By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half
DETROIT – Kevon Davenport hopes what he accomplished Saturday night at Ford Field will stretch far and wide in the Michigan wrestling community.
The Detroit Catholic Central senior became the 26th wrestler to win four Individual Finals titles when he defeated Bay City Western senior Vic Schoenherr 7-3 to claim the 145-pound Division 1 championship.
But more importantly to Davenport is that he is the first Africa-American wrestler from the state to win four championships.
"In my opinion, the sport of wrestling is not a super diverse sport," said Davenport, who improved to 35-1 with the win. "There is not that many African-American wrestlers out there, and I wanted to come along and inspire people. Hopefully them seeing me be the first four-time African-American state champ, they can try and bring wrestling to the Detroit Public School system. I want to grow wrestling through my own community."
Like he has throughout his career, Davenport was on top of his game Saturday afternoon, staying in control against Schoenherr (49-1) and giving him his only loss of the season.
"I would have liked to perform a little bit better, but I won and I am grateful for that," Davenport said. "I felt like the only pressure that was on me was the pressure I was putting on myself.”
Champion: Kavan Troy, Rochester, Soph. (50-0)
Fall, 5:04, over Aden Williams, Davison, Fr. (24-5)
Last year Troy failed to qualify for the MHSAA Finals, but he didn't look at that as a negative. Instead, he used it as a positive for this season.
He worked hard in the offseason to add muscle on his frame, and he came back on a mission. That mission was complete when he pinned Williams to claim the 103-pound title.
"I never gave up," Troy said. "I kept working and lifting in the offseason. And football really made me stronger. I thought my technique was pretty good last year, but I was 100 pounds so I needed to put on muscle. This year I grew and got stronger."
Champion: Brenden Ferretti, Macomb Dakota, Soph. (53-0)
Major Decision, 10-2, over Zein Bazzi, Dearborn Heights Crestwood, Soph. (45-4)
Sometimes giving up the first points in a huge match can cause panic.
But not for Ferretti, who gave up the first takedown to Bazzi and then went on to earn a workmanlike 10-2 major decision victory and the 112-pound championship.
Ferretti gave a lot of credit to his workout partners in his team's practice room, and it was easy to see why.
"I have been working very hard this year, and I know that I have really good stamina," Ferretti said. "I believe I am never out of it, no matter what happens."
Champion: Nick Alayan, Macomb Dakota, Sr. (49-3)
Decision, 6-4, over Andrew Chambal, Davison, Jr. (38-3)
Most wrestlers remember the losses more than the wins.
And when they get the opportunity to avenge a past Finals championship loss against the same opponent the next year, it's hard to temper the drive for revenge.
That is what took place when Alayan and Chambal locked up for the 119-pound title. This year was Alayan's time, as he beat Chambal 6-4. Last year Chambal took the 112-pound title with a 7-1 win over Alayan.
"I had nothing to lose this year," Alayan said. "I was the underdog this year, and that felt great not having much pressure. This year me and my team worked a little bit harder to train for this."
Champion: Eddie Homrock, Brighton, Jr. (53-2)
Decision, 3-2, over Justin Triburcio, Macomb Dakota, Sr. (40-4)
When most wrestlers end their seasons, they start preparing for a little down time and some good food.
When Homrock walked off the mat Saturday evening after winning the 125-pound title with a hard-fought 3-2 win, he did a set of four sprints back and forth on the Ford Field turf.
"I always do sprints at the end of my matches, because it keeps me in better shape," Homrock said. "I have been wrestling forever, and doing those sprints right there is going to get me in better shape for tournaments that come up later."
Champion: Kyle Kantola, Hartland, Sr. (49-0)
Decision, 3-0, over T.J. Daugherty, Waterford Kettering, Jr. (40-1)
Kantola has had to wrestle a full six-minute match three times this season, and two of those came this weekend at Ford Field.
Kantola beat Detroit Catholic Central's Camden Trupp 6-0 in the semifinals, and then beat 2017 103-pound champion Daugherty in the final 3-0.
