Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice junior Ricardo Saenz was crowned state champion in the 126-pound weight class at the MHSAA state finals March 2 at Ford Field.

Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice junior Ricardo Saenz was crowned state champion in the 126-pound weight class at the MHSAA state finals March 2 at Ford Field.

Photo provided by Ricardo Saenz

Pre-match routine change leads to state title for Rice junior, wrestling team turns heads

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 19, 2024


BLOOMFIELD HILLS — For some athletes, their routine to prepare for a game or a meet means everything to them.

Maybe they eat certain foods, get a pregame nap in or do certain things that just seem to work.

Some call it superstitions, but who are we to put labels on what makes an athlete comfortable?

For Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice junior Ricardo Saenz, music is everything for his preparation before a match.

Normally, Saenz sticks to a certain playlist before each meet, but he said this year called for a change in routine.

“Normally, when I go to wrestling tournaments, I listen to more hype music and rap music to get me mean, but I figured out that listening to calm music helps me wrestle better,” Saenz said. “When I step on the mat, I’m more calm. I notice I wrestle a little bit better.”

After dominating the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 2 Wrestling Individual State Championships and becoming the first state champion in 32 years for Brother Rice, it’s safe to say his decision paid off in the long run.

On March 2 at Ford Field, Saenz took care of business in the 126-pound weight class, earning a 7-1 decision victory over Gaylord sophomore Jaron Bensinger, who was 38-2 on the year.

It was a storybook ending for the third-year wrestler who suffered a dislocated elbow back in June, fighting his way through the offseason to get back to full strength.

Saenz went through momentary injury issues throughout the season as well but said the injury allowed him to become better in other aspects of his craft.

“I watched a lot more videos just trying to learn more stuff as much as possible,” Saenz said. “Also, I emphasized speed and agility. I wasn’t able to lift a lot of weights this year, because over the offseason last year I dislocated my elbow. I wasn’t able to do a lot of my upper body training, so I really focused on my legs, my speed, my agility and my quickness.”

Saenz, an individual district and regional champion as well this year, was one of many Warriors to shine this season for head coach Scott Kolesky in efforts to soften the blow of injured 2023 state qualifier Joseph Hakim.

Kolesky, who finished up his fifth season with Brother Rice, led the Warriors to snap a decade-long drought by bringing home a team district championship in his first season at the helm and followed that up with winning a regional championship and advancing to team states in 2022 for the first time in 32 years.

Kolesky credits his team’s ability to buy into the Brother Rice culture and their commitment to working for each other.

“It’s remarkable what’s happened, and I think it’s amazing what can take place with ordinary people when they commit to a worthy cause,” Kolesky said. “They just offer up a worthy effort, commit to each other and the program, and they compete for one another. They have each other’s backs. We really don’t compete for championships or trophies. We just bleed and sweat and compete for each other every day in that room, and that’s kind of the culture we’re building.”

With another team regional championship to its name this year, Brother Rice has made three-consecutive team states.

Only issue: Lowell High School continues to stand in Brother Rice’s way. For three-consecutive years, Lowell has eliminated the Warriors out of the team state finals, but if the Warriors have shown anything recently it’s that they’re perfecting the art of ending droughts.

“We’re just trying to get over that hurdle where we can consistently bring home championships,” Kolesky said. “It’s kind of a unique team where we have some elite athletes, and then we have some guys coming into their own and quite a few novice wrestlers that battle and compete.”

For as strong of a squad as Brother Rice fielded this year, there’s no shortage of youth on Kolesky’s team with sophomores Richard Davis, Owen Stropoli, Deacon MacNeill and Caleb Steele all qualifying for individual regionals. Davis, who was a district and regional champion, and Steele, a district champion, both qualified for the MHSAA state finals this year, with Davis earning all-State honors, placing fifth. MacNeill was also a district champion for Brother Rice.

Add freshmen Grant Sarris and Emmanuel Shango, who both put together impressive seasons as first-year varsity wrestlers, to the mix, and the future of Brother Rice’s wrestling program is shining as bright.

Sarris, who compiled a 28-13 record this season, suffered an injury at districts but continued to battle.

“He proved to us that he’s one tough kid and a tough competitor,” Kolesky said. “We really thought he was going to be competing at the individual state tournament this year. That was disappointing to see him sidelined.”

Other key contributors for Brother Rice were senior Sebastian Abro, a regional qualifier; junior Alex Rabban, a state qualifier; junior Mateo Pesaros; and junior Grant Cummins.

Graduating only three seniors, Brother Rice will look to be contenders in the team state finals once again along with some key players on the individual side as well.

With a slew of returning state finals qualifiers and young talent looking to take the next step, Saenz and Davis will be expected to continue being the leaders for Brother Rice.

“It’s good to have guys like that in the lineup, because you can count on them more times than not that they’re going to get the job done,” Kolesky said. “More importantly, they’re going to do what we ask of them to do in any particular dual meet, whether it’s to bump up or down a weight, do it with confidence, and execute it. They’re a tremendous asset that instill confidence in the rest of the team.”