DETROIT – Khloe Williams wasted no time securing her second career state championship during Saturday’s MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals at Ford Field.
It took the Clio senior only 30 seconds to post a victory by pinfall over Kalamazoo Loy Norrix sophomore Heaven Cole in the 170-pound title match.
All four of Williams’ victories this weekend resulted in pinfalls that took a minute or less. In fact, all 32 of her matches this season resulted in wins by pinfall.
“I just wanted to do that this year. I just wanted to pin everyone,” said Williams, who won a Michigan Wrestling Association state title as a freshman, finished second in MWA as a sophomore and then runner-up again in last year’s MHSAA Tournament.
Immediately following her victory over Cole (14-2) on Saturday, Williams stopped long enough to conduct an interview, but she had places to be. Two mats over from hers, a Clio teammate was vying for a Finals title of his own.
“I was trying to watch Jacob,” she said about Clio senior Jacob Marrs, who was wrestling in the Division 2 190-pound final as Williams wrapped up her match against Cole.
Marrs lost a 4-2 heartbreaker in his championship match.
Williams and Marrs have known each other a long time and they’re cut from the same cloth, according to Clio coach Tony Vance.
He said Williams tends to be businesslike, and that she’s very talented – but she also puts in the work.
“Her and my 190-pounder (Jacob Marrs), I mean, they’re both very technical wrestlers and they grew up wrestling since they were 5, 6 years old, and they’ve been around each other for a long time,” Vance said.
Would you believe that wrestling isn’t necessarily Williams’ favorite sport? She’s been wrestling for 13 years. She followed in older brother Kam’s footsteps. He was a Finals runner-up in high school.
Softball is No. 1 for Khloe Williams now, however. She intends on playing it at Mott Community College.
Williams plays center field, showing that in addition to her prowess on the mat she can also cover some ground in the outfield.
When asked if it would be difficult to give up a sport like wrestling in which she’s had so much success, she just shrugged.
“Kind of, a little bit,” she grinned.
“She’s very humble. She just comes in the room and works hard – doesn’t really have much to say. She’s there every day. She puts her work in,” Vance said.
“That comes from her family. She comes from a very hard-working family. Her dad was a very good wrestler in high school, her brother was a state finalist in high school, so … she’s been around wrestling since she was 5 years old.”
Champion: Madison Nieuwenhuis, Plainwell, Fr. (34-7)
Decision, 4-3, over Mackenzie Burger, Mount Pleasant, Sr. (26-12)
Nieuwenhuis was dealing with a few broken bones in her left foot, but she wasn’t thinking about any kind of pain. As for thousands of eyeballs watching her from the stands, that was more stressful for her.
She suffered the injury a few weeks ago in practice.
“It was definitely nerve-racking,” she said. “Not as bad yesterday, but seeing all the people just right there watching you and you’re in the middle mat – it was definitely nerve-racking, but it also raised my spirits.”
Champion: Nakayla Dawson, Westland John Glenn, Fr. (41-2)
Fall, 3:33, over Natalie Gibson, Remus Chippewa Hills, Soph. (25-6)
Posting 41 victories in a freshman wrestling season is quite a feat. It’s almost as impressive as capturing a state title in one’s first year in high school.
Dawson accomplished both of those things.
“I just went out there and did me – didn’t really worry about who I was wrestling or what they placed or what their rank (was),” Dawson said.
Champion: Sky Langewicz, Algonac, Soph. (46-5)
Decision, 5-3, over Sunni LaFond, Gaylord, Soph. (30-15)
Langewicz captured her second Finals title in as many years, this time bumping up a weight class after winning at 105 pounds and finishing with a 19-0 record as a freshman.
On Saturday, she took a 2-0 lead in her Finals rematch against LaFond and rode it out.
“I think that’s the best part of it to be honest because, like, growing up I was always singled out, always, because I was the only girl,” Langewicz said. “I was always singled out, and I was always the only girl anywhere. It’s really cool to see this many girls. We grew enough to have our own, entire division, which is really cool.”
Champion: Faith Burgess, Grand Blanc, Soph. (29-3)
Fall, 2:49, over Morgan Irwin, Westland John Glenn, Sr. (30-7)
Moments after she captured the Finals title, Burgess raced up the stairs with one thing in mind.
“I was sprinting to my parents. It’s very big. It’s what I look forward to the most. I like celebrating with family and friends,” said Burgess, who noted she’s also been working on her diet and cardio plan.
“(I) kind of have faith in just my pursuit for the week – get it done.”
Champion: Cecilia Williams, Mason, Fr. (23-5)
Fall, 5:28, over Isabella Cepak, South Lyon East, Soph. (45-10)
Williams tore the UCL in her left arm in January, but she wasn’t feeling too much pain Saturday at Ford Field – she was feeling just fine after capturing a Finals title in her first try.
“When I got into the season, I was going to wrestle in the guys’ division at 113, but I tore my UCL and I actually have surgery Monday,” she said. “It didn’t heal in time for guys’ Regionals so I was like, ‘I’m going to (compete with the) girls.
