D2 Preview: Boone Pursues Title Sweep

March 5, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The name Brent Metcalf is as revered as any in the history of Michigan high school wrestling.

By Saturday night, Lowell’s Austin Boone may join the Davison legend in a pair of historic achievements.

Boone, with two others this weekend, will attempt to become the 27th wrestler to win four MHSAA Individual Finals championships. He’ll also attempt to join Metcalf as the only wrestlers in state history to win four individually and be part of four Team Finals titles. Metcalf won his from 2002-05 before going on to star at University of Iowa and internationally.

Below, we look at Boone and nine more contenders to watch in Division 2, plus list all of the top seeds heading into this weekend. Surely we 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.

Follow all matches on a subscription basis live on MHSAA.tv, and click here for results at MHSAA.com.

112 Jacob Brya, St. Johns sophomore (37-0) – The latest Redwings standout is off to a championship start after winning the title at 103 a year ago, and he’s the top seed at his weight this weekend. He has won 27 times by pin this winter and three more by technical fall as he’s pushed his career record to 79-2.

130 Christopher Lilly, Croswell-Lexington senior (50-1) – After qualifying for the Finals but missing out on placing his first two seasons, Lilly broke out in a big way with the championship at 135 in 2019. His only loss this winter came Friday during the Team Quarterfinals; he’s 102-8 over the last two seasons.

135 Nick Matsuko, Chelsea senior (45-0) – The top seed in his bracket this weekend, Matsuko hasn’t lost since suffering his only defeat of last season in the 140 final. He’s won 35 matches this winter by pin and built a combined 90-1 record over the last two seasons.

140 Nate Young, Holly senior (45-1) – After finishing runner-up at 130 a year ago, Young has been nearly unstoppable this winter with his only loss to Detroit Catholic Central two-time champ Joshua Edmond. Young is the top seed at this weight, and 37 of his wins have come with bonus points. He took sixth at 103 as a freshman.   

145 Austin Boone, Lowell senior (37-0) – Boone’s first three championships have come at 135, 145 and 152, and another title run also will give him his first undefeated season at the high school level. He’s the top seed at this weight and will continue his career wrestling at Penn State.

145 Chayse LaJoie, Gaylord senior (35-1) – The champion at 103 and 112 his first two seasons, respectively, finished runner-up by 3-2 decision in the final at 125 a year ago. He could end up in the premier match of the weekend if he faces Boone in the final at this weight; LaJoie’s only loss this winter came to Boone at last week’s Team Final. LaJoie will continue his career at Cornell.

160 Caleb Fish, Eaton Rapids senior (42-0) – The Greyhounds standout will look to finish his high school career with a second-straight championship after winning at 145 last season. He also was runner-up at 135 in 2018 and fifth at that weight as a freshman, and has just one loss over the last two seasons. He’s the top seed at his weight and will continue at Michigan State.

171 Cody Brenner, New Boston Huron junior (45-2) – The top seed at this weight earned it in part with a Regional win over reigning 160 champ Omari Embree of Warren Woods Tower (see below). Brenner’s most recent loss came to an out-of-state opponent, and his only instate defeat was at the first event of the season to a Division 1 contender. Brenner was eighth at 160 as a freshman and third at 171 last season.

171 Omari Embree, Warren Woods Tower sophomore (25-2) – He also debuted in the best possible way last season, with the championship at 160. He’s not the top seed at this weight as one of his two losses came two weeks ago to Brenner by an 8-6 decision. But Embree’s only other loss came to an out-of-state opponent.  

189 John Shelton, East Grand Rapids senior (47-0) – The future Central Michigan wrestler is the top seed at this weight after finishing runner-up a year ago losing a 3-2 decision in the final to Cedar Springs’ Sage Serbenta, the only wrestler to defeat Shelton (twice total) during 2018-19. Shelton also took sixth at this weight as a freshman and fifth as a sophomore.

Other 2019 runners-up: 112 Jamison Zimmerman, Niles senior (28-5, 103 in 2019); 119 Joe Haynes, Warren Woods Tower junior (45-3, 119 in 2019); 160 Nelson Poet, New Boston Huron senior (38-4, 160 in 2019); 189 Kayleb Venema, Whitehall senior (35-5, 189 in Division 3 in 2019).

Additional No. 1 seeds: 103 Nolan Wertanen, St. Joseph sophomore (42-2); 119 Joe Haynes, Warren Woods Tower junior (45-3); 125 John Sosa, Gaylord senior (38-2); 130 Rico Brown, Gaylord senior (31-2); 152 Jacob Gonzales, Holly sophomore (45-0); 215 Zolen Marron, Lake Fenton senior (50-0); 285 Joe Harper, Imlay City senior (43-1).

Also undefeated: 140 Shenard Foster, Harper Woods freshman (16-0).

PHOTO: Lowell’s Austin Boone (top) works toward a major decision at the end of last Friday’s Quarterfinal win over Muskegon Reeths-Puffer. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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.)