D2 Preview: Ready for Storied Finish

February 26, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Coaches R.J. Boudro and Joe Ray Barry will lead celebrated wrestling programs into Friday’s MHSAA Quarterfinals at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

But while Lowell and Eaton Rapids, respectively, have combined for 12 MHSAA titles and are the top seeds in Division 2 this weekend, both coaches are guiding their teams into these final rounds for the first time.

And that’s just another wrinkle of intrigue in a division featuring four teams that have never made an MHSAA championship match and two more that haven’t won a title in more than two decades.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed. Their Quarterfinal matches begin at 7:45 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 11:45 Saturday morning and the championship match at 4 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.TV. For results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page. (Records below are based on those submitted for the Individual Finals.)

#1 Lowell

Record/rank: 26-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White.
Coach: R.J. Boudro, first season (26-2)
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recent 2014), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Sam Russell (24-10) soph., 119 Lucas Hall (32-1) jr., 125 Aaron Ward (25-9) sr., 130 Zeth Dean (31-3) jr., 135 Jordan Hall (32-4) sr., 145 David Kruse 25-10) fr., 152 Dan Kruse (26-11) jr., 189 Logan Blough (22-15) jr., 215 Josh Colegrove (33-0) sr., 285 Logan Wilcox (28-7) sr.
Outlook: Boudro was an assistant under previous Lowell coach Dave Dean and also an MHSAA individual finalist at Armada before competing at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. He inherited a loaded and veteran lineup, even with only four seniors starting. Lucas Hall, Colegrove and junior Max Dean won individual championships last season, and Zeth Dean and Jordan Hall were placers.

#2 Eaton Rapids

Record/rank: 39-2, No. 4
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White.
Coach: Joe Ray Barry, third season (91-21)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 1999), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Austin O’Hearon (38-4) fr., 125 Austin Eldred (46-8) sr., 135 Jaedin Sklapsky (49-2) sr., 145 Lane McVicker (46-1) jr., 152 Blaine Milheim (45-5) sr., 160 Caleb Norris (42-6) sr., Clayton Higelmire (40-5) jr.
Outlook: Eaton Rapids has a long history of wrestling success, but got its signature win so far under Barry – a former three-time individual champ for Mason – by beating No. 1-ranked St. Johns in the Regional Final. The Greyhounds also eliminated No. 5 DeWitt and No. 9 Mason during their tournament run. Sklapsky was an Individual Finals runner-up at 135 last season, and McVicker was a placer.

#3 Niles

Record/rank: 23-3, No. 3
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference.
Coach: Todd Hesson, eighth season (186-72)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Andrew Flick (24-3) soph., 119 Josh Dayhuff (38-5) sr., 125 Brendan Hall (34-8) soph., 130 Mitchell Findeisen (32-9) soph., 130 Warren Smith (38-8) sr., 135 Noah Hall (37-4) sr.
Outlook: Niles has firmly established itself among Division 2 powers with three straight Regional titles and two consecutive Semifinal appearances, and looks like a possibility to take the next step into a championship bout this weekend. Flick, Dayhuff and Smith are returning Individual Finals placers and lead a line-up anchored by seven seniors.  

#4 Gaylord

Record/rank: 39-1, No. 6
League finish: First in Big North Conference.
Coach: Jerry La Joie, 21st season (558-126-2)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Trevor Giallombardo (23-2) jr., 103 Derek Giallombardo (28-6) fr., 112 Dominic La Joie (31-2) soph., 125 Jon Martin (45-3) jr., 145 Jeff Heinz (50-4) sr., 189 Tristan Gregory (33-3) sr., 215 Shane Foster (49-1) jr., 285 Tim Roney (27-8) jr.
Outlook: Gaylord is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2006 and has made four trips under Jerry La Joie, and also won eight straight league and seven straight District titles. The Blue Devils advanced by surviving a strong Regional with a four-point win over Clio and seven-point victory over No. 8 Bay City Western. Dominic La Joie was the champion at 103 pounds last winter to cap his first season, and Martin, Gregory and Foster all placed at their weights.

#5 Flint Kearsley

Record/rank: 35-5, No. 7
League finish: Third in Flint Metro League
Coach: Luther Brown, fourth season (113-45)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Andy Ruhstorfer (48-5) fr., 119 Jakob Chapman (43-3) sr., 135 Travis Wildfong (46-3) jr., 152 Dylan Tarrence (43-6) soph., 171 James Davis (47-3) sr., 189 Reese Harburn (39-14) soph.
Outlook: Kearsley will compete in its second Quarterfinal, having made the trip previously in 2004. But Brown supplies championship experience – he wrestled on the 1995 Class A championship team at Flint Northern – and has led the Hornets to two District titles over his four seasons. Chapman was the Division 2 runner-up at 119 pounds last season, and Davis also was an Individual Finals placer. They are the only two seniors on the roster.

#6 Tecumseh

Record/rank: 32-4, No. 10
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White.
Coach: George Lesko, first season (32-4)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Andrew Marten (51-2) soph., 125 Wyatt Cadmus (45-9) sr., 135 Gabe Bechtol (39-9) fr., 152 Kyle Humphries (36-8) jr., 189 Kody McCrate (45-8) sr., 215 Landon Pelham (31-2) jr., 285 Nathan Brady (47-10) sr.
Outlook: Lesko has Tecumseh in the Quarterfinals for the fifth straight season and seeking its fourth Semifinal berth in that time. A former assistant with more than 30 years in coaching, he took over a squad that’s starting only three seniors but does have a 2014 Individual Finals placer in Pelham. Five others have at least 40 wins this season, with Marten among expected contenders next weekend.

#7 Warren Lincoln

Record/rank: 21-9, unranked
League finish: Fourth in Macomb Area Conference White
Coach: Vito Delia, 16th season (260-160-3)
Championship history: Class A champion 1994. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Demarco Dixon (40-13) jr., 130 Garret Kaercher (38-5) jr., 135 Shawn Lindsey (33-11) jr., 152 Khannor Kaercher (48-1) sr., 160 Deirrien Perkins (40-5) jr., 171 Jelani Embree (40-0) soph.  
Outlook: Lincoln is back at the Quarterfinals for the third straight season and moved up a seed from 2014. Both Kaerchers and Perkins were Individual Finals placers last winter, and Embree is an emerging standout after missing his freshman season with an injury.

#8 Comstock Park

Record/rank: 19-9, unranked
League finish: Third in O-K Blue.
Coach: Jim Olson, 27th season (403-188)
Championship history: Class C champion 1974, runner-up 1980.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Tyler Brewer (48-4) jr., 189 Aaron Martin (41-5) sr.
Outlook: Comstock Park is making its first appearance in a Quarterfinal, although it did finish Class C runner-up in the first season of Olson’s first tenure as coach, in 1980, when team scoring was based on individual placers. The Panthers did win seven District titles in eight seasons at one point, from 2005-12, but broke through this winter after bouncing back from two straight sub-.500 seasons. 

PHOTO: Lowell's Lucas Hall and Niles' Andrew Flick wrestled during last season's Division 2 Semifinals; both return this weekend. (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.)