By Dan Robelen / WLD
Twenty mats. Eight hundred ninety-six wrestlers. At the close of one of the best seasons in decades for Dexter wrestling, the road ended at Ford Field in Detroit with the individual state championships this past weekend.
The MHSAA state wrestling tournament is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country. It features some of the best wrestlers, not just in the state, but in the nation. Dexter got moved up to Division I this year, competing against the wrestlers from the largest and strongest wrestling schools in the state.
After a wild Regional tournament saw him defeat the third-ranked wrestler in the state, yet place fourth, Dexter senior Mark Young entered the tournament as one of four fourth seeds at 215 pounds. This isn’t his first rodeo – Young qualified for states last year as well, but, wrestling through illness, was quickly eliminated.
This year, he was determined that things were going to be different. In his first match, he faced Ethan Jones of Walled Lake Western, a senior with a 41-2 record. “I just want to get my first win under my belt,” Young said before the match. That belt needed loosening just 3:37 into the bout.
Tough, steady wrestling kept the score at zeros until the closing seconds of the first round, when Young gave up a take-down. In the second period, Jones deferred the choice of starting position to Young, who chose to begin under his opponent. Young scored a reversal, then went to work on top, closing out the match with one of his signature cradles.
On then next mat over, the course forward was being determined, as Joshua Boggan defeated his first opponent and advanced to face Young in the quarterfinals. Boggan entered the tournament with a record of 42-4, out of Kalamazoo. Although undersized for the weight class, he has a background in freestyle wrestling and is technically sharp, with a penchant for throws and inside trips.
He came right after Young with that series of attacks and attempted a throw early on. Young fought through that attempt and others. “I knew my advantage was that I was stronger than him,” Young said afterward.
He continued to apply that strength, reversing Boggan, then putting him on his back and slowly pulling ahead on the score. The final was 10-5, Young. The win moved him into the semifinals.
Head Coach Matt Chisolm, speaking of having a wrestler in the semifinals of the state championships, said, “It feels good. He’s worked really hard to get there, you know. He’s come a long way in six years.”
Awaiting Young in the semifinal was the No. 1 seed, nationally-ranked Brendin Yatooma from Detroit Catholic Central. Yatooma is the returning state champ and entering the tournament had a record this season of 41-1 (40-0 against Michigan wrestlers).
The match started hard, with Young giving up a take-down. Yatooma injured his face in the process, and flowing blood stopped the match repeatedly, eventually resulting in a bandage being wrapped around his face. With Yatooma up 2-0, dispute erupted over an unsportsmanlike conduct call against Yatooma. Coach Chisolm worked with the referees, and when the dust settled, Young had a point.
In the wake of Detroit Catholic Central’s controversial win in the team state championship, many fans were primed to root for anyone who could take them on. Perhaps few people at Ford Field expected that person to be Young going up against the returning state champion. But as the match went on and it became clear that Young wasn’t going to be another easy Yatooma victory, more and more of Ford Field began to tune in to the match.
When Yatooma took Young into the air and slammed him with an illegal move, the stadium roared with anger. When Young got up and fought on, turning down a win by injury to an illegal move, the crowd cheered him on.
With his ribs hurting from the slam, Young could have claimed inability to continue the match, like the Detroit Catholic Central coach had one of his wrestlers do in the team final, and won automatically. This would have put him straight into the final. Young knew he could keep wrestling, so he turned down the easy path to the finals. When he reversed Yatooma in the third period to move to within one point, the crowd exploded.
Yatooma managed to hold off Young’s charge in the third period, drawing a stalling caution, but ultimately holding on to win 5-4. The match was lost, but Young had exceeded almost all expectations for the tournament, the season, and his career.
“My career has been like a movie,” Young said. “When I walked into the wrestling room in ninth grade, nobody thought I would be wrestling in the state semifinals.”
“That was by far the coolest wrestling moment I’ve ever been a part of,” said Dexter assistant coach Ryan Clements. “It was awesome winning a match at states myself, but I didn’t go head-to-head with a nationally ranked guy like that.”
Fans from other teams all over the state flocked to congratulate Young after the match, acknowledging a show-stopping, tournament-defining contest.
When action resumed Saturday morning, Ryan Stanton of Caledon fought his way back to face Young next. In the waning seconds of the first period, Young gave up a takedown. In the second period, Stanton chose the bottom position, and Young gave up a point on a technical violation, but turned Stanton for three, leaving the score tied going into the last period.
Young chose bottom, and with less than 15 seconds to go, he scored a reversal and held Stanton down for the win.
In his final match, wrestling for third in the state, Young came up against powerhouse Davison sophomore phenom, Jimmy Colley. Colley, aside from his single loss in the semifinals, had finished every match in the tournament early, including one 15-0 tech fall.
Once again, Young fell behind early, getting taken down to his back in the first period. He fought through the attempted pins and survived the period. Then Young caught Colley and put him on his back, but wasn’t quite able to manage the pin either.
With a minute to go in the second period, the score stood tied at 5-5. At the end of the period, Colley managed a reversal, and then gradually pulled ahead. Young nearly stuck Colley on tilt attempts, but Colley was able to get off his back before the referee called a pin. The match ended 12-7 in favor of Colley.
The fourth-place finish marks the first time in three years that Dexter had a wrestler on the medal stand at the state championships, all the more impressive for being in Division I. The medal is the garnish on a great high school career for Young and a great season for Dexter wrestling.