By Chris Phifer
Special to Second Half
AUBURN HILLS, MI – For the past decade, the name Simaz has rung through the walls of The Palace of Auburn Hills in early March.
And it's had a championship ring.
Four Simaz brothers – Eric, Cam, Taylor and Kyle – have won eight individual titles at the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals, starting with Eric and Cam in 2005, and ending with Kyle on Saturday in the 145-pound match in Division 3.
He beat Chad Decker of Grass Lake 27-12 for his second title.
Total family titles: one by Eric, three by Cam, two by Taylor and two by Kyle.
“I think that's awesome,” Simaz said. “Our family is very competitive. A jog around the Simaz house is a race. We have a very competitive family.”
Simaz says this title did not come without trepidation.
“This weekend is a very stressful weekend,” Simaz said. “I'm glad it's over, and I'm glad I came out on top.”
Champion: Tristan Serbus, Corunna, Soph. (46-1)
Decision, 10-6 over Brendan Abrigo, Manchester, Jr. (52-3)
Serbus had something to prove.
He lost to Abrigo earlier this season, but that would not stop him from achieving what he had been working for his whole season – beating Abrigo in the 103-pound championship match.
And he stayed on the offensive to do that, beating him 10-6 for the title.
“It feels awesome,” Serbus said. “I worked hard and attacked, attacked, attacked. I am so glad I have my coaches and teammates.”
Champion: Aaron Kilburn, Richmond, Soph. (40-5)
Decision, 4-1 over K.J. Suitor, Saginaw Swan Valley, Soph. (54-3)
Kilburn improved on last year's third-place finish by controlling Suitor for a 4-1 victory.
Kilburn cruised through his first match with a fall in the second period. He continued with a 9-2 victory over Nolan Saxton from Lakeview. In the Semifinal, he outlasted Arthur Paine from Montrose 3-0, setting up his final match with Suitor.
“I thought that I wrestled well the whole tournament,” Kilburn said. “It feels better taking first than third, I can tell you that.”
Champion: Devin Schroder, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Soph. (40-4)
Decision, 5-2 over Kanen Storr, Leslie, Soph. (57-2)
Schroder won his second straight MHSAA title in what proved to be one of the most competitive weights in the Finals tournament, regardless of division.
His Semifinal match was a repeat of last year’s championship matchup, as Schroder worked his way to a 10-3 decision over Alex Martinez of Ida.
He continued to roll in the Final, defeating Leslie’s Storr, a champion himself in 2013.
It was sweet accomplishment for Schroder, who focused on this weekend to fuel his work ethic and dedication the last few weeks.
“You have down points during the season,” said Schroder, who lost four matches this year after going undefeated last year. “However, you look forward to the state tournament, because it pushes you to get better.”
Champion: Foster Karmon, Allegan, Soph. (58-2)
Decision, 2-1 over Jerry Fenner, Birch Run, Jr. (48-6)
Karmon had to endure two close matches to claim his first title. He used strategy and savvy wrestling to overcome Fenner in the Final.
This coming after he beat Matt Santos of Saginaw Swan Valley in the Semifinal 2-1.
“I had to keep my offense going (during the third period up 2-0),” Karmon said. “I knew if I backed up I would get called for stalling, so I had to stay on him like I did earlier in the match.”
Champion: Grant Turnmire, Almont, Jr. (47-4)
Fall, 0:38 over Zane Corey, Allegan, Sr. (45-4)
All it took was one big headlock, and support from his dad, to propel Turnmire to his first MHSAA title. Turnmire used an impressive headlock to pin Corey in 38 seconds.
After that he rushed to hug his father and coach, Bill Turnmire.
“It is special to win a state title,” Grant Turnmire said. “My dad has supported me throughout. This is very special.”
Champion: Nate Limmex, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Jr. (23-0)
Technical Fall, 17-2 in 3:42 over Alex Young, Portland, Jr. (34-9)
Being injured in January did not stop Limmex from capturing his second MHSAA title in two years. Limmex had some tight matches on his path to the Final, but came away unscathed.
He dominated talented Young from Portland from the start, completing his 17-2 technical fall in the second period.
