FREELAND — Caro wasn’t able to field a full wrestling team at Thursday’s Freeland Wrestling Tournament.
But the kids that competed made quite an impression.
Seven wrestlers took to the mat for Caro, and four of the them left as champions — and defeated some studs on the way.
D. J. Daniels, John Botkins, Blain Wood and Tim Millerov all have a new first-place medal, and only have a combined one loss on the young season.
“It’s like a dream, four guys in the finals and they all win,” said Caro co-coach Joe Fulton. “Our kids just have the attitude that they can beat anybody, rankings don’t matter.”
Bay City Western won the tournament with a score of 187.50. Caro was fourth at 114 and Marlette placed 13th with a score of 82.
Daniels, who won the 145-pound division, was named Wrestler of the Meet for the upper weights. The Tigers have competed in three tournaments this year, and Daniels has earned MVP honors at each of them.
Thursday, the undefeated sophomore pinned Bay City Western’s Noah Schoenherr in the third round. Schoenherr won a state championship at 130 pounds in Division 1 last year. Daniels is currently ranked No. 7 in Division 3 according to michigangrappler.com, he also plays on the Caro junior varsity basketball team.
“Beating a returning Division 1 state champ? Not bad,” Fulton said. “I think (basketball) has helped his performance on the mat. He won that match in the third period, he stays in shape, he’s always running in basketball practice, working at wrestling practice — he’s a kid that just keeps going.”
Daniels trailed by one point in the third when he made his move.
“I’m starting to get a better feel about how (opponents) have a hold on me,” Daniels said. “I knew I was only down by one, so I figured I needed a takedown or make him make an error. He shot in and I was able to capitalize on that.”
Daniels went 4-0 in the tournament, despite dealing with a little stomach bug early on.
“I didn’t feel too good this morning, but started feeling better as the day went on,” Daniels said. “I think it was the garlic bread I ate (Wednesday) night.”
Botkins and Wood won back-to-back title matches at 125 and 130 pounds respectively.
Wood downed Shepherd’s Trevor Robinson 5-4 to win at 130. Robinson is the top-ranked Division 3 grappler at 135 pounds, and was D-3 state runner-up last year at 125 pounds.
“(Wood) is a hard worker, not only that, he’s a very smart wrestler and he believes he can beat anybody,” Fulton said.
Wood trailed 4-2 heading into the third round, tied the match up at 4-4, then took a 5-4 lead with less than a minute left. The junior remains undefeated this year.
“I was up and I new that,” Wood said. “There was about 30 seconds left, I stall a lot, I’ll be honest, but I kinda stalled more right there. I wrestled as hard as I could, tried not to let him get that take down.”
Wood is one of three Caro wrestlers that sport a mullet hairstyle. The other two — Patrick Ford (injury) and Garret Stoick (failed to make weight) — did not participate. Though Ford could make his season debut next week.
“Patrick and I talked about doing it last season, and I was going to get (a mullet) but my dad told me no,” said Wood, a junior. “I’ve been growing it out since the end of last wrestling season, now he likes it, he thinks it’s funny.”
Botkins was pressured to grow a mullet, but declined.
“No, I don’t want to look like (Wood), I’m not part of the mullet squad,” Botkins said.
Style of hair aside, Botkins cruised to first place Friday, beating Grayling’s Max Halstead 8-4 in the final match.
“(Botkins) shows up everyday at practices, pushes his teammates, is a captain as a sophomore,” said Caro co-coach Will Green. “You don’t see that everyday. Winning is all he thinks about.”
Botkins is ranked No. 7 at 125 pounds, his only loss this year is to Lake Fenton’s Hunter Corcoran, the No. 1 ranked Division 3 wrestler at 125 pounds. His goals this season are clear-cut.
“I love wrestling more than anything in life, it’s my passion,” Botkins said. “I feel like I’m going to win a state championship this year.”
Millerov also kept his win-loss record spotless Thursday. The senior was 4-0 and beat Grayling’s Reece Ferrigan 11-5 to win the 189-pound division.
“Tim’s got a long line of wrestlers in his family, and he’s really been showing up,” Green said. “He wants big things this year.”
Caro’s was short-handed Thursday due to injuries, and a few wrestlers not making weight. The Tigers open up Tri-Valley Conference East play Wednesday at home against North Branch and Birch Run. It will be a key early season meet as Caro is ranked No. 6 in Division 3 and Birch Run is No. 7.
No other Caro wrestlers placed in the top six at Freeland. Marlette had three grapplers place — Cody Sanchez, who was runner-up at 103 pounds, Andrew Webster, who captured third at 112 and Isaiah Stewart, who placed fifth at 125.