By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
AUBURN HILLS — Their toughest competition lives under the same roof.
Kanen and Zehlin Storr of Leslie get more of a battle sparring against each other than they typically get in a match against other high school wrestlers.
They combined to achieve a rarity on Saturday as brothers who completed perfect seasons with state championships in the MHSAA Division 3 individual Finals at The Palace.
Kanen finished off an undefeated freshman year at 58-0 by beating Reiley Brown of Whitehall 9-6 in the 103-pound final. Five weight classes later, Zehlin capped his junior year with a 59-0 record by beating Chris Briar of Menominee 7-3 in the 135-pound title match.
"Me and my brother work our butts off," Zehlin said. "We train together and we go all over the state looking for partners. I feel we deserve this."
Zehlin has been on the cusp of winning a championship each of his first two seasons, taking third in Division 4 at 130 pounds as a freshman before losing 5-4 in the Division 3 135-pound final last year. He has a 158-12 record.
He was able to impart some of his experience on the big stage to his younger brother.
"I told him not to let The Palace get to you," Zehlin said. "It's a nerve-racking place. I told him to stay calm, like he always does."
Kanen gives up weight to his older brother, but the brothers say they still get quite a bit of benefit from their sessions against one another.
"He really helped me a lot," Kanen said. "When we don't have other practices to go to, we drill with each other and help make each other better. Yeah, he's a little bigger. I make him work, but he beats me up pretty good."
The Storrs weren't the only brothers to win Division 3 titles, as senior twins Steven and Joe Sika of Whitehall took home championships.
Click for full results, and read below for recaps of each championship match and comments from all the winners.
Champion: John Marogen, Dundee, Sr. (44-7)
Decision, 4-1, over Josh Capen, Ithaca, Sr. (43-1)
Marogen came a long way from his first wrestling match in middle school to the final one of his high school career.
"I just remember my first match ever," he said. "I came out and got pinned. Now I'm here today, winning this. My freshman year, I had a losing record, but these coaches just kept on me."
The match was tied 1-1 in the third period before Marogen scored the final three points to win the first of Dundee's three championships on Saturday.
Champion: Devin Schroder, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Fr. (53-0)
Decision, 10-1, over Alex Martinez, Ida, Fr. (53-2)
One match after Kanen Storr completed a perfect freshman season, Schroder did the same by scoring a major decision over Martinez.
Schroder has been preparing himself for this day for years. He can recall being at the MHSAA Finals 10 years earlier when Davison's Brent Metcalf won the second of his four straight titles.
"I kind of expected it," Schroder said. "I've worked in the room. I've wrestled a lot of these kids when I was younger. I didn't want to accept anything but the state championship. Every single time I stepped into practice and put my shoes on, that's what I was thinking of."
Champion: Jerry Fenner, Birch Run, Soph. (57-3)
Decision, 3-2 OT, over Matt Santos, Saginaw Swan Valley, Fr. (26-6)
Santos had a grip on Fenner's right leg before the Birch Run sophomore was able to pry himself loose for an escape that ended the match.
"Right when I reached back, I grabbed his fingers, felt them get loose," Fenner said. "I kept pulling up. Finally his hands slipped off and disconnected. I pushed back and slipped away."
It was a much more satisfying end to the season for Fenner, who held a five-point lead late in the third period of a quarterfinal match last year before losing 7-6 to Jackson Lambdin of Allendale.
Champion: Zach Cooper, Whitehall, Sr. (55-1)
Decision, 7-0, over Blake Russo, Grand Rapids West Catholic, Jr. (50-4)
Cooper added a third MHSAA title to the 103- and 112-pound crowns he won the last two years at Remus Chippewa Hills.
He transferred his senior year to Whitehall, where his father, Tim, was the undefeated 1980 Class C 132-pound champion.
"My dream was to match my dad and be a one-timer," Cooper said. "I've always wanted to follow in his footsteps. Winning two was, oh my gosh, amazing. Now three — I couldn't be any happier."
