GREENVILLE – Several factors have contributed to the current success of the Greenville wrestling team.
However, one aspect of the program has been quite noticeable.
“I’ve received compliments by referees and other coaches just about how much bigger, stronger and faster they look now,” Yellow Jackets wrestling coach Brett Peterman said. “Greenville athletics, and the culture with Rick Court and our strength program, has changed. He has done an amazing job of getting the kids into lifting, and we have a great coaching staff."
“A lot of the sports are getting better now because of it, and our strength programs are loaded with kids now lifting, including at the middle school level.”
The Yellow Jackets recently jumped into the top 10 of the Division 2 state rankings after winning their fifth invitational of the season last week at Hudsonville Unity Christian.
An enhanced strength program, coupled with a diligent work ethic by a relatively young group, has signaled a turnaround for the better.
“We just have a great group of kids,” Peterman said. “The kids are coachable, they work hard and we are just seeing the results of that.”
Junior standout Nayte Dobson, who’s currently unbeaten at 24-0 wrestling at 157 and 165 pounds, said Court is a valuable piece to the winning puzzle that has been constructed.
“He always has good enthusiasm and good energy no matter what,” said Dobson, who placed seventh at last year’s Division 2 Individual Finals.
“He gives us time to work out, whether it’s zero hour, or after school. Whenever you want to work out, he’s there. He will come from his house to unlock the doors.”
Court’s workouts are specifically designed to help the wrestlers reach their full potential and give them an advantage.
“He puts us through good workouts that involve speed and acceleration training,” Dobson said. “You can definitely see the bursts we have out on the mat.”
The list of accomplishments so far this season has included wins at the Greenville Invitational, the Hudsonville Invitational, the Unity Christian Invitational, the Fruitport Invitational and the Pinckney Duals.
“There have been some good teams in those tournaments and good challenges for the kids,” Peterman said. “Winning is good, but the work never stops.”
Peterman anticipated success this season, despite the departure of key seniors.
The addition of a large incoming freshman class has boosted numbers and anticipation for the future.
“I thought we could have a good year,” Peterman said. “We had a lot of returners, including a few state qualifiers and some who fell just short.
“They worked hard in the offseason, and with the freshmen coming in, I figured we would be pretty good. I was amazed that we had 23 freshmen come in. That’s a big group.”
The Yellow Jackets possess talent up and down the weight classes, with several wrestlers posting impressive records.
Sophomore Caleb Lewis, a backup last season, has emerged and is 26-0 at 106 pounds.
Other top performers include junior Liam Dailey (23-2) at 138/144 pounds, sophomore Case Johnson (24-2) at 215 pounds, sophomore Kamden Witte (23-3) at 113 pounds and freshman Alex Buskirk (26-1) at 126 pounds.
“We are a very young team, but they’ve come in with a chip on their shoulder and they are working hard every day,” Dobson said. “How they work in the wrestling loft is showing out on the mat right now, and we are just giving them guidance and helping them out when we can.
“I expected this, and I knew this was going to be a good year for us because of the guys coming back and the freshmen.”
The Yellow Jackets will wrestle at the Ottawa-Kent Conference White championships, against a field that includes eight-time reigning team champion Lowell.
“It’s tough when you have a powerhouse like Lowell in your conference,” Peterman said. “There’s a possibility that we will see them several times in the upcoming weeks, and it will be a big challenge. We are going to do what’s right for the team on Friday and see how the results come about.”
The Red Arrows provide Greenville with a measuring stick, and they are eager to see how they fare against the best in the state.
“Lowell is just stacked all around and it’s going to be tough, but we also have to get through Byron Center, which has gone both ways this season,” Dobson said. “If we can see improvement from last year’s Districts to now against Lowell, then it gives us a good checkpoint of where we are at.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Greenville wrestler Isaac Daily celebrates a win during a match this season. (Middle) Yellow Jackets coach Brett Peterman guides one of his competitors. (Below) Greenville's Troy Courtney takes down an opponent. (Photos by Jamie McNinch Photography.)
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.)