"I practiced hard knowing that I might have to go six minutes this weekend, and it happened twice," Kantola said.
And now he is a champion, after being a runner-up a year ago.
"I knew I didn't want to be second again, so I just kept pushing every day to be on top," Kantola said. "Now it feels good."
Champion: Josh Edmond, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (37-2)
Decision, 7-3, over Brody Kemper, Grand Blanc, Jr. (41-5)
Even though he had just secured his second straight championship, Edmond walked off the mat a bit upset at himself.
He was happy to be a champion again, but not thrilled about the way he wrestled.
"I didn't score enough points," Edmond said. "I wanted to dominate, and I didn't even get a major decision so I think I underachieved."
And that is how the best become the best.
"I wanted to dominate this tournament, and every other match I got bonus points," Edmond said. "I'm happy, though."
Champion: Derek Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (32-2)
Decision, 7-2, over Marc Shaeffer, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (21-5)
All season and offseason you drill with your teammates, so it is never easy to take on a teammate in a match.
Make it an MHSAA Finals match with a title on the line, and that makes the task even harder.
In what can be described as the ultimate challenge match, Gilcher defeated Shaeffer 7-2 to earn his second straight title.
"It is always hard to see someone on your team, especially at the state finals," Gilcher said. "It's different, because he knows everything that I do and I know what he likes."
Champion: Cam Amine, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (37-0)
Major Decision, 11-3, over Jaden Fisher, Lake Orion, Sr. (49-2)
In what was one of the top matches at last year's Finals, Amine lost a heart-breaker to Davison's Alex Facundo, erasing his chance to become a four-time champion.
Amine used that loss to hone his already elite skills and push his endurance to the limit. And that paid off this year, as Amine capped a perfect season with a major decision victory over Fisher for his third title.
"It was the whole motivation coming into this year," Amine said. "That drove me every day to get better. (Last year) he got me in that match, and I had to get better so that would never happen again.
"Being a three-time champion is a great accomplishment. When I first came in as a freshman I wanted to be a four-time champion, and that didn't happen so I used that as motivation."
Champion: Alex Facundo, Davison, Soph. (37-2)
Decision, 9-3, over Devin Trevino, Clarkston, Sr. (45-5)
Facundo's path to greatness is still intact, but it wasn't easy Saturday evening.
After cruising through his bracket with two technical falls and a pin, Facundo met a game Trevino and grinded out a 9-3 win.
"It feels good to be a two-time champion, but I wanted to win by at least a (technical fall in the final); that was my goal," Facundo said. "I like to set goals, so I was a little frustrated with myself. I am not really satisfied with my win, but that will just make me work harder."
Champion: River Shettler, Brighton, Sr. (50-2)
Decision, 2-1 (2OT), over Dylan Wellbaum, Lake Orion, Sr. (47-2)
Shettler said he will take it.
He won his first Finals title when he was awarded a stalling point in double overtime, after finishing runner-up last year.
Wellbaum made it to the championship match after failing to qualify for the Finals last year.
"That kid came out of nowhere this year," Shettler said. "He was unranked, and he comes out there and wrestles (well). We both wanted the same thing. We both wrestled awesome, and I have mad respect for him."
Champion: Easton Turner, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (38-3)
Decision, 4-0, over Cal Stefanko, Davison, Sr. (31-3)
Turner's left shoulder was wrapped tightly in a brace, protecting what he thought to be a torn labrum that kept causing his shoulder to pop out.
But Turner fought through the injury and won his second straight title.
"I was constantly getting yelled at by Coach to toughen up, toughen up," Turner said. "And I just fought through it."
Champion: Brendin Yatooma, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (39-3)
Fall, 3:16, over Kyle Scott, Hudsonville, Sr. (47-4)
With this weekend's tournament starting at the 285-pound weight class, Yatooma put an exclamation point on an impressive Finals by the Detroit Catholic Central wrestlers.
Yatooma was crowned the seventh champion for the Shamrocks, and he did it in impressive fashion.
