D2 Preview: Champions Could Meet Again

March 2, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A pair of reigning MHSAA individual champions met in Saturday’s Division 2 Team Final pitting Lowell and St. Johns.

They could meet again this weekend to determine the 140-pound title.

The Redwings' Ian Parker just got the best of the Red Arrows’ Zeth Dean, 3-0, although Lowell ended up the team champion at Central Michigan University. But the last time they both competed at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Parker left with the 125-pound title and Dean won at 130.

They are two of 10 contenders we’ve broken out below among many to watch this weekend at the Division 2 Individual Finals. Follow all the matches beginning with Thursday's first round on a subscription basis live on MHSAA.TV, and click here for results at MHSAA.com. And come back to Second Half this weekend as we’ll interview all 14 title winners.

112: Cameron Mahlich, Ionia junior (38-2) – Last season’s champion at 103 finished only second at his Regional last month, but his only other loss this season came in December.  

112: Austin Franco, Stevensville Lakeshore senior (43-0) – Franco fell 14-10 in last season’s Final at this weight to Gaylord’s Dominic LaJoie (see below) and it was Franco’s only loss; he defeated Mahlich (see above) in the Regional this time.

119: Dominic LaJoie, Gaylord junior (58-0) – Undefeated at this point for the second time in three seasons, LaJoie is going for his third individual championship after winning 112 a year ago.

125: Lucas Hall, Lowell senior (28-0) – Fresh off being part of a third-straight team championship last weekend, Hall can finish his high school career with a third-straight individual title after winning at 119 last season; he’ll wrestle next at Michigan State University.  

140: Zeth Dean, Lowell senior (29-5) – He won last season at 130 pounds and was runner-up at 112 as a freshman, and he'll go on to compete for Harvard.

140: Ian Parker, St. Johns senior (45-2) – After helping the Redwings back to the Division 2 Team Final, Parker can end a champion once more on his way to continue at Iowa State.

145: Austin Melton, DeWitt senior (51-1) – The 2014 champion at 135 narrowly missed a second title last winter, falling 7-5 in the Final at 140; he’s the top seed at 145 this weekend.

189: Max Dean, Lowell senior (33-0) – The cousin of Zeth and younger brother of graduated Lowell star Gabe, Max has starred as well, winning 171 as a sophomore before missing last season with an injury. Like Gabe, he'll next suit up at Cornell.

215: Landon Pelham, Tecumseh senior (50-0) – Last season’s third-place finisher at this weight is the favorite this time and will continue his career after at Central Michigan.

285: Isaiah Espinoza, Adrian senior (43-1) – He made an unexpected run to runner-up at this weight last season, finishing with a record of only 18-7, but won’t surprise anyone this time.

Other 2015 runners-up: Gaylord senior Trevor Giallombardo (112, 53-5, 103 in 2015), Warren Woods Tower junior Elijuh Weaver (112, 54-1, D1 103 for Roseville in 2015), Owosso senior Emilio Campos (112, 39-6, D3 103 for Corunna in 2015) Parma Western junior Luke Raczkowski (135, 45-4, 130 in 2015), Parma Western senior Chase Veydt (140, 39-4, 135 in 2015), Eaton Rapids senior Clayton Higelmire (215, 41-2, 215 in 2015).

Also undefeated: Riverview senior Brandon Garcia (152, 51-0), Warren Lincoln junior Jelani Embree (171, 43-0), Cedar Springs junior Patrick DePiazza (285, 49-0).

More of note: Parma Western freshman Cory Gamet (103, 11-1), Ortonville Brandon senior Brendan Ladd (130, 52-3), Goodrich senior Nathan Ellis (135, 48-3), Ortonville Brandon senior Bryan LaVearn (140, 53-2), Sparta senior Joel Rees (152, 45-1), Warren Lincoln senior Deirrien Perkins (160, 37-1).

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

PHOTO: Lowell’s Zeth Dean and St. Johns’ Ian Parker, right, locked up during last weekend’s Division 2 Team Final. (Click to see more at 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.)