Champion: Nate Limmex, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Soph. (22-0)
Decision, 10-2, over Nick Burg, Richmond, Jr. (41-12)
Limmex completed a perfect season by scoring a major decision over Burg, last year's third-place finisher at 119 pounds.
"Wrestling is the biggest part of my life," Limmex said. "This was my main goal and I accomplished it. It's great."
Limmex outscored his four opponents at The Palace, 43-6.
Champion: Doug Rojem, Dundee, Jr. (54-1)
Decision, 2-0, over Lake Bennett, Birch Run, Sr. (55-7)
Doug Rojem has been on the podium twice before, but this time he made it as the champion.
He took third last year at 130 pounds after losing 6-4 in overtime in the semifinals to eventual-champion Alberto Lopez of Otsego. He was fifth at 119 in 2011.
"That was a heartbreaker," Rojem said of the overtime loss. "This year, it was completely different. I didn't feel much pressure. I just let myself wrestle and good things happened."
Champion: Devin Skatzka, Richmond, Soph. (52-2)
Decision, 8-0, over Jordon Bennett, Lake Odessa Lakewood, Soph. (41-2)
Skatzka is halfway to four MHSAA championships after scoring a major decision over Bennett.
Skatzka was the 135-pound champion as a freshman last year.
"I do look forward to it, but I like to take everything one at a time," Skatzka said. "I don't like to look ahead. All I wanted to do was come out strong. I wanted an early takedown to get in his head."
Champion: Luke Pahl, Comstock Park, Sr. (44-3)
Decision, 9-6, over Jared Elliott, Birch Run, Jr. (48-9)
It wasn't an easy path to the championship for Pahl, who won 3-2 in the quarterfinals and 4-3 in the semifinals.
"It was just a lot of mental toughness and being able to be on top of your game all the time," Pahl said.
Pahl was seventh at 140 pounds last year. He attributed his improvement to a grueling week-long wrestling camp at Penn State last summer.
Champion: Steven Sika, Whitehall, Sr. (55-3)
Technical Fall, 21-4, over Skyler Ley, Caro, Jr. (51-6)
After squeaking out a 7-6 victory in the semifinals, Sika rolled to his first MHSAA championship via technical fall.
He placed seventh at 152 pounds last year when he expected a much better fate.
"Taking seventh last year wasn't a good feeling," Sika said. "I had it with me all summer, all year. It really motivated me. This was my last chance. Things change when you get here. You see a lot of good wrestlers lose. It happened to me last year. I didn't want to end my high school career on a bad tournament."
Champion: Joe Sika, Whitehall, Sr., (53-2)
Decision, 4-1, over Trevor Jaster, Caro, Sr. (39-3)
While Steven Sika was winning the 160-pound title, Joe Sika didn't allow himself to watch. Instead, he stayed under the stands in the warm-up area.
"I'm not allowed to watch his matches, because if he loses, I do," Joe said. "If I don't know, then I'll do my own thing. That's how my losses have come this year."
Joe said that he found out from a child that Steven was on the verge of winning by technical fall.
"We're practice partners," Joe said. "It helps us a lot. We're pretty much the same talent. It's like wrestling yourself, basically."
Champion: Teddy Warren, Dundee, Jr. (49-3)
Decision, 6-3, over Colin Beebe, Allendale, Jr. (38-1)
Warren wanted to make progress after losing in the first round at 171 last year to Joe Sika.
"I was just hoping to place at this tournament, but to come out on top is really extraordinary," Warren said.
Warren scored a near-fall with 12 seconds left to take the lead for good.
Champion: Gage Hutchison, Buchanan, Sr. (56-0)
Pin, 2:24, over Taylor Gohn, Allendale, Sr. (38-3)
Hutchison repeated as the 215-pound champion in his third trip to the final round. He was the runner-up at 171 pounds in 2011.
"Man, it gets better and better every time," Hutchison said. "I get less nervous and more excited. I'm always confident — confident, but not cocky. There's always a target on your back."
PHOTO: Leslie's Zehlin Stoff (orange stripe) wrestles Menominee's Chris Briar during Saturday's Division 3 finals. (Click to see more at 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.)