By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Hartland, Davison and Detroit Catholic Central have taken turns against each other and as the presumed favorite in Division 1 this season.
They make up the top three seeds among another strong class of teams from Michigan's largest wrestling schools, but should be wary of at least a few others that already have surprised during this tournament run.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 1, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 2 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday and the championship match at 3:30 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.TV. For results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.
The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.
Record/rank: 32-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West (also Lakes and overall)
Coach: Todd Cheney, 24rd season (665-97-2)
Championship history: Five MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 2015).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Corey Cavanaugh (41-10) fr.; 103 Kyle Kantola (50-4) fr.; 125 Noah Lopez (43-6) sr.; 130 Garnet Potter (33-11) jr.; 135 Nick DiNobile (35-16) jr.; 140 Reece Hughes (45-4) jr.; 152 Sage Castillo (52-0) sr.; 152 Logan Vish (45-9) sr.; 171 Lucas LaForge (45-6) sr.; 189 Andrew Spisz (35-15) jr.; 285 Brandon Krol (23-3) sr.
Outlook: Will this end with Hartland’s first team championship? The Eagles have made 15 straight trips to the Quarterfinals and fell to Brighton by only six points in last season’s championship match. Hartland gave up only 34 points total in four postseason matches to return this weekend, and its only loss this season was to Detroit Catholic Central during their dual at CMU in January. Hughes, Vish and Potter all were individual placers last season and Castillo is a favorite to also contend next weekend, and they together help make up a nucleus of 11 upperclassmen that fill every weight from 125-285.
Record/rank: 22-4, No. 2
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Roy Hall, 19th season (467-88-1)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2006), three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Steven Garty (28-8) fr.; 112 Max Johnson (27-0) sr.; 119 AJ Facundo (28-9) soph.; 125 Deven Perez (35-6) sr.; 130 Ryan Schlak (24-13) jr.; 135 Brian Case (33-5) fr.; 145 Kurt Schlak (25-13) sr.; 160 Gabe Ellis (26-11) soph.; 189 Brenden McRill (34-2) jr.; 189 Logan Mabbitt (20-7) sr.; 215 Tanner Thomas (24-11) sr.
Outlook: Davison followed two straight runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2014 by falling to eventual champion Brighton by only four points in a Semifinal last season, but looks capable of taking the final step again for the first time since 2006. Facundo is the reigning champion at 112, and Johnson, Perez, McRill and Thomas all also placed last season (McRill for the second straight). Davison hasn’t given up more than 17 points to an opponent during this run, and is built for now and the future with six seniors plus six underclassmen among starters.
#3 Detroit Catholic Central
Record/rank: 15-5, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League.
Coach: Mitch Hancock, ninth season (186-41)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA championships (most recent 2014), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Benyamin Kamali (14-1) soph.; 112 Stone Moscovic (26-11) soph.; 119 Kevon Davenport (41-3) fr.; 125 Cameron Amine (34-8) fr.; 130 Aaron Rehfeldt (28-16) sr.; 140 Aidan Wagh (30-15) soph.; 171 Tyler Morland (39-1) jr.; 215 Jackson Ross (33-9) jr.; 285 Nicholas Jenkins (33-10) jr.
Outlook: The Shamrocks are seeking their fifth Division 1 championship in seven seasons and as mentioned above are the only team to beat Hartland this season. DCC has replaced a pair of strong graduating classes the last two years with a strong group of underclassmen to go with eight upperclassmen who hold down eight of the nine heaviest weights. Moreland and Jenkins were individual placers last season.
Record/rank: 24-8, No. 6
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red.
Coach: Paul McDevitt, 19th season (386-155)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2011, two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Daltan Myers (15-1) soph.; 125 Sergio Borg (35-15) soph.; 140 Alex Hrisopoulos (44-5) sr.; 152 Devin Trevino (26-18) fr.; 215 Wyatt Harden (42-3) sr.
Outlook: The Wildcats are back at Finals weekend for the eighth time in nine seasons and as a fourth seed after competing as an eighth only a year ago. A young lineup last season is more veteran with eight upperclassmen but still five freshmen plus another four who have gained valuable experience this winter. Hrisopoulos is coming off his second-straight top-three individual finish, and Borg and Harden also were Finals qualifiers in 2015.
Record/rank: 27-5, unranked
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Coach: Mike Rottier, ninth season (147-108)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Kameron Kempker (28-7) soph.; 103 Jack Samuels (42-1) fr.; 130 Austin Fine (38-9) sr.; 140 Anthony Snead (24-17) sr.; 160 Brenden DeVries (34-9) sr.; 285 Lane Potter (26-19) jr.
Outlook: Hudsonville has built its best record under Rottier and is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2011. The lineup is filled with veterans, with eight seniors, and upperclassmen at every weight from 119-285. Although the team doesn’t have any wrestlers who placed at last season’s Individual Finals, six have won at least 30 matches this winter, including both freshmen at the top of the lineup.
#6 Macomb Dakota
Record/rank: 26-12, No. 9
League finish: Second in Macomb Area Conference Red.
Coach: Ed Skowneski, fourth season (116-34)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Justin Tiburcio (48-10) fr.; 130 Tyler Sanders (52-5) soph.; 140 Layne Malczewski (50-7) soph.; 145 Dustin Solomon (34-16) fr.
Outlook: Dakota definitely is a team on the rise; the team has only one senior among 28 on the roster, starts eight sophomores and three freshmen, and beat rival and No. 8 New Baltimore Anchor Bay by a point on the way to its third Quarterfinal in four seasons. Malczewski and Sanders both placed at the Individual Finals as freshmen, and 12 wrestlers have at least 30 wins this season.
#7 Grand Ledge
Record/rank: 19-7, unranked
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue.
Coach: Steve Delaney, ninth season (185-71)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1962.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Cole Janes (44-2) jr.; 125 Jack Snauko (43-4) jr.; 140 Dylan Steward (44-1) sr.; 285 Matt Lloyd (23-3) sr.
Outlook: Grand Ledge has been the surprise of the MHSAA Tournament after knocking off reigning champion Brighton, which was ranked No. 4 entering the postseason, in their Regional Semifinal. This is the Comets’ first trip to the Quarterfinals since 2005, but Steward has championship experience as the reigning winner at 140. Lloyd also placed in 2015, and they are two of a strong group of 10 upperclassmen leading the charge.
#8 Temperance Bedford
Record/rank: 11-0, No. 10
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference.
Coach: Kevin Vogel, fifth season (114-34)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA titles (most recent 2001), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Austin Teague (34-11) sr.; 152 Brad Stewart (35-6) sr.; 160 Blake Montrie (46-1) sr.; 189 Gabriel Elarton (39-7) sr.; 285 Tim Stevens (38-5) sr.
Outlook: One of the most storied programs in MHSAA history is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2013, with its last championship match appearance coming during a runner-up run in 2008. Montrie is one of six seniors in the lineup and the reigning champion at 152; Stewart at Stevens also were placers last season. The Kicking Mules eliminated No. 7 Westland John Glenn on the way to CMU.
PHOTO: Detroit Catholic Central and Hartland squared off during the CMU Duals last month, with the Shamrocks coming away victorious. (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.)