"I just went out there and did what I had to do," Yatooma said. "I have to thank my coaches for pushing me so hard. All the timed miles that we ran, all the in-the-holes we did. And in practice, I want to thank my partners, Steven Kolcheff and Easton Turner."
Champion: Steven Kolcheff, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (36-3)
Decision, 4-0, over Mahdi Hazime, Dearborn Fordson, Sr. (47-5)
Kolcheff said he may have left something on the mat when he wrestled for a Finals title last year. The Detroit Catholic Central junior lost a tight decision and knew he could do better.
He showed Saturday he was right, winning his first championship.
"I wasn't working as hard as I could," Kolcheff said. "This year I came back and coaches pushed me as hard as I could (go). They broke me a couple times in the practice room, but that paid off a lot."
PHOTO: Kevon Davenport’s arm is raised after the Detroit Catholic Central senior earned his fourth MHSAA Finals championship Saturday. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.
“I always wanted to coach,” the former Rockford High School wrestling standout said. “I think I have wanted to coach since I was in middle school. I wanted to be a college wrestling coach.”
Bennett, 33, is currently living out his dreams of becoming a collegiate coach as a member of the Central Michigan University wrestling program.
Bennett, one of the most decorated wrestlers in CMU history, is in his 10th season on 32-year coach Tom Borrelli’s staff.
“I was getting ready to graduate, and a position opened up,” Bennett said. “I think Coach Borrelli knew that I really wanted to stay involved in wrestling and get into coaching. I was fortunate enough to slide into that position, and he had enough faith in me to let me stay here.”
Before getting the opportunity to coach, Bennett amassed eight years of unbridled success at the high school and collegiate levels.
He was a three-time Individual Finals champion at Rockford and helped lead the Rams to a Division 1 team championship as a junior.
“I had a really good high school experience, and I really enjoyed wrestling for our head coach at the time, Don Rinehart,” Bennett said. “He coached for a long time, and we always had some very competitive teams.
“In 2007, my junior year, we won the team state duals, but every year we were really competitive and had multiple individual state champions. Those were the type of teams I was able to wrestle on, which made it pretty exciting and pretty fun when you have those types of guys around you.”
After excelling through the junior ranks, Bennett made an immediate impact for the Rams and captured the Division 1 championship at 140 pounds as a freshman.
However, the following year, he took third at 152 after losing a semifinal match 2-1.
That defeat was humbling for Bennett but also showed him how to handle adversity.
“At the time, in my eyes, the world was ending,” Bennett said. “You look back and it probably was more of a positive. It's good to have those things happen to you, and you face some adversity.
“And I think that's more relatable to life rather than just when you win all the time. I did a lot of winning, but when things are really important, sometimes it's good to fail, for things not to go your way because it will probably happen for the rest of your life.
“You have to learn how to respond and come back from that and handle it the right way and just get back to work. At the time, I remember how devastated I was, but looking back it probably was a positive thing long term.”
Bennett wound up collecting two more Individual Finals titles, at 160 and 171 pounds, to end his high school career and then was named Mr. Wrestler, receiving the award given to the top senior wrestler by the state coaches association.
“I wasn't even thinking that I might get that,” he said. “There are so many great high school wrestlers that come out every year, and thinking about the guys I wrestled … to be singled out as the one chosen for that award was pretty special.”
After graduation, Bennett took his talents to Mount Pleasant. He could’ve gone anywhere to wrestle, but found the right fit at CMU.
“I knew I wanted to wrestle in college, and it was close to home, which I liked,” Bennett said. “I didn't feel like I had to go across the country to have an opportunity to accomplish my goals. I felt like I could stay here and do that.”
Bennett is the only four-time All-American in CMU history and one of three Chippewas to have earned four individual Mid-American Conference titles.
Bennett twice earned the Chick Sherwood Award as CMU’s most valuable wrestler and was named the MAC Wrestler of the Year in 2012. He also had earned the MAC Freshman of the Year Award in 2010.