“It’s hard to do cradles and stuff because it pulls on it, but it was easy today. It didn’t hurt it that much.”
Champion: Margaret Buurma, Fowlerville, Soph. (31-7)
Fall, 2:35, over Jamie Cook, DeWitt, Soph. (28-7)
Buurma captured her second-straight Finals championship, having collected the title at 115 last season. She did not take anything for granted, calling Cook “an amazing competitor.”
She leaned on her team to help pull her through the tough moments this season.
“I bonded with this team. They’re all, like, siblings to me. This team, it was definitely a different feeling. I hung out with these kids most every day,” Buurma said. “Even when we weren’t wrestling, we were doing something together. Even when I was upset, they were the ones there saying, ‘Hey, it’s OK, you’ve got the next one. Just focus on what’s ahead of you.’”
Champion: Angelina Pena, Milan, Jr. (21-5)
Decision, 5-0, over Tyler Swanigan, South Lyon East, Jr. (38-15)
Pena made it two Finals titles in a row, adding one at 130 pounds after winning it at 120 last season. This time, she defeated another reigning champ in Swanigan, who won the 130-pound title last season.
How can Pena possibly top that going forward?
“Well, maybe training harder over the summer and me getting straight pins (at Finals weekend) next year – we’ll see,” said Pena, who posted three pins Friday before earning her decision Saturday.
“I train with all my friends, who are girls state champs. I’d like to thank my dad and my mom, all my coaches who’ve put in the effort to coach me through the difficult times.”
Champion: Serenity Hayes, Whittemore-Prescott, Soph. (34-6)
Decision, 1-0, over Caylynn Chandler, Birch Run, Sr. (13-3)
Hayes had not defeated Chandler in any previous meetings, but she got the win Saturday when it counted most. Despite the earlier setbacks, she entered with confidence.
“A level to where I wasn’t cocky, but just enough to where I thought I could win,” said Hayes, who placed seventh at 130 pounds last year.
“Especially being only a sophomore and only (at the Finals) for a couple years, I’m really happy.”
Champion: Ryen Allen, Goodrich, Jr. (7-2)
Decision, 5-2, over Danni Swihart, Hanover-Horton, Sr. (35-7)
Allen finished second at 125 pounds last season after capturing a Michigan Wrestling Association championship as a freshman.
She didn’t like the feeling of being runner-up, so she went to work.
“I needed to put more work in. I was not the best that I could be and after I lost last year, I put in all the work I could,” she said. “I went and focused on nationals after, and after that I knew this year was going to be my year and I made it my year.”
Champion: Lydia Roope, St. Charles, Sr. (25-7)
Fall, 4:36, over Rihanna Venegas, Riverview Gabriel Richard, Soph. (23-5)
Roope trailed 4-2 in the third period when she surprised many – maybe even herself – by recording a pinfall.
“I don’t remember (which move she made) honestly. I don’t really remember. I just thought I was in neutral and I thought, ‘I have to score here,’” she said.
“It’s just amazing. My senior year … I don’t know if I’ll ever get a moment like that again on this stage. It feels absolutely amazing.”
Champion: Maddie Hayden, Caledonia, Fr. (25-4)
Decision, 7-5, over Brynn Green, Howell, Sr. (27-3)
After posting a hard-earned win over Green and capturing the title in her first try, it didn’t really hit Hayden until she looked up at her coaches and saw the joy in their faces.
All the hard work this season paid off.
“It’s a lot of ups and downs, obviously,” Hayden said. “I mean, everybody will tell you that, but I think the downs are really what helped me the most. Persevering through the downs really helped me get back up, and I really think that’s what’s shaped me into the wrestler I am now.”
Champion: Sabrina Nauss, Brighton, Jr. (13-0)
Fall, 1:09, over Gabriella Allen, Marcellus, Jr. (30-5)
Last season, Nauss received some fanfare for becoming the first female to win an MHSAA Individual Finals match at Ford Field.
This weekend, she was all business. On Saturday, she went to work and posted a quick pinfall.
“This one, I came in and I knew what I had to get done and I had laser focus. I got my first takedowns, and I just came in and did what I needed to do,” she said.
“Just staying focused and going out there and doing a job, just like normal – sticking to my basics.”
Champion: Mady Frisbie, Belding, Soph. (21-12)
Decision, 5-0, over Lillianna Garcia, Grand Blanc, Jr. (20-9)
After losing in this championship match last year, Frisbie went to work and came into this season with a different mindset. She guarded against “getting too cocky or getting too doubtful.”
She brought a growth mindset into this season and left with the championship. She learned some lessons.
“That it’s OK to lose. It really hurt when I lost last year, but I (learned) that losing makes you better and that’s not what it’s about, really. It’s not everything,” Frisbie said.
PHOTOS (Top) Clio’s Khloe Williams shows her chart after capping her high school career with a championship Saturday. (Middle) Milan’s Angelina Pena, left, and South Lyon East’s Tyler Swanigan lock up in the 130-pound title match. (Below) Whittemore-Prescott’s Serenity Hayes takes the mat for her championship bout. (Click for more from High 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.)