is one of three Michigan returnees who were unbeaten last season along with Macomb Dakota's Brendan Ferretti (54-0) and Rochester's Kavan Troy (50-0). He boasts a 116-6 high school record.
Also chasing a fourth state championship is Mendon's Skyler Crespo, a Michigan State recruit. He took the Division 4, 140-pound title last year and has a stellar 158-4 high school mark.
Besides Assenmacher, Dundee's Stoney Buell and Bronson's Ben Modert are also pursuing a third state championship.
Assenmacher went 50-3 last season and has a 146-10 career mark, including 53-0 as a sophomore. Buell, a junior, was Division 3 champion at 152 pounds last season, finishing 45-7 and has gone 88-11 in his high school career.
Modert, a senior, took the Division 4, 112-pound title last year, going 52-2. He was fifth in the state as a freshman and boasts a 152-12 career record.
In addition to Elasivich and Swiderski, Alma's Demterius Castillo, Union City's Brayton Mears, Carson City Crystal's Jamison Ward, Traverse City St. Francis' Andy Simaz and Clinton's Logan Badge are also seeking a second state title.
Swiderski went 46-2 last season while Elasivich was 50-7. He was third in the state as a sophomore and has gone 96-14 the past two seasons.
Castillo, a junior, won the Division 3, 119-pound title as a freshman before finishing just eighth in the same weight class last season. His career mark is 75-13. Mears, a sophomore, was Division 4, 103-pound champion last year and finished 36-4.
Ward, a senior, was Division 4, 130-pound champion last season after finishing fourth and second the previous two seasons and went 53-1. That upped his career mark to 156-7. Badge captured the Division 4, 215-pound crown as a freshman, finishing 37-2.
Simaz, a senior, was one of the feel-good stories of last season, becoming St. Francis' first state champion (Division 4, 152 pounds) and going 42-2. He did so after posting a 2-4 record and not even reaching the top eight in two previous trips to the state tournament.
Team race: battle of traditional powers
With 2019 semifinalist Whitehall moving up to Division 2, Division 3 will likely boil down to traditional powers Dundee and Richmond.
Last season, they met in the state championship match for the fourth straight year and ninth time in the past 13 seasons. Dundee rallied to win its third straight title in dramatic fashion, 26-25. Richmond was up 25-20 before the Vikings won the final two matches for sixth state championship in eight years.
Dundee returns six state qualifiers, all of whom placed in the top eight, including two-time state champion Stoney Buell (152 pounds, 45-8) and defending state champion Casey Swiderski (103, 46-2).
Other returning state medalists are Austin Fietz (112, 38-11), Tyler Swiderski (135, 28-11), Christian Killion (140, 44-5), and Jaxon Guinn (171, 21-9).
In all, 14 underclassmen on last year's Dundee roster finished above .500.
In addition, the Vikings add a pair of highly-touted freshmen in Braeden Davis and Dominick Lomazzo. Davis won a championship at Freestyle nationals and was second at the Grappler Fall Classic. Lamazzo was seventh at the Grappler Fall Classic.
Richmond returns six state qualifiers, including medalists Hunter Keller (103, 27-6), Austin Kilburn (125, 30-7), Wesley Peters (171, 34-14), and Luke Davis (215, 43-6). Overall, 11 underclassmen finished above .500 last season.
In Division 4, Hudson is seeking a fourth straight championship and ninth in 12 seasons, but must replace plenty of talent.
The Tigers do return six state qualifiers and three medalists, including Bronson Marry (103, 35-9), Caden Natale (119, 28-5), and Kyle Moll (189, 37-13). Hudson also had 11 underclassmen finish above .500 last season.
The Tigers' biggest challenges could come from upstarts Clinton and Manchester. Both teams are without a state title and have advanced beyond the state semifinals only once.
Clinton fell to Hudson in last season's state championship match, but returns eight state qualifiers, including six who placed in the top eight.
Returning state medalists are A.J. Baxter (119, 49-9), George Ames (130, 36-13), Spencer Konz (135, 47-10), Kent McCombs (140, 37-10), Brayden Randolph (160, 46-2), and Logan Badge (215, 37-2). In all, 13 wrestlers who posted winning records last season are expected back.
Manchester, which made its only appearance in the state-title match in 2008, also returns plenty of firepower with nine state qualifiers, including six medalists.
Those six are Simon Lato (285, 45-13), twins Jared (103, 44-11) and Jacob (103, 30-10) Bunn, Drew Gebhardt (119, 44-12), Jacob Shelby (130, 48-6), and Jacob Kurgin (145, 44-11). Overall, 11 wrestlers who finished above .500 are slated to return.
Don't count out perennial power New Lothrop, which last won a state title in 2016. The Hornets boast their usual depth with 13 returnees who posted winning records.
Among the group are five state qualifiers, including medalists Andrew Krupp (112, 30-21), Alex Wolford (119, 31-12), and Camden Orr (189, 42-12).
The 800 Club
Hudson’s Scott Marry and Lake Odessa Lakewood’s Bob Veitch are poised to join a very exclusive coaching fraternity this season.
Both are within striking distance of becoming just the second and third coaches in state history to reach 800 career victories. Marry is eight wins away and Veitch is 15.
Marry has guided the Tigers to a 792-188 mark since 1989, including reaching at least the state quarterfinals the past 18 seasons. Only New Lothrop and Hartland have also made at least the quarterfinals every year during that time. Hudson has won eight state championships in the past 11 seasons.
Veitch has led Lakewood to a 785-229-3 record since 1981, including seven regional championships. The Vikings fell to Richmond in the 2017 state-title and have reached the state semifinals four times.
Marry and Veitch are both well back of Stevensville Lakeshore’s Bruce Bittenbender, the state’s all-time leader in coaching victories. He boasts a 920-262-2 mark in 49 seasons and will continue adding to that total this season.
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