By Calli Newberry
So far this season, Richmond High School is leading the BWAC for the 18th year in a row as the Blue Devils boast 17 consecutive league titles. But this year’s victories haven’t come without a fight.
“We haven’t lost [a league championship] since 2004,” head coach Brandon Day said. “We’ve had one league loss since the league was put together.”
Day took over the Richmond wrestling program in 2002 and has been a part of every championship since. He said this year has been different, however, with only four seniors and a trio of juniors, the rest of his team has never had a full varsity season.
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“This is one of the youngest teams we’ve had in the last 20 years, probably the youngest team since 2004, so it’s been really really cool to see the young kids step up and deal with pressure and find ways to win,” he said. “They’re a great group of kids, really excited about their attitude and work ethic.”
He said he thinks the team’s youthfulness might’ve lowered the area’s expectations, but his athletes aren’t competing like it as they’ve taken advantage of opportunities to prove others wrong.
“It’s one of the first years that there isn’t a lot of pressure on us,” Day said. “I think a lot of people picked us to be third or fourth in the league and here we are with two weeks left with a chance to win another league title or at least compete for one.”
The Blue Devils sit at the top of the leaderboard with a 4-0 conference record, with two of those wins coming down to the wire. In their dual against Yale on Jan. 7, they trailed 31-22 but managed back-to-back pins to walk away 34-31. And against Imlay City a week later, they came from behind to pull off a 35-31 victory.
Seniors Kevin McNieran (171-lbs) and Wesley Peters (189-lbs) played key roles in those victories, especially against Yale as they were the two to grab the final 12 points.
“Kevin and Wesley both have been great leaders for us. Those guys have done a great job of not getting stressed out. Seventeen consecutive league titles can be a big burden to bear but those guys have been pretty relaxed,” Day said. “It’s come down to those two in each dual and each time they’ve both come through for us. We’re extremely thankful to have those guys in the lineup for us. They’re great role models for the younger kids.”
Day also mentioned his two returning All-State juniors, Eddie Olson (215-lbs) and Noah Harris (119-lbs.), and a handful of young athletes who have all given the team great matches.
Richmond will host the final BWAC quad this Friday, Jan. 21 starting at 5:30 p.m. While Algonac will be at the meet, the Blue Devils will only take on Almont (0-4) and Armada (0-4).
Algonac, which was unable to compete in the first quad in Croswell on Jan. 7, sits at 2-0. If both the Blue Devils and Muskrats walk away from this Friday undefeated, they will be wrestling for the BWAC title on Friday, Jan. 28, at 5:30 p.m.
And tonight at 5:30, Imlay City (3-1) will host the other final BWAC quad of the season with Croswell-Lexington (2-2), North Branch (2-2), and Yale (2-2).
“Yale’s going to be real tough for us. Their coach has been working really hard in their youth program for many years and their kids have a lot of experience coming up through that, so it’s going to be a tough task for us,” Imlay City head coach Anthony D’Ambrosio said. “We’re going to try to keep it close and have it come down to the last match, but they’re really tough.”
Yale and Imlay City both had close matches against Richmond, and Yale’s only other loss was to Algonac, who Imlay City has not yet seen.
“It’s going to come down to matchups,” D’Ambrosio said. “We lost by similar points to Richmond, so hopefully we can keep it close and have it come down to the last match.”
Highlighting the Spartans’ season so far is senior Cristian Rojas (130-lbs) who earned his 100th win on Jan. 8 at the Durand Railroader Duals. His season record is currently 26-1.
“I’ve been around since he was in second grade when he came up from his youth,” D’Ambrosio said of Cristian. “To get those 100 wins in high school, there’s a lot more to it than just coming into high school and being successful. He’s been working his butt off since second grade.”
Cristian’s younger brother, Julian Rojas (135-lbs), is an undefeated junior with a 26-0 record, along with sophomore Dominic D’Ambrosio (125-lbs) who’s 27-0.
“As the coach, it’s kind of difficult for me to talk about my sons because they’re both on the team, but Dominic is undefeated…from last year,” D’Ambrosio said. “He got quarantined and wasn’t able to go to districts, so he’s been undefeated for the last year and three-quarters. No one has scored a single point against him, not even an escape. The only point that was scored against him was an incidental full nelson which he committed himself which was a penalty point.”
And his oldest son, Anthony D’Ambrosio (160-lbs), is 23-3. He said the brotherly competition amongst the team pushes them to compete at a high level.
“I’m really seeing the guys come together and they’re wrestling for each other rather than individually and that is showing in the team duals. It’s extremely difficult to win a team dual,” D’Ambrosio said. “They’ve been really holding each other accountable. It’s about the players. If you get the players to hold each other accountable, then it’s a recipe for success.”
Other key Spartans, according to D’Ambrosio, include senior Chris Torres (285-lbs), junior Latham Perry (215-lbs), sophomore Connor Wildie (135-lbs), and freshman Tanner Land (112-lbs).
“Our heavyweight Chris Torres is pretty tough and Latham Perry is also ranked as a junior at 215. Tanner Land has come in with some experience as well and has been doing really well as a freshman,” D’Ambrosio said. “Connor’s been coming up big for us too. He’s a tough wrestler but he’s got to bump up because the Rojas brothers are in a lower weight class and he’s actually 21-7, which is pretty good too.”
All eight BWAC teams will meet up in Yale for the BWAC tournament on Saturday, Feb. 5. For now, here are the current season records:
Imlay City (3-1)
North Branch (2-2)