By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
For nearly two seasons, no high school team in Michigan has been able to take down reigning Division 1 champion Detroit Catholic Central.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 1, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 2:15 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and the championship match that afternoon at 3:30 p.m. All matches this weekend will be viewable live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.
#1 Detroit Catholic Central
Record/rank: 26-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League
Coach: Mitch Hancock, 11th season (244-44)
Championship history: Twelve MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Benyamin Kamali (28-1) sr., 125 Stone Moscovic (31-7) sr., Dominick Lomazzo (31-9) fr., 130 Joshua Edmond (17-0) soph., 135 Derek Gilcher (32-5) soph., 140 Logan Sanom (37-7) soph., 145 Kevon Davenport (35-2) jr., 145 Joseph Urso (32-9) jr., 152 Cameron Amine (37-2) jr., 171 Aidan Wagh (33-8) sr., 189 Brendin Yatooma (31-9) soph., 189 Rory Cox (35-5) sr., 215 Easton Turner (32-1) jr., 285 Steven Kolcheff (31-7) soph.
Outlook: DCC is seeking its fifth team championship in seven seasons and second straight season with only one loss; those lone defeats have come against Ohio power Lakewood St. Edward. The Shamrocks pulled off the rare accomplishment of qualifying 14 for the Individual Finals, although only 12 will compete at once this weekend because of multiples at two weights. Kamali, Davenport and Amine all are going for their third individual titles next weekend, while Gilcher, senior Devon Johnson (112, 20-8) and junior Rhett Newton (135, 14-3) also placed in 2017.
Record/rank: 31-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold
Coach: Tony Greathouse, fifth season (120-27)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2015.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Mason Shrader (34-3) fr., 112 Ben Manly (34-9) fr., 125 Eddie Homrock (41-7) soph., 125 Zach Johnson (42-7) fr., 135 Aiden Brown (28-14) soph., 140 Dane Donabedian (35-5) soph., 145 Nick Bleise (40-9) sr., 145 Victor Grabowski (36-10) jr., 160 Harley Berne (35-12) soph., 189 Greyson Stevens (42-6) soph., 215 Luke Stanton (36-9) soph.
Outlook: Brighton’s young lineup is rising fast, as it’s moved up to the second seed from eighth a year ago and with nine underclassmen among 11 individual qualifiers. Total only two seniors start, and Bleise was one of the team’s two Individual Finals placers a year ago. Brighton also won the overall KLAA title this winter ahead of fourth seed Westland John Glenn and seventh seed Hartland.
#3 Macomb Dakota
Record/rank: 29-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Ed Skowneski, sixth season (177-38)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Brendan Ferretti (47-4) fr., 103 Brock Prater (45-3) soph., 112 Nick Alayan (44-1) jr., 119 Justin Tiburcio (46-5) jr., 125 Connor Casey (35-9) sr., 125 Andrew Barrett (32-16) jr., 135 Brandon Alkazir (33-14) jr., 140 Tommy Gawlowski (25-5) sr., 160 Dustin Solomon (29-3) jr., 171 Layne Malczewski (50-0) sr., 171 Eli Andary (35-15) jr., 285 Rahmi Khalil (45-5) sr.
Outlook: Dakota enters the Quarterfinals for the fifth time under Skowneski and as the third seed for the second straight year. The Cougars gave up a total of 34 points over four matches in the District and Regional and have upped their total number of Individual Finals qualifiers for the second straight season. Alayan was an individual runner-up last year, while Tiburcio, Solomon, Malczewski and Khalil all placed as well.
#4 Westland John Glenn
Record/rank: 25-3, No. 4
League finish: First in KLAA Black
Coach: Bill Polk, 20th season (384-118)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Caleb Meekins (44-8) jr., 125 Michael Mars (48-0) sr., 130 Isaac Lefler (43-6) sr., 140 Anthony Gibson (46-3) sr., 145 Brenten Polk (37-13) jr.
