D2 Preview: Arrows Target Title 4-Peat

February 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Over the first 29 years the MHSAA has sponsored Team Wrestling Finals, only four schools have won at least four straight championships. 

This weekend, Lowell can become the fifth. 

The top-seeded Red Arrows, after battling through St. Johns' four straight titles from 2010-13, have won the last three and come to Central Michigan University as the favorite again, albeit ahead of a field that includes two undefeated teams and two more that have lost only once this winter.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 6:45 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and the championship match at 6 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.

The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard

#1 Lowell

Record/rank: 18-2, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: RJ Boudro, third season (69-7) 
Championship history: 
Six MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nick Korhorn (33-7) fr., 112 Dawson Jankowski (25-8) fr., 119 Jeff Leach (31-9) soph., 119 James Fotis (25-7) fr., 135 Austin Boone (33-3) fr., 140 Avry Mutschler (34-5) soph., 140 Sam Russell (18-12) sr., 152 Bryce Dempsey (30-5) sr., 160 Keigan Yuhas (23-6) jr., 171 Austin Engle (27-11) jr., 189 Dave Kruse (29-4) jr., 215 Elijah Boulton (34-3) sr., 215 Connor Nugent (31-11) jr.
 Lowell is seeking its fourth straight Division 2 title, and after graduating four Individual Finals placers last spring reloaded with four freshmen who have qualified for next week’s tournament. Six of the seven lightest weights are occupied by underclassmen, while veterans man the upper classes. Boulton is the reigning runner-up at 215 and Kruse, Mutschler and Dempsey also placed last year.

#2 Warren Woods Tower

Record/rank: 26-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Greg Mayer, 17th season (328-232)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 David Stepanian (34-1) soph., 112 Chaise Mayer (45-1) soph., 119 Elijuh Weaver (49-3) sr., 135 Joe Schindler (45-3) sr., 140 Jack Pehote (40-11) jr., 140 Nico Martini (38-11) sr., 145 Keff O’Connell (34-13) soph., 152 Austin Frederick (28-9) jr., 160 Jajuan Lovejoy (41-12) jr., 171 Trey Barbour (38-1) jr., 215 Joel Radvansky (35-2) soph.
 The Titans continued to rise last season, entering as a sixth seed and nearly upsetting third seed Gaylord in the Quarterfinals. For the second straight winter, Woods Tower has won its most matches under Mayer, and it gave up only 39 points over four postseason victories to get back to CMU. Weaver won the individual title at 112 last season and Mayer was runner-up at 103; together they lead a group of 11 Finals qualifiers, nearly double last season’s total.

#3 St. Johns

Record/rank: 25-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Coach: Derek Phillips, fifth season (112-14)
Championship history: 
Four MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Brendon Smith (19-10) soph., 112 Brendan Zelenka (27-4) jr., 119 Emilio Sanchez (25-8) sr., 125 Kaleob Whitford (12-3) soph., 135 James Whitaker (32-5) soph., 140 Trent Lashuay (28-6) sr., 145 Cross Gonzalez (28-8) jr., 152 Bret Fedewa (39-0) sr.
 The Redwings emerged as the favorite from among four top-10 teams from the Lansing area including three from their league, plus beat No. 5 Gaylord by two points in the Regional Final. Lashuay was runner-up last season at 135 and Fedewa also was a Finals placer; they are two of six seniors and 10 upperclassmen total expected to start this weekend.

#4 Marysville

Record/rank: 26-0, unranked
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference White
Coach: Rocky Palazzolo, seventh season (111-46)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Kyle French (44-2) sr., 145 Doug Ferrier (46-4) jr., 160 Tyler Gates (33-18) sr., 171 Nino Bastianelli (47-4) sr.
 Marysville snuck under the state rankings radar, but emerged with a District Final win over No. 9 Goodrich and two 30-plus point wins at the Regional. The Vikings have won five league and four District titles under Palazzolo, but this is their first Quarterfinal trip in program history. French, Ferrier, Bastianelli and senior Austin Keeley (46-5, 215) all were individual placers in 2016.

#5 Allendale

Record/rank: 34-3, No. 6
League finish: First in O-K Blue
Coach: Duane Watson, 29th season (571-227)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Asher Meekhof (40-2) jr., 125 Jared Dankowski (36-8) sr., 130 Angel Perez (38-6) sr., 135 Nathan Wynsma (39-5) soph., 140 Ryan Wynsma (36-11) sr.
 Allendale is headed back to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2011 after winning all four of its postseason matches by at least 36 points. The Falcons have won 10 straight District titles and 13 league titles over the last 14 seasons, and have advanced to the Semifinals three of their last four trips to championship weekend. Meekoff was an individual placer last season, and he’s one of 10 upperclassmen anchoring the lineup.

#6 Niles

Record/rank: 15-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West
Coach: Todd Hesson, 10th season (220-78) 
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Ryan Franco (13-7) fr., 119 Austin Franco (17-2) jr., 119 Cade Stephenson (25-10) sr., 125 Andrew Flick (34-2) sr., 145 Mitchell Findeisen (32-2) sr., 160 Davin Simpson (27-11) jr.
 Niles is making its fourth Quarterfinal appearance in five seasons, vanquishing its toughest postseason foe, rival Stevensville Lakeshore, by 10 in the District Final. Flick and Findeisen both were individual placers last season and could be primed to lead the Vikings into upset territory; they’d made the Semifinals all three other times they’ve advanced this far.

#7 DeWitt

Record/rank: 30-4, No. 7
League finish: Second in CAAC Red
Coach: Brian Byars, 17th season (401-187)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Ronald Slater (38-16) soph., 130 Quenten Hall (46-8) soph., 135 Jackson Severns (34-7) jr., 140 Kilian Southworth (43-11) jr., 152 Sam York (50-2) jr., 160 Lucas McFarland (49-2) sr., 171 Gabe Larner (47-1) sr.
 The Panthers are coming off their first Regional title after being ranked as high as No. 2 this season. They beat No. 10 Mason by 31 points in the Regional Final after finishing second to St. Johns in the league all three share. There are only three seniors in the expected starting lineup, but all three have 38 or more wins – and Larner was an individual placer last season. Total, seven starters have won at least 35 matches this winter.

#8 Tecumseh

Record/rank: 24-6, unranked
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Coach: AJ Marry, second season (38-21)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Vincent Perez (45-6) soph., 112 Joshua Hilton (37-13) soph., 119 Kellen Patton (39-12) soph., 130 Drew Marten (50-1) sr., 140 Kyle Yuhas (33-19) fr., 145 Gabe Bechtol (41-10) jr.
 Tecumseh is back for its sixth Quarterfinal berth in seven seasons, and made the Semifinals as recently as 2014. All three of the team’s seniors start, and the roster includes 18 underclassmen – a good sign for the future as well. Marten was last season’s champion at 125, and Patton also placed individually.

PHOTO: A Lowell wrestler takes control during a match at his Division 2 Individual District. (Photo courtesy of the Lowell athletic department.)

After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

July 25, 2023

ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.“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.

Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season.“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.)