“I have been working on transitioning from leg attacks to turks because it will lead to more opportunities for back points,” Limmex said. “It is not boring winning two state titles. It feels good knowing that the hard work pays off.”
Champion: Zehlin Storr, Leslie, Sr. (61-0)
Decision, 3-1 over Doug Rojem, Dundee, Sr. (47-6)
Wrestling a returning champ at the same weight might seem intimidating to the average person.
However, when you are a person like Storr, it is not intimidating; it is motivating.
He used wrestling knowledge and craftiness on his way to a second MHSAA championship, beating a very talented Rojem, who also was attempting to win his second title.
“I wanted to beat his defense with my offense,” Storr said. “This year, I can say I had a blast. ”
Champion: Devin Skatzka, Richmond, Jr. (40-3)
Fall, 1:01 over Eric Coval, Manchester, Sr. (37-1)
“Pin to win” is a motto that many wrestlers and coaches use to motivate.
However, Skatzka takes this to heart.
He went through the entire Finals pinning every opponent in the first period, one in just 15 seconds.
That led to his third MHSAA title.
“I really did not expect it, especially against Coval (when talking about pinning every opponent in the first period),” Skatzka said. “I was really looking for that pin. I am very proud of myself.”
Champion: Tristen Zienkiewicz, Farwell, Sr. (49-2)
Decision, 4-3 over Jared Elliott, Birch Run, Sr. (48-6)
Many wrestlers have moves they try to execute during every match. The trick is to be able to utilize them in different positions.
Zienkiewicz did just that.
With only eight seconds left in is final match against Elliott, he executed a fantastic inside trip, dragging his feet in bounds for the two-point takedown to secure a 4-3 victory.
“(Hitting an inside trip with eight seconds to go), I thought my God, my God, my dream came true,” Zienkiewicz said. “Whatever is there, I take it.”
Champion: Andy Donoho, Lake Fenton, Sr. (52-7)
Decision, 4-2 over Tye Thompson, Dundee, Jr. (43-7)
Last weekend, Donoho did what was best for his team, bumping up a weight to wrestle Dundee's MHSAA runner-up Teddy Warren at 189 pounds.
This weekend he was able to avenge a loss his teammate Trent Hilger suffered last week at Team Finals, as he beat Thompson in the championship match at 171.
“Gratification, I got it here from great coaches and great workout partners,” Donoho said. “Everyday, we get after it. It was worth it.”
Champion: Jake McKiernan, Richmond, Sr. (37-5)
Decision, 5-0 over Teddy Warren, Dundee, Sr. (25-4)
Wrestling has three positions – neutral, top, and bottom.
McKiernan utilized strategy in the neutral position to come away with a 5-0 victory over Warren.
He knew Warren was good on his feet, so he had to be better than him there, because he knew he could take him on the mat.
“This feels incredible,” McKiernan said. “My coaches helped me mentally. I never really pictured myself in this situation. Getting better in the neutral position was the key, especially in this match.”
Champion: Danny Drummond, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Sr. (33-9)
Decision, 7-4 TB3 over Colin Beebe, Allendale, Sr. (48-1)
Wrestling is a very physical sport. Sometimes matches last a very long time.
Drummond figured his final match with favored Beebe would go into overtime. In fact, it took three overtimes for Drummond to outlast Beebe.
Drummond was able to score an escape with time still remaining. He then was able to secure a late takedown to secure his first title.
“I wrestled him four or five times in two years, and he's beat me every time,” Drummond said. “He is one of the best wrestlers I have ever wrestled. I wanted to pound it on for three periods physically. This feels amazing.”
Champion: Eric Fader, Sandord-Meridian, Sr. (48-5)
Decision, 7-6 TB1 Glenn Geurink, Allendale, Sr. (46-1)
When you think of heavyweight wrestling, you think of a slow-paced chess match, especially when you are talking about title deciders.
Fader and Geurink would disagree.
That's because this match had non-stop action to the end. And in the end, it was Fader that came away with a 7-6 tie-breaker victory.
“I just went out there and did my best,” Fader said. “I had to grind it out, do some set ups, and hit my blast double.”
PHOTO: Allegan's Kyle Simaz has his hand raised in victory during the Division 3 Individual Finals. (Click to see more fromHigh School Sports Scene.)
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.)