By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This weekend’s Individual Finals Division 1 brackets are absolutely loaded with stars, featuring eight champions and six runners-up from 2019’s showcase at Ford Field.
But the best part over the next two days will be watching how 210 more wrestlers seeking similar stardom work to break in against such an experienced group of elite performers.
Below, we look at 10 contenders to watch in Division 1, plus list all of the top seeds heading into this weekend. We no doubt missed a few who will end up among the biggest headliners Saturday – but come back to Second Half early Sunday as we’ll interview and report on all 56 champions.
The “Grand March” on Friday begins at 11 a.m., with five rounds wrestled throughout the day including the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Wrestling picks back up with consolation rounds at 9 a.m. Saturday, and concludes with the championship matches that afternoon at 3:30 p.m.
119 Brandon Ferretti, Macomb Dakota junior (30-1) – The reigning champion at 112 is the top seed this time at 119 and enters with a combined 83-1 record over the last two seasons. His only loss was to Division 2 top seed Joe Haynes of Warren Woods Tower, by sudden victory in Ferretti’s third match of this season. Ferretti also finished third at 103 as a freshman.
119 Kavan Troy, Rochester junior (44-5) – Last season’s champ at 103 moved up two weights and took a few losses, but is in position to make a big statement early with a possible chance of facing top seed Ferretti in the second round. Troy finished 50-0 a year ago, bringing his combined record the last two seasons to 94-5.
135 Eddie Homrock, Brighton senior (40-3) – Homrock moved up from fourth at 125 as a sophomore to champion a year ago, and will enter his last high school Finals as the top seed in his bracket. His only in-state defeat this season came in December to Lowell’s Austin Boone, who is going for a fourth title in Division 2. Homrock will continue at Michigan State.
140 Josh Edmond, Detroit Catholic Central senior (39-0) – A three-time finalist, Edmond will attempt to win a third championship to go with last year’s title at 135, another at 135 in 2018, the 130 title in 2017 and a Division 2 runner-up finish at 135 as a freshman. The top seed in his bracket, he’s a combined 156-3 over four seasons and wrestling for his second undefeated campaign. He will continue at Missouri.
145 T.J. Daugherty, Waterford Kettering senior (31-0) – Daugherty fell just short of claiming a second championship last season, falling 3-0 to undefeated Kyle Kantola of Hartland in the 130 title match. That was Daugherty’s only loss of 2018-19, and he hasn’t been defeated since. He won the title at 103 as a freshman.
160 Derek Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central senior (41-2) – Gilcher is wrestling for a third title after winning 140 last season, 135 as a sophomore and finishing fourth at 119 as a freshman. Two wins this weekend will give him 150 for his career, and he enters as the top seed. His only in-state loss this winter was to Davison’s Alex Facundo, the top seed at 171.
171 Alex Facundo, Davison junior (35-2) – Facundo is the top seed at this weight and on a possible four-title track, with championships at 160 last year and 152 as a freshman. He has 18 wins by pin and 11 by technical fall this season and already has committed to continue his career at Penn State after graduation.
215 Brendin Yatooma, Detroit Catholic Central senior (41-1) – The reigning champion at 215 will go for another title and third Finals placing after also taking eighth at 189 as a sophomore. He’s undefeated against in-state competition this winter and a combined 80-4 overall over the last two, and enters as the top seed.
285 Steven Kolcheff, Detroit Catholic Central senior (42-2) – Kolcheff also is attempting to finish his high school career with a repeat and finished runner-up at this weight as well as a sophomore. He’s not the top seed, with his only in-state loss this season to top-seeded Jake Swirple of Livonia Franklin in sudden victory after beating Swirple by decision three weeks earlier.
285 Jake Swirple, Livonia Franklin senior (55-1) – As noted above, Swirple is the top seed at this weight, coming back from a 3-2 loss to Kolcheff on Feb. 1 to defeat him at their Regional 3-2. Swirple was third at this weight last winter and eighth as a sophomore, and he’s 161-14 combined over the last three seasons.
Other 2019 runners-up: 112 Aden Williams, Davison sophomore (31-8, 103 in 2019); 119 Zein Bazzi, Dearborn Heights Crestwood junior (45-4, 112 in 2019); 125 Andrew Chambal, Davison senior (38-5, 119 in 2019); 130 Brody Kemper, Grand Blanc senior (28-1, 135 in 2019); 145 Marc Shaeffer, Detroit Catholic Central senior (29-12, 140 in 2019).
Additional No. 1 seeds: 103 Caden Horwath, Davison freshman (39-2); 112 Dylan Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central freshman (36-3); 125 Andrew Chambal, Davison senior (38-5); 130 Brody Kemper, Grand Blanc senior (28-1); 152 Josh Barr, Davison freshman (35-0); 189 Greyson Stevens, Brighton senior (38-4).
Also undefeated: 119 Manuel Leija, Lansing Eastern senior (31-0).
PHOTO: Brighton’s Eddie Homrock has his arm raised in victory by the official after his Finals win last season at Ford Field. (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.)