Waldo joins elite company with fourth title
by TIM COOPER
On Thursday, March 12, 896 wrestlers from four divisions walked the floor of the Palace of Auburn Hills in the opening ceremonies of the state individual wrestling championships. Among them were eight hopeful young men from Rockford. Attendance was an all-time high with 43,454 tickets sold for the weekend.
In an opening round that saw the Rams earn an amazing 28 takedowns, while giving up none, all eight advanced to the quarterfinals on Friday, March 13.
At the end of the second round of competition, seven of the eight were still standing. Only CJ Scholl (152) had dropped into the consolation bracket with a heartbreaking 10-9 loss to Tyler Romijn of Temperance-Bedford.
In what was the final match of his high school career, Scholl found himself nursing an injured shoulder and trailing Walled Lake Central’s Don Kril 10-1.
Late in the third period, Kril gave up a penalty point by illegally slamming Scholl to the mat. Though Scholl could have used this penalty to advance to the next round, he chose to end his career with true character and allowed Krill to advance in the competition.
In Friday’s semifinal round, Zach Johnson (140) felt a similar heartache when he lost 2-1 to Charlie Cordero of Rochester Hills’ Stoney Creek. Coming this close to a state championship, the Ram wrestler showed his determination by battling back in the consolation brackets.
In the first round of consolations, Johnson faced a familiar foe in OK Red conference runner-up Nick Bohn of East Kentwood. Just as Johnson had done several times during the season, he dominated Bohn, winning 11-4.
In his next match, Johnson faced Stevie Sattler of New Baltimore Anchor Bay for the second time in the tournament. Johnson had beaten Sattler 8-2 in his quarterfinal match. Like a true champion, Johnson handled Sattler, winning 6-3 and finishing the tournament in third place.
“I’m disappointed at not taking the championship, but I knew I had to come back and take third,” said Johnson after the game. As to his future plans, Johnson said that he has talked to Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Michigan State universities. His final decision depended on how he finished this competition.
Rockford placed six wrestlers going into the final rounds of competition for state championships. They were the only team in the state of Michigan sending so many hopefuls to the highest levels. Next closest in Division I was Holt with three.
Junior Jake Johnson (160) fell behind 3-0 in his finals match against Jake Hyde of Holly. Though Johnson made a late surge, scoring two points in the third, he experienced heartbreak, losing 3-2. Johnson ended the season in second as state runner-up.
Another of Rockford’s finalists, Jake Byers, faced defending state champion Cameron Amateis of Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse. With the score tied 2-2 in the second period, Byers lost by fall at 2:30, also giving him second place.
Wrestling the best he ever has against long-time opponent, Ottawa’s Mike McClure, heavyweight Jesse Somsel (285) came up just short, losing a 6-5 decision. This season, Somsel only lost six times, five of them to McClure. In 2008, Somsel finished in seventh place. A senior, he ends his high school wrestling career as state runner-up.
At 171 pounds, junior Jake Dorulla returned to the championship finals for the third time. In his two previous attempts to take the state title, Dorulla came up short. This time he was not to be denied. Dorulla faced an all too familiar foe in Grand Haven’s Chris Lucas-an opponent who all season had only lost to Dorulla. Dorulla took a 6-1 lead after the first period by taking Lucas to the mat twice and turning his shoulders for a near fall. Lucas’ only point came when Dorulla released him.
Dorulla continued to build his lead with a reversal and a takedown in the second. Lucas’ second point came with another Dorulla release.
In the third Lucas knew he needed to score and escaped once more, followed by a frustrating final minute-and-a-half. Dorulla ended the season atop the podium with a state championship.
After the match Dorulla said, “I knew I needed to get the monkey off my back after finishing second twice. This is the best feeling in my life.”
At 215 pounds, Joe Stefanski, in the finals for the first time in his career, met up with Josh Franklin of Grosse Pointe North. Stefanski carried a 2-0 lead after the first two minutes with a beautiful single-leg takedown.
In the second, Stefanski began in the down position, escaping from Franklin in the first few seconds. Again, Stefanski executed a single-leg, building his lead to 5-0 before allowing Franklin to escape.
In the third, Franklin earned his second point with his second escape of the match. For the third time, Stefanski used a single-leg to take Franklin off his feet and back to the mat. Franklin was able to score two more points, one on a stalling call and another on an escape before the match ended.
Though disappointed at finishing second, Franklin said of Stefanski after the match, “He’s a great wrestler.”
“In the first round, things went my way, as all the other top-seed wrestlers lost,” said Stefanski. “It’s so much better finishing first. The coaches told me the key to winning this match was not to tie up with Franklin and be more aggressive when shooting my takedowns.”
After already defeating the defending state champion Robbie Bidlinmaier of New Baltimore Anchor Bay by fall at 4:27 in his semifinal match, Kyle Waldo (119) squared off against Grant Pizzo of Brighton in the finals. Waldo-a three-time defending state champion-was looking to join an elite group of wrestlers who have earned the state’s highest title all four years of their high school careers. Only 13 high school wrestlers have accomplished this feat in state history. Only one other athlete has achieved this in Division I, Brent Metcalf of Davison.
Waldo struck first, using a single-leg takedown, before Pizzo escaped and took Waldo down. Waldo, trailing 3-2, reversed the situation, taking a 4-3 lead into the second period.
In the second, Pizzo was again able to escape Waldo, tying the score 4-4. With the crowd on their feet, Waldo shot a double-leg takedown, ending up back on top 6-4.
In the third, Waldo escaped Pizzo for the first time, building his lead to 7-4. By this time, the two wrestlers were exhausted and the crowd was in a frenzy. With less than a minute left, Waldo was called a second time for stalling, giving Pizzo one more point and a chance for the upset in the last 30 seconds. Waldo held his ground as time expired, becoming the 14th four-time state champion in MHSAA history.
“This championship meant everything to me,” stated Waldo after the win. “I’ve wanted this ever since I started wrestling. I wanted to be like my hero, Brent Metcalf. It feels good to have the world off my shoulders.” Waldo also credited former Rockford wrestler Craig Shutich with his success.
Just before the finals began, the MHSAA announced that retiring Rockford Coach Don Rinehart’s long dedication to the sport was honored by MHSAA, awarding him Coach of the Year.
Congratulations to all our champions this season. Thanks to all our Ram wrestlers for a great year.
Don’t forget, a celebration of the coaching career of Rinehart will be held this Friday, March 20 at 9 p.m. at Rockford’s Corner Bar. All Ram wrestling fans, family and friends are invited.