By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Three wrestling teams in MHSAA history have won five straight Finals championships.
This weekend, Lowell will attempt to become the first to push its winning streak to six.
There are plenty of upset-minded opponents in the way, however, at Kalamazoo’s Wings Event Center. Five of this weekend’s eight quarterfinalists are seeking their first team title in this sport – with last season’s runner-up Gaylord among the hopefuls.
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 noon Saturday and the championship match that afternoon at 3:45 p.m. All matches this weekend will be viewable live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.
Record/rank: 19-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: R.J. Boudro, fifth season (105-14)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2018), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Ramsy Mutschler (25-8) fr., 112 Nicholas Korhorn (22-8) jr., 125 Zeth Strejc (28-6) soph., 130 Dawson Jankowski (28-6) jr., 135 Jeff Leach (22-9) sr., 135 William Link (36-6) fr., 140 Avry Mutschler (30-2) sr., 145 Doak Dean (34-4) soph., 145 James Fotis (14-3) jr., 152 Austin Boone (26-4) jr., 160 Jacob Lee (27-12) soph., 171 Derek Mohr (20-13) soph., 285 Tyler Deloof (31-5) jr.
Outlook: As noted above, Lowell has a chance to make more history, and has given up just 21 points over four District and Regional matches on the way back to Kalamazoo. Boone is a two-time Individual Finals champion, and Korhorn and Mutschler were runners-up last season. Jankowski, Strejc, Dean, Fotis and Deloof also were placers, and the Red Arrows still will have only three expected senior starters this weekend.
Record/rank: 30-5, No. 3
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference
Coach: Kenneth Sirignano, 10th season (record N/A)
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2009), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Cameron Macklem (40-10) fr., 125 Carson Richards (41-9) fr., 125 Caleb Teague (39-7) sr., 140 Dominic Edwards (32-5) sr., 160 Juwan Vines (30-6) jr., 171 James Penfold (40-3) sr., 215 Honour Kline (46-1) sr.
Outlook: Goodrich is back at the Quarterfinals for the third time in Division 2 in four seasons, and jumped up four seeds from last year. A crew of talented freshman has joined an otherwise upperclassmen-filled lineup that includes seven seniors. Teague was a Finals runner-up last season, while Vines, Kline and senior Blake Coffell also were placers.
Record/rank: 16-5, No. 4
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Coach: Brian Byars, 19th season (449-196)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Matt Foddrill (26-14) jr., 145 Tyler Brandt (32-12) jr., 152 Quenten Hall (29-4) sr., 171 Jacob Brandt (33-11) jr., 189 Chandler Murton (31-7) soph.
Outlook: DeWitt is back at the Quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons and second time ever, seeking to advance to Saturday for the first time. The Panthers made it to Kalamazoo with a 30-20 Regional Final victory over No. 2 Eaton Rapids after winning a league that included Division 1 No. 10 Holt and formerly-ranked Grand Ledge. Brandt, Hall and Murton were all Finals placers last season.
Record/rank: 27-1, No. 5
League finish: First in Big North Conference
Coach: Jerry LaJoie, 25th season (696-134-2)
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2018.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Gabe Thompson (33-14) fr., 119 Will Sides (31-14) jr., 125 Chayse LaJoie (44-0) jr., 130 John Sosa (33-9) jr., 160 Jacob McKnight (37-4) jr., 171 Quinn Schultz (11-4) soph., 189 Cade Foster (21-6) sr., 215 Aurilius Krumholz (37-10) jr.
Outlook: Gaylord emerged as a third seed last season to make an MHSAA championship match for the first time, and the Blue Devils are seeded to return to at least the Semifinals after edging No. 9 St. Johns 36-33 in the Regional Final to reach Kalamazoo. Chayse LaJoie is a two-time individual champion, and McKnight and Foster also were Finals placers in 2018.
Record/rank: 28-5, No. 8
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Coach: A.J. Marry, fourth season (90-34)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Joshua Hilton (46-2) sr., 119 Vincent Perez (48-0) sr., 125 Kellen Patton (45-2) sr., 130 Victor Coscarelli (33-14) jr., 135 Lucas Petty (19-21), jr., 189 Clayton Boatright (40-10) sr.
Outlook: Make it eight Quarterfinals in nine seasons for Tecumseh, which moved up three seeds from the eighth spot a year ago. The Indians have one of the most veteran lineups in Kalamazoo this weekend in any division, with all seniors and juniors expected to jump on the mat Friday. Eight starters are back from the team that faced Lowell in last season’s Quarterfinal. Perez was a Finals runner-up in 2018.
#6 Warren Woods-Tower
Record/rank: 20-6, No. 6
League finish: Third in Macomb Area Conference Red
Co-coaches: Greg Mayer and Russell Correll, 19th seasons (372-244)
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2017.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Josh Howey (31-10) fr., 119 Joe Haynes (30-7) soph., 125 Chaise Mayer (39-3) sr., 160 Omari Embree (33-4) fr., 215 CJ Sheir (35-11) sr., 285 Joel Radvansky (39-4) sr.
Outlook: Tower reached the Semifinals last season after finishing runner-up in 2017, and the Titans are looking to make another run after emerging from a MAC Red that included Division 1 contender Macomb Dakota. Radvansky was a Finals runner-up last season, while Chaise Mayer was a runner-up in both 2016 and 2017 and took third at his weight a year ago. Haynes, sophomore Dru Wilson and senior David Stepanian also were placers in 2018.
Record/rank: 22-4, No. 7
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West
Coach: Todd Hesson, 12th season (257-86)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jamison Zimmerman (33-6) jr., 130 Bryce Brust (18-3) sr., 135 Javond Ball (33-8) jr., 140 Kade Wagley (36-8) jr., 152 Robert Buckland (34-11) sr., 160 Cole Simpson (33-11) sr., 171 Cade Best (33-7) sr., 285 Brian Soto (30-4) sr.
Outlook: Niles fell short of the Quarterfinals a year ago but has advanced for the fifth time in seven seasons. Eight seniors anchor the lineup, six holding down the weights from 152-285. Zimmerman took fifth last season at 103 and is one of eight on the team with at least 29 wins.
#8 Cedar Springs
Record/rank: 20-9, unranked
League finish: Second in O-K White
Coach: Nicholas Emery, seventh season (131-84)
Championship history: Class B champion 1995, runner-up 1978.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Trevor Marsman (37-9) soph., 135 Aaron Smith (38-11) sr., 145 Lucas Pienton (34-3) sr., 171 Ryan Ringler (43-0) sr., 189 Sage Serbenta (41-1) jr.
Outlook: A 37-36 win over No. 10 Allendale in the Regional Final vaulted Cedar Springs to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1996. The Red Hawks will be plenty familiar with Friday’s opponent; Lowell is from the same league. Ringler is the reigning individual champion at 171, and Pienton and Serbenta also were Finals placers last season.
PHOTO: Gaylord’s Rico Brown (top), here competing at Grand Ledge this winter, will try to help his team win its first MHSAA wrestling title. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.
“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.
“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.)