Outlook: After repeating as a KLAA division champion, John Glenn will return to the Finals for the second straight season. Mars will compete for his third individual championship next weekend after finishing as a runner-up in 2017, and Gibson and junior Kyle Borthwell (125, 37-4) also placed last year. Although all of the Individual Finals qualifiers this time fill the lighter half of the lineup, the heavier half features seven upperclassmen including five seniors.
Record/rank: 24-5, No. 5
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League.
Coach: Roy Hall, 20th season (519-94-1)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2006), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Steven Garty (32-8) jr., 112 Andrew Chambal (29-1) soph., 125 James Johnston (24-11) fr., 130 Raymond Cole (15-11) jr., 135 Marc Shaeffer (33-6) soph., 152 Brian Case (38-7) jr., 152 Alex Facundo (25-0) fr., 160 Jay Nivison (29-4) soph. 171 Cal Stefanko (35-0) jr., 189 Trevor McGowan (32-10) jr., 285 Aaron Gilmore (33-6) jr.
Outlook: After two straight runner-up finishes (and four in five years), Davison is the fifth seed this weekend – but a dangerous one with 11 individual qualifiers. Case placed at the Individual Finals the last two years and was joined last season by Garty, Chambal, Stefanko, Gilmore and now-sophomore Jaron Wilson (119, 15-9). And this isn’t it for this group – there are no seniors in the starting lineup and only one who has competed this season.
Record/rank: 20-7, No. 7
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Ron Wingert, first season (20-7)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2011, two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Matthew Oxford (33-12) jr., 112 Ashton Anderson (38-12) fr., 119 Liam Hillary (35-13) jr., 135 Sergio Borg (43-5) sr., 145 Ryan Miller (38-7) sr., 152 Trent Myre (30-6) jr., 160 Caleb Tabert (35-7) jr., 189 Austin Schlicht (42-11) jr.
Outlook: After building a championship-filled legacy under retired coach Paul McDevitt, Oxford has continued under Wingert with an 11th straight league title and 13th District championship over the last 14 seasons. Borg, Miller and junior Devin Trevino (171, 40-6) were individual placers last season, Borg for his second straight. He and Miller are two of only four seniors, which should make Oxford an intriguing contender next season as well.
Record/rank: 32-4, No. 6
League finish: Tied for second in KLAA Gold
Coach: Todd Cheney, 26th season (732-105-2)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2016, five MHSAA runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Wyatt Nault (39-6) soph., 119 Corey Cavanaugh (47-4) jr., 125 Kyle Kantola (51-1) jr., 130 Carter Hankins (44-7) sr., 135 Greg Pietila (36-16) sr., 152 Tanner Culver (33-2) jr., 160 Reece Potter (30-4) jr., 160 River Shettler (40-2) jr.
Outlook: Hartland is back at the Quarterfinals for the 17th straight season, an incredible feat – especially for a team with just three senior starters. The Eagles gave up only 12 points total over their first three postseason matches before edging Walled Lake Central by eight to advance last week. Culver, Shettler, Nault and Kantola were Individual Finals placers last season, Kantola for the second straight.
Record/rank: 29-7, No. 9
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Coach: Mike Rottier, 11th season (195-121)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Kameron Kempker (41-3) sr., 135 Jack Samuels (44-1) jr., 145 James Samuels (29-10) jr., 152 Chase Mol (22-16) jr., 285 Seth Hoonhorst (44-2) sr.
Outlook: After missing the Quarterfinals last year, Hudsonville is back for the second time in three seasons and third time this decade. The Eagles emerged from close Regional wins over Grand Haven and Rockford paced by a veteran lineup expected to include three seniors and eight juniors this weekend. Jack Samuels and James Samuels both were individual placers in 2017.
PHOTO: Detroit Catholic Central’s Kevon Davenport (top) works against Brighton’s Victor Grabowski during last year's Finals weekend; their teams have the top two seeds in Division 1. (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.)