Bennett ranks sixth in CMU history with 121 career victories, and his career win percentage of .834 is fourth all-time. In 2013, he finished 31-2 for a .939 win percentage, the second-best in program history. He also won a school-record 30 consecutive matches during that season and finished a personal-best fourth at the national tournament.
“At the time I was disappointed with how my career went, because I was never a national champion,” Bennett said. “But I think looking back on it, I have a lot more appreciation for what I did.
“As a coach, I realize how hard it is to have success at the college level, and every year you see great wrestlers not make the podium. Sometimes I’m shocked when certain guys don’t place, and it makes me appreciate how hard it is to be a four-time All-American, let alone place one time or multiple times.”
The transition to the coaching side was a difficult process for Bennett, but he knew he wanted to mentor other wrestlers the way his former coaches did with him.
“You put so much into the sport and you realize how much time other people invested and how important it was for me to do well, and so I guess for me it was a hard transition to make,” Bennett said. “You’re so competitive and so focused on yourself, but then being able to help these guys improve, get better and hopefully accomplish their goals was something I was looking forward to doing.
“I had so many people help me do that, and then I was able to be in their shoes and give back to these guys.”
Coaching has kept him involved in a sport he loves.
“And I get to continue to learn and grow and develop in different areas, not just wrestling-wise,” he said. “I get to meet a lot of great people through wrestling and coaching. The guys who come through our program are pretty awesome people.
“I’m pretty fortunate, and I've really enjoyed the coaching side of it, being in the wrestling room with these guys. Getting them ready for a match and going over things after a match. There is a lot that goes into it, but I really enjoy it.”
The love of wrestling for Bennett began at 6 years old, when he was coached by his uncle Tom Bennett – a former Division III All-American – and dad Doug.
“My uncle did a ton for me wrestling-wise, and my dad was the conditioning and discipline-type guy,” Bennett said. “Together it was a good mix. For as long as I can remember, I was always in really good shape. I loved wrestling right away.”
Bennett admits that he probably missed out on a lot when he was younger because he was determined to be the best and his life revolved around wrestling and training.
“It can be a tough way to live, but at the time that's what I wanted to do so that's what I did,” Bennett said. “When I was little my dad always told me that I'm not going to take you across the country to these tournaments if we are not training to win the tournament, not going to fill out the brackets, so my whole life the goal was always to be a champion.
“Going into high school my goal was to be a four-time state champion. I wanted to win the senior nationals, the junior nationals, and I won all those things. Going into college, in my mind, the next step was to be a national champion, and I don't think you realize how hard it really is, and I don't think I realized how hard it was to be an All-American.”
Bennett was promoted to CMU associate head coach last June after spending nine seasons as an assistant. He said the biggest difference with his new position is on the administrative side.
“I do a lot of scheduling and budgeting, things I didn’t do as much before in my years as an assistant coach,” he said. “I’ve taken the reins on some of these things, and it’s good for me to learn.”
Bennett is content with his current role at CMU and continuing to evolve as a coach under Borrelli. However, he hopes to one day take that next step as the head coach of a collegiate program.
“That’s my ultimate goal with coaching,” he said. “When that will happen, I don’t know. I guess I’m not in a hurry. When it happens, it will happen. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can right now.
“Coach Borrelli is an unbelievable coach, leader, mentor and role model, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him and soak up as much as I can from him until I get an opportunity somewhere to be a head coach. Right now I'm happy with where I'm at, and when that time comes, it will come.”
Bennett, 33, is engaged to former Chippewas field hockey player Erica Garwood. The couple has been dating for seven years and will get married next month.
“We’re excited, and I’m sure life will really change when we start having kids,” Bennett said. “But it’s good right now. We both went to school here, and she has a good job at an elementary school in town. We enjoy it up here.”
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PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Ben Bennett stands atop the podium at the 2008 Individual Finals, and now with fiancé Erica Garwood. (Middle) Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season. (Current photo courtesy of Ben Bennett; 2008 photos from MHSAA Archives.)