D2 Preview: Contenders Line Up as Lowell Hopes to Run Streak to 9

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

February 24, 2022

Two other contenders are undefeated this season. Two more are past MHSAA Finals champions.

But until defeated, Lowell will be the team leading the Division 2 title chase – in this weekend’s case, with the hope of adding to its record eight-season Finals championship streak.

That quest begins with Friday’s 6:45 p.m. Quarterfinals at Kalamazoo’s Wings Event Center – see matchups below. Semifinals will start at noon Saturday, with the championship match later that day at 3:45 p.m.

#1 Lowell (20-3) vs. #8 Birmingham Brother Rice (19-5)
#4 Gaylord (27-0) vs. #5 Monroe Jefferson (18-3)
#3 Goodrich (29-2) vs. #6 Mason (32-3)
#2 Whitehall (26-0) vs. #7 St. Joseph (23-8)

Tickets for Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals will be sold by the Wings Event Center box office. All matches for all three rounds also will be viewable on MHSAA.tv with subscription.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed. (Girls Finals qualifiers are noted with “G” with weight class, as those classes differ from the other Individual Finals brackets.)

20-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: R.J. Boudro, eighth season (159-24)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA championships (most recent 2021), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Carter Cichocki (28-3) fr., 103 Landon Musgrave (20-5) fr., 112 Jackson Blum (31-3) fr., 119 Easton Lyons (18-15) jr., 125 Owen Segorski (22-11) fr., 130 Ramsy Mutschler (26-5) sr., 135 James Link (32-5) sr., 140 Landon Miller (24-7) jr., 140 Jared Boone (25-9) soph., 145 Nate Cleaver (28-11) sr., 152 Tacho Gonzales (18-13) soph., Carson Crace (21-9) jr., 215 Carter Blough (31-2) sr., 285 Bryson Vandermeulen (23-13) sr.
Outlook: The Lowell championship machine keeps churning even after graduating four individual champs from last year’s team title winner. Crace is the reigning runner-up at 160 (after losing to graduated teammate Doak Dean in his 2021 title match), with Blough, Mutschler, Miller, Gonzales and Link also returning Individual Finals placers. The Red Arrows own wins over the other three 2021 team champions – Davison, Dundee and Clinton – plus victories over Grandville and Rockford, among others, and with their losses only to Detroit Catholic Central and two out-of-state powers.

26-0, No. 2
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Co-coaches: Justin Zeerip and Collin Zeerip, fourth seasons (100-7)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2021, Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Riley Buys (34-10) sr., 145 Max Brown (37-5) sr., 152 Alec Pruett (36-10) sr., 160 Wyatt Jenkins (37-8) fr., 171 Nicholas Blanchard (43-2) sr., 215 Shane Cook (43-2) jr., 285 Ira Jenkins (45-0) sr.
Outlook: For the second season in a row, Whitehall is entering Finals weekend as a second seed, and last year’s run to the Division 3 Final was its fourth making at least the Semifinals over the last six seasons. Jenkins hasn’t lost a match since his sophomore season and won the Division 3 title at 215 last winter, and Brown was last season’s D3 title winner at 140. Blanchard and Pruett also are returning individual placers; those four are among eight seniors in the starting lineup.

29-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Flint Metro League
Coach: Kenneth Sirignano, 12th season (record N/A)
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2009), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jaden Davis (27-2) fr., 119 Brody Orcutt (33-9) soph., 125 Ryan Angelo (35-6) sr., 125 Heremias Cheff (17-6) jr., 140 Carsen Richards (39-2) sr., 152 Max Macklem (27-9) fr., 160 Easton Phipps (25-6) soph., 171 Cameron Macklem (39-3) sr., 215 James Mahon (33-10) fr.; 115-G Kendra Vickory (7-6) soph., 125-G Ryen Allen (3-0) soph.
Outlook: Goodrich is another regular at Finals weekend, making the trip for the fifth time in seven seasons, and the Martians have finished Division 2 runners-up two of the last three years. This team has only three senior starters and nine underclassmen in the lineup, but the group is plenty accomplished already. Nine starters are back from last season’s championship match, with six repeat Individual Finals qualifiers.

