By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This weekend’s Division 1 team wrestling field at Kalamazoo’s Wings Event Center is power-packed again, and that might be an understatement.
Detroit Catholic Central is wrestling for its third straight Division 1 title, but four other teams that have won at least one championship over the last 13 seasons also will compete. The eight teams at Friday’s Quarterfinals have a combined 80 Individual Finals qualifiers who will go on to Ford Field next weekend as well.
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 3:45 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: 23-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League
Coach: Mitch Hancock, 12th season (270-45)
Championship history: Thirteen MHSAA championships (most recent 2018), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Anthony Walker (26-9) fr., 112 Caleb White (19-7) jr., 130 Camden Trupp (35-6) soph., 135 Joshua Edmond (33-2) jr., 140 Marc Shaeffer (18-4) jr., 140 Derek Gilcher (28-2) jr., 145 Logan Sanom (33-3) jr., 145 Kevon Davenport (31-1) sr., 152 Cameron Amine (33-0) sr., 152 Joseph Urso (36-7) sr., 160 Manuel Rojas (24-7) fr., 189 Easton Turner (34-3) sr., 215 Brendin Yatooma (35-3) jr., 285 Steven Kolcheff (32-3) jr.
Outlook: The Shamrocks are seeking their third straight Division 1 title and sixth in eight seasons, and haven’t lost to an in-state opponent in three seasons. DCC hasn’t given up a team point during this MHSAA Tournament, shutting out all four opponents through the District and Regional. Edmond, Gilcher, Davenport and Turner were Individual Finals champions last year with Amine and Kolcheff runners-up and Yatooma, Sanom and Shaeffer placers. Davenport will be seeking his fourth title and Amine his third next weekend at Ford Field.
Record/rank: 31-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West and overall
Coach: Tony Greathouse, sixth season (151-27)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2015, runner-up 2018.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Aiden Smith (33-15) fr., 119 Sam Freeman (43-4) jr., 119 Mason Shrader (29-5) soph., 125 Eddie Homrock (49-2) jr., 135 Zach Johnson (39-6) soph., 140 Rhett Newton (14-2) sr., 152 Victor Grabowski (40-10) sr., 152 Harley Berne (28-8) jr., 160 Dane Donabedian (44-9) jr., 171 River Shettler (46-2) sr., 189 Greyson Stevens (46-4) jr., 215 Luke Stanton (25-1) jr., 285 Colby Ford (40-14) sr.
Outlook: The Bulldogs enter seeded second for the second straight season. Brighton shut out two postseason opponents and defeated No. 10 Holt in the Regional Final to get back to Kalamazoo, after finishing first in a league that included two more top-five teams in Division 1. Stanton, Shrader, Homrock, Johnson, Donabedian, Grabowski and Shettler all were Finals placers a year ago, Shettler a runner-up. Brighton defeated possible Semifinal opponent Davison by 11 in its season opener.
Record/rank: 15-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Roy Hall, 21st season (538-97-1)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2006), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: Aden Williams (21-4) fr., 112 Owen Payne (25-10) fr., 119 Steven Garty (31-6) sr., 119 Andrew Chambal (34-3) jr., 125 Jaron Wilson (8-1) jr., 140 James Johnston (30-5) soph., 145 Landon Kish (20-16) soph., 152 Brian Case (18-7) sr., 160 Alex Facundo (33-2) soph., 171 Jay Nivison (23-9) jr., 189 Cal Stefanko (28-2) sr., 189 Trevor McGowan (20-8) sr., 215 Jimmy Colley (11-3) fr.
Outlook: Davison has reached the Semifinals six straight seasons and will wrestle Friday in its eighth straight Quarterfinal. Chambal and Facundo are reigning Finals champions and Stefanko was a runner-up last season, and Garty, Case and Nivison also were placers. Nine upperclassmen bolster a lineup that fell to Detroit Catholic Central by only six points Dec. 21.
#4 Westland John Glenn
Record/rank: 29-5, No. 4
League finish: First in KLAA East
Coach: Bill Polk, 21st season (423-124)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Josh Mars (40-13) fr., 112 Ty Cowen (45-12) soph., 125 Caleb Meekins (49-4) sr., 135 Kyle Borthwell (44-4) sr., 145 Brenten Polk (49-5) sr., 160 Graden Bowen (37-16) sr.
Outlook: John Glenn will wrestle in its third straight Quarterfinal and has missed making its first Semifinal the last two seasons by a combined six points. The Rockets edged No. 8 Temperance Bedford by two points in last week’s Regional Final. Meekins and Brenten Polk were Individual Finals placers last season and help lead a lineup with 13 upperclassmen – including eight seniors – expected to start.
Record/rank: 29-3, No. 5
League finish: Second in KLAA West
Coach: Todd Cheney, 27th season (761-109-2)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2016, five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Patrick Wlodyga (43-9) fr., 119 Wyatt Nault (27-4) jr., 119 Ethan Kinch (31-10) fr., 130 Kyle Kantola (45-0) sr., 135 Corey Cavanaugh (38-4) sr., 135 Bryce Cheney (39-10) soph., 145 Devon Pietila (32-20) sr., 152 Avery Dickerson (41-7) fr., 160 Tanner Culver (37-5) sr., 160 Reece Potter (21-2) sr., 215 Jon Hartman (31-20) sr.
Outlook: Hartland has moved up two seeds from last season as it prepares for its 18th straight Quarterfinal appearance. After navigating the KLAA, the Eagles didn’t give up more than 16 points in any of four District or Regional matches. Kantola was an Individual Finals runner-up last season, and Nault, Cavanaugh, Culver and Potter all were placers as well.
Record/rank: 30-2, unranked
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Coach: Brian Richardson, 10th season (210-109)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2009), three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Trenton Wachter (47-1) soph., 135 Evan Kaser (38-11) jr., 140 Connor White (41-5) sr., 145 Jack Richardson (40-4) sr., 160 Noah Anderson (12-1) sr., 171 Cole Gleason (33-9) soph., 189 Tyler Waterstrat (35-5) sr.
Outlook: Rockford is coming off its third straight District title and returning to the Quarterfinals for the first time since finishing Division 1 runner-up in 2010. White and Richardson were both Individual Finals placers a year ago and two of eight senior starters expected to take the mat.
#7 Macomb Dakota
Record/rank: 27-5, No. 6
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Ed Skowneski, seventh season (207-45)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Brendan Ferretti (49-0) soph., 119 Nick Alayan (45-3) sr., 125 Justin Tiburcio (37-3) sr., 125 Bradley Weiand (34-15) jr., 130 Andrew Barrett (37-12) sr., 140 Brandon Alkazir (38-14) sr., 145 David McFadden (25-21) soph., 160 Eli Andary (42-12) sr., 171 Dustin Solomon (49-3) sr.
Outlook: This will be Dakota’s fourth straight Quarterfinal and sixth in seven seasons under Skowneski. Ten upperclassmen including seven seniors bolster the lineup after the team made the Semifinals a year ago for the second straight season. Alayan will be seeking his first individual championship next weekend after finishing runner-up the last two seasons, and Ferretti, Tiburcio and Solomon also were placers in 2018.
Record/rank: 26-5, No. 7
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Joe Wood, second season (44-15)
Championship history: Class A champion 1991, runner-up 1995.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Cole Wiegers (40-8) sr., 130 Mackenzie Hanselman (36-11) sr., 135 Conor Donahue (38-6) sr., 135 Grady Castle (35-9) soph., 140 Ethan Polick (35-10) sr., 145 Jacob Billette (37-7) sr., 160 Devin Trevino (42-4) sr.
Outlook: Clarkston is competing at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2007, with a two-point Regional Semifinal win over No. 9 Oxford the key victory of this run. Billette was a Finals placer last season and this winter is one of six seniors holding down the middle weights.
PHOTO: Josh Edmond, here at last season’s Individual Finals, is one of four returning champions leading DCC on its quest for another team title. (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.)