Utica’s Mason, Culberson hoping for strong finish to careers

Nick Mason hoping to reach podium at states

By: Thomas Franz | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 25, 2016

 Utica seniors Nick Mason, left, and Peter Gjini grapple during a Jan. 20 practice.

Utica seniors Nick Mason, left, and Peter Gjini grapple during a Jan. 20 practice.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — To say Utica High senior Nick Mason has undergone a bit of a growth spurt as a high schooler would be an understatement.

Mason, who is currently one of the state’s top wrestlers in the 171-pound division, began his career at Utica in the 103-pound class.

Last year, he qualified for the MHSAA individual state tournament as a 152-pounder, but he said he has adjusted well to the new opponents.

“It’s 20 pounds heavier than what I was last season, so it’s a different style of wrestling. They’re not as quick as the style I’m used to. Sometimes, it’s easier to get takedowns,” Mason said.

Utica coach Clint Davis said that Mason’s growth has been similar to that of his older brother, Sam, who also qualified for states during his time at Utica.

“That just seems to be when they hit their growth spurt,” Davis said. “It’s not typical, that’s for sure.”

The move up seems to be working. Mason was 31-3 at press time and took second at the Macomb County Invitational earlier this season.

“He’s doing just fine in his weight class. He’s a competitor, and he’s really got a good drive this year,” Davis said. “I think making it to states last year made him hungry to do it again, and to not just make it this year, but to place.”

To prepare for the challenges of a new weight division, Mason worked out extensively in the offseason with fellow senior Ethan Culberson.

Culberson, who wrestles in the heavyweight division, will be playing football as an offensive guard at Grand Valley State University next fall. On the mat, he held a 21-3 record at press time and also took second in his weight class at counties.

Part of their success, Mason said, has been due to what they call the program’s “senior mentality.”

“It’s your last year for most people to play the sport and wrestle, so you really want to try and make it your best, and do the ultimate best you can and push yourself as far as you can,” Mason said.

Whereas Mason has adjusted to wrestling in new divisions each year, Culberson has worked his way up in the heavyweight division.

“I’ve been a heavyweight all four years, so I’ve been used to wrestling kids that size. Last year and the year before, I was undersized for my weight class, so by really working out with Nick (Mason), I got a lot bigger to be almost at the top of the weight class now,” Culberson said. “It’s really made a huge difference.”

Culberson said that wrestling has helped him prepare for the physicality needed as an offensive lineman on the football field.

“That helps you in football if you’re down, you really don’t get discouraged. You know physically you can do it,” Culberson said.

Before heading off to Grand Valley, Culberson and Mason, who is heading to Tiffin University in Ohio to wrestle, still have work left to do at Utica.

The team postseason tournament begins Feb. 10, with individual tournaments starting Feb. 13.

If he makes it back to the state finals, Mason said he will be better prepared after falling in the blood round in 2015. He stated that his goal this year is a top-four finish.

“I feel I won’t get as psyched out as I did last year,” Mason said. “The view is a lot different from the stands when you’re looking down at The Palace to when you’re actually on the floor when you look up and say, ‘Wow, I’m really here.’ I feel I’ll be able to stay calm and keep my nerves.”

As a team, Utica held a 3-15 record at press time. Davis said that seniors Peter Gjini (160 pounds) and Dominic Pipitone (189 pounds) have also been key contributors on a mostly young team of sophomores.

Davis added that his program started a youth wrestling club this year for kids in third through eighth grades.

In the postseason, Utica will host a team district tournament that will feature Utica Eisenhower, Troy High and Troy Athens. Utica will travel to the Troy High individual district.