27-0, No. 4
League finish: First in Big North Conference
Coach: Jerry LaJoie, 28th season (775-136-2)
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2020 and 2018.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Louden Stradling (19-0) jr., 135 Gabe Thompson (31-2) sr., 140 Gus James (36-8) jr., 160 Ty Bensinger (38-3) soph., 171 Brayden Gautreau (37-1) jr., 189 Riley Hush (32-5) soph.; 105-G Sunni LaFond (29-8) fr., 120-G Hanna Blyveis (14-1) fr.
Outlook: Few programs can match Gaylord’s record over the last many seasons – the Blue Devils are 106-3 over the last four and a combined 282-10 over the last nine. They also are seeking to make the Semifinals for the sixth time over the last eight seasons. Gaylord edged No. 10 Bay City John Glenn 34-29 in the Regional Final to secure this trip.

18-3, No. 6
League finish: First in Huron League
Coach: Mike Humphrey, 19th season (368-158)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Issac Masserant (25-6) soph., 130 Dylan Garcia (32-6) sr., 135 Caleb Smiley (26-10) sr., 140 Noah White (29-11) sr., 145 Carter Simota (18-10) soph., 189 Anthony Cousino (20-17) soph., 215 Nathan Masserant (36-5) jr.
Outlook: After returning to the Quarterfinals last season for the first time since 1995, Jefferson is making a repeat trip and has been considered among the top 10 teams in Division 2 all season. Senior Cody Richards (28-6 at 103) was last season’s runner-up at that weight, and Garcia and junior Seth Minney (31-7 at 160) were both individual placers as well.

32-3, No. 7
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Coach: Brian Martel, 19th season (544-113)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2006), one runner-up finish.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Matt Ausel (43-2) fr., 125 Tayden Miller (32-0) jr., 171 Derek Badgley (45-2) soph., 189 Landon Peiffer (29-6) sr., 285 David Fancher (40-8) sr.  
Outlook: Mason is headed back to Finals weekend for the second time in three seasons and with its most team wins since 2013-14. The Bulldogs also have been considered among the division’s top 10 all season, with Badgley, Miller and sophomore AJ Martel (27-1 at 160) all returning Finals placers.

23-8, No. 9
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Taylor Misel, seventh season (83-97)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Marcus Lowry (30-17) fr., 112 Noah Dahlke (33-14) fr., 119 Nolan Wertanen (46-0) sr.; 125 Landon Thomas (48-6) fr., 130 Jack Sherman (43-10) sr., 171 Jacob Halsey (46-1) sr., 189 Matthew Morris (36-12) sr., 130-G Maya Milletics (10-7) fr.
Outlook: The Bears are making their first trip to Finals weekend, with the key victory 35-34 over No. 5 Stevensville Lakeshore in the District Final. Eight senior starters are leading the charge, with Wertanen the reigning champion at 112 and Halsey last season’s runner-up at 152.

19-5, unranked
League finish: Seventh in Detroit Catholic League
Coach: Scott Kolesky, third season (41-25)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Jace Morgan (46-6) fr., 119 Ricardo Saenz (46-0) fr., 125 Luke Nelson (36-13) jr., 152 Brennan Parent (37-11) jr.
Outlook: Brother Rice has earned its second trip to Finals weekend and first since 1988, winning all four of its postseason matches so far by at least 45 points. Kolesky formerly was the head coach at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley and Troy Athens and has a 293-210 record over 17 seasons total. This team has taken major strides after going 6-11 a year ago, and nearly half the roster is freshmen – with five of the team’s eight starting.

PHOTO Lowell celebrates a match win during last season’s Division 2 